Inside the Mind of a Product Leader with Northwestern Fmr CPO

This week Product School hosted Vivek Bedi, a former CPO at Northwestern Mutual and a current CPO at SimplifyVMS for an #AskMeAnything session. Vivek talked about day to day aspects in the product industry such as product kickoff, product analytics, understanding your audience and more. He also gave advice on how to kick off your PM career.

Meet Vivek Bedi

As a former Vice President of Digital Product at Northwestern Mutual, Vivek Bedi drove digital transformation through the design, development, and delivery of world-class digital products and features that enhance the client and advisor experience. This includes all digital aspects of Northwestern Mutual’s client experience, mobile, client website, and client services. 

Inside The Product Industry

What do you do to prepare and plan for a product kickoff? Any resources/books you would suggest?

Yes! I recommend my own book. You the Product! But it’s important to get everyone on board before an important launch. Your stakeholders, clients, and team need to know exactly what’s happening, when, and why. So there are no surprises along the way.

You might also be interested in: Launch: The Roadmap to Product Management Success

What advice do you give to PMs to improve product analytics and to build more “data-informed” products?

My advice is to first find the balance between data and users. While data is important, it’s equally important to get in front of real users and watch them use your products! This way you can see what they like, don’t like, where they stumble, etc. As far as data, it’s important to look at various KPIs. For me personally, I love anything around adoption. Are they using it, what are they using, what are they not using, why didn’t they click on it, etc. Remember to be data driven but also user obsessed!

co workers in a meeting

Any recommendations to improve negotiation and effective communication with business stakeholders?

Coffee chats! I reserve 2 30 minute chats for coffee each day. It’s meant to be a good way of building relationships with stakeholders. It’s usually out of the office too! It’s important to form deep bonds with your stakeholders then they will be more open to negotiating!

What steps should be taken when trying to understand what audience to approach in the initial phase of the product?

It’s important to rule out who the product is not for! For example, if we were selling cars on mobile devices maybe the retired audience isn’t our first group. Maybe millennials aren’t either since most don’t have cars. Maybe it’s parents in the burbs! Then focus a lot of EQ. Their wants, needs, and feelings. This will help you pin-point who is the right crowd. 98% of people buy things based on emotion.

You might also be interested in: Best Ways to Analyze and Implement CX Changes Based on Customer Feedback

How do you determine which feature is free and which is paid in SaaS software?

That’s not easy. But for me usually the free experiences aren’t enough. It’s important to put a strong showing in your free experience. People need to see value before they buy anything. It’s human nature. I would add some key functions in the free experience maybe even give a teaser for 7 days you get access to it all! It seems to work better for me.

laptop with coding

How would you prioritize and collaborate with the engineering team on tech debts?

There are two types of product roles in my mind. A product manager who is focused more on outward – experiences, features, etc. Then there is a platform manager – focused inward. Working with technology on tech debt, platform, APIs, etc. It’s important to not try to come in telling them what to do. Engineers are sensitive about platforms! I would work with them to really understand what are some of the dependencies, what can we do, can we segregate things so we can work in parallel. Just some ideas.

Breaking Into Product 

What are your thoughts on product management at a large company vs. at a startup for an inexperienced PM. What’s the better route to start your career?

They are both exciting but can be very different. At a big company it’s about scale, reputation, working with at times legacy systems, and changing cultures. At startups it’s more grass roots, less budgets,  and being nimble. My advice is really think through what you want to be as a PM. I personally tell it doesn’t matter which you choose to start in but more importantly you spend extra time to learn other aspects of it.

You might also be interested in: The Difference: Being a PM at a Small company vs a Large Company

What would be a good place and position within the PM role to start at?

The toughest part is breaking into product! Even now, there isn’t much formal education around product management in schools. There is Product School though, yay! But it’s a double edge sword – most companies want experienced PMs with a few years under their belt. So, it’s important to take on a role that will get your foot in the door. A BA role or even a junior product analyst role. It’s easy to then move right into the PM role. Also continue to network!

road in the middle of the forest

What would you suggest to people trying to get into an APM program without any product experience?

Getting into any advanced program without PM knowledge is hard but I would say learn as much practical skills you can about the discipline. Reading books (like mine) are good but more importantly find ways you can watch or even interview current PMs. Ask them how they spend their time and days. Great learning experience.

You might also  be interested in: Free Resources by Product School 

Any tips on how I can make a switch from engineering to PM?

I was an engineer too! I will tell you being an ex engineer makes you a stronger PM. So good luck. My advice is find a good mentor or two. People that have been in Product Management and can guide you where to find resources and tell you what’s really like to be a PM. Good ways to find mentors are – LinkedIn, ProductSchool groups, and other meetups. It’s important to be networked with the right people which is the best way to break into product!

You might also be interested in: Product School Slack Community 

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

Yes, find great mentors, become great storytellers, and focus on EQ! Great PMs don’t only build great products they build great themselves! 

Read more in my book!

Join us in our next #AMASession for more insights on Product Management!

productcon banner

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: