How to Be Successful as a Google PM

This week, Product School hosted Neha Bansal, a Product Manager at Google, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Neha answered questions regarding Product Management at Google, her data analytics process, and some of her favorite PM-related books.

Meet Neha

Neha Bansal, Product Manager at Google and lead of Google Analytics Intelligence Team

Neha is an experienced Product Manager, currently leading the Google Analytics Intelligence team.

Her passion and drive for shaping people’s career began already during her studies at Columbia. Since then she has worked across different industries in PM roles, volunteered  to educate and mentor students from low-income communities, and founded GuideTheGrad, a career coaching consultancy that offers career guidance to ambitious individuals.

Neha is a frequent speaker at Product School where she shares her passion for career management and interview preparation.

Product Management at Google

Man with head made out of books

How does problem solving differ at an elite Management Consulting firm vs working for a tech company like Google? 

Good question! The problem-solving approach is actually pretty similar — its all about using the right frameworks 🙂

The main difference is in execution. As a PM, I get to see the execution of my solutions, which I did not experience as a management consultant.

Is there anything that surprised you or defied your assumptions when starting out at Google?

I was surprised how getting a headcount for your project, even within Google, is a lot of hard work. Given that Google has hundred thousands of engineers, you would expect that to be relatively easier…but it’s not. A PM needs to really prove the business opportunity.

What was your biggest “ah ha” moment at Google?

First week at Google I asked my engineering team: “Can we do X?” It was a very complex logic that I wanted them to build. They said, “We can do whatever you want. It’s just about sequencing.”

That for me was a revelation for me that I am at Google, where I am surrounded by geniuses who can make anything come true. This allowed me to think without constraints as a Product Manager. PS: I love my team 🙂

How involved does a Product Manager at Google need to be with the delivery and execution side of things? Do you rely on your Technical Project Managers to take care of this?

TPM support varies from project to project. For complex, strategically important projects, I have a TPM but for a lesser priority project, I do not.

So in short, yes, Google PMs need to involved on the execution side (project management to ensure devs finish work on time, design, marketing, sales etc.). On the engineering side, we don’t need to worry much as usually we have strong Technical Leads who manage the team of engineers.

You might also be interested in: Product Managers and Technical Skills…What’s The Deal?

Why do companies like Google have stiff criteria of 5-10 years before hiring at certain seniority levels? More years aren’t a guarantee of quality.

I recognize that this could be frustrating, but having 5-10 years of experience also means that you have probably dealt with more challenges as a PM. Of course this indicator may not work all the time, but it does help recruiters shortlist resumes.

Once resumes are shortlisted, quality is determined through the interview process. For more details, you can always follow the Google Career website.

Would you recommend the Google APM program as a good entry point for Computer Science Master’s students to enter Product Management?

Absolutely! Some of my favorite PMs at Google joined as APMs. The program is quite well defined where you get to rotate across various teams before you choose your final team.

What advice would you give to an experienced PM about to start at Google to prepare for the role?

Two things: 

  1. Set up 1-1 with every person on the team and end each conversation with one question: “How can I help you?”. Take notes of the problems they want you to solve. 
  2. Do not try to change ANYTHING in first 90 days. Simply observe.

You might also be interested in: 2020 Roundup: Best Product Talks from Google

Data Analytics

When setting up the data analytics for a new product in a small team, how do you decide which metrics to track?

Here’s the process:

Set your product goals –> Define what actions in the product will influence those goals –>  Define the exact metrics (formulas) –> Instrument those metrics –> Build a dashboard where you can track those metrics. Simple

How do you make data-related decisions and define success metrics?

On June 7, I’m doing a detailed presentation with Product School on defining product success metrics. Join me there!

You might also be interested in: Stand Out As a PM by Using Data

Professional Development

What resources do you use to keep yourself updated? Could you recommend some content that you find relevant?

To be honest, this last year, I chose to cut down my digital content consumption and focus just on books. So I have been building my skills by reading books like:

  1. Algorithms to Live By
  2. Restful API Design
  3. Don’t Make Me Think
  4. Hard Thing About Hard Things
  5. Hooked
  6. The Design of Everyday Things

You might also be interested in: The 20 Most-Read Books by Top Product Managers

How do you ensure to keep the networking going on once you are in a full-time role away from school? 

It’s definitely hard post-school. I have managed to do this in a few ways: 

  1. Google-network: Attend internal conferences, work on side projects 
  2. External professional network: LinkedIn — Identify cool people and ask them for a coffee chat 
  3. Personal network: Meet my existing friends regularly. It’s been hard to make new friends during the pandemic.

For Current Product Managers

For someone who has reached Senior Product Manager level, what are the next learning areas or skills one should explore?

Growth can happen in multiple dimensions, depending on what your prior experiences have been.

You could go on to manage other awesome PMs OR you could try a new vertical/industry OR change focus customer bases i.e. switch among B2B to B2C or P2P OR build for specific geographies OR try building on different technology i.e. ML or blockchain etc. There are lots of options.

What would be a starting point if an executive asks you what the top priority for a business should be? 

I would put on my problem solving hat and start from the top of the P&L.

Understand how the company makes revenue and what are the top costs. Dive deep into the various components of revenue and think about how you could potentially increase it. Then explore the challenges in each component. This will uncover some skeletons 🙂

I’m in my first role as a PM. How can I improve my skills as a PM and take the product to greater heights?

A great PM is one who listens to customers. Talk to at least 2 customers every week, if not more. It’s the worst when PMs build products for themselves 😉

Next, over-communicate (Document everything, set up weekly sync to ensure everyone is on the same page). Keep the team motivated by sharing the vision. Do regular 1-1 to understand everyone’s personal motivations. Above all, be empathetic and genuine 🙂

In terms of hard-skills, it will depend on what skills your product needs.

 For Future Product Managers

Can you please guide what certifications will help to get on the shortlist when applying for a PM role?

There are lots of online courses you could take that provide certifications. I would start with identifying gaps in your skillset.

Then address those gaps through online courses, workplace projects (e.g. Write a PRD or PR-FAQ for your current product managers, do an A/B testing experiment for a marketing campaign etc.), launch your own product for an end-to-end experience or do pro-bono work for local businesses and organizations to build your profile.

A key tip for aspiring PM’s finding it hard to land APM roles especially now?

  1. Get relevant skills through online courses 
  2. Network hard (Don’t be shy to send cold emails, LinkedIn pings and then follow-up persistently)

I’m an undergraduate student hoping to join an established company for PM upon graduation. Any tips on how to stand out as a candidate? 

There is no magic formula as such. As an undergrad, I would advise that you launch your own product — it could be something as simple as a website or a calculator app or any hardware…whatever aligns with your interest. Get your hands dirty! Also, take as many Product related courses as possible.

How can I leverage my limited experience in a product management internship into a full time opportunity? The internship ended before the development phase.

That’s ok if the project didn’t get launched. A big part of the PM’s job is to write the PRD, which happens early on. So if you did that part, you should talk about it with pride on your resume.

Is a side project without development and shipping ideal to land interviews?

Not really. There has to be some development and launch aspect to it. It’s ok if it went only through an alpha or beta launch.  The reason that’s important is because there are various prioritization challenges you face when you trying to actually code the product and take it to launch.

You might also be interested in: 5 Excellent Ways To Create Your Own Product Management Portfolio

I’m looking for a breakthrough to PM from UX design. What are your suggestions on this?

If you’re working as a UX designer, I suggest you help your current product manager by helping write some product requirements. This will give you a flavor of the PM role and also build the skillset.

How technical do I need be to become a PM? It seems like Google PM has a technical requirement whereas other firms don’t have the same hard requirement.

The technical requirement at Google really means, “can you think like an engineer?” So as long as you can translate problems into algorithms and then write pseudo-code in any language SQL, C++, Java etc., you should be good.

In addition to that, how technical a PM should be depends on the product you are recruiting for and which part of the stack you will be working on.

I currently manage a cross-functional team of web developers, UI/UX designers, Content Developers and Digital Marketers. I am also proficient in these skills because I participate in the execution stage. Would you say this is enough to transition into the Product Development role?

Sounds like you already are a Product Manager, no? 😀

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