This week Product School hosted Almeen Arif, a Product Manager at Salesforce for an #AskMeAnything session. Almeen answered questions on everything from advice on transitioning into product, product culture, becoming platform focused, and the interview process at Salesforce.
Meet Almeen Arif
Almeen is a highly driven, focused, problem-solving, result-oriented leader. Currently, he is a Product Manager at Salesforce. Prior to this, Almeen was a Senior Product Manager at Celigo where he was responsible for SaaS Integrations and connecting popular cloud applications.
“How did you find Product Management?”
I’d say, this is where I wanted to be, to be able to influence the roadmap of my product, make strategic decisions and execute on them working with a cross-section of stakeholders, and finally ship products that a lot of users use. So yes, it was a great fit, but it comes with its set of challenges that make the job tough, sometimes frustrating but that’s also what makes it interesting and worth looking forward to, every Monday 🙂
“If you can speak to your younger less experienced self, what improvements would you make regarding the journey to becoming a PM?“
To my younger self, I’d say you did well. Probably I know more now but then the journey has taught me and prepared me well for the role. I became a PM after 5-6 years of being a Software engineer / QA guy, before doing my MBA after which I made it to a PM role. All of which wasn’t planned on day 1 but yes, probably I could have started the quest for the role early, by 1-2 years, maybe?
How many years of experience is required in Salesforce to move into a PM role? Also, are there any specific certifications to acquire before a move to this role?
I’d say it depends and this would be true for many product organizations. If you’re talking about moving from one function to PM, say, Engineer to PM or Sales to PM then a lot depends on the requirement at the time in your team and then discussions with the right stakeholder’s help (read your manager, PM org). If you can convince them of your reasons and the skill the role demands, probably you can make that shift. Reg. the experience and specific skills, that will have to match the job description which is also put externally in many cases.
How was the Salesforce interview process like for you? Can you share any tips you used to prepare?
For me, the process lasted a few weeks. It started with the usual HR connect where I was briefed about the role and a few questions were asked of me about my work experience as I was already working as a PM in another organization. Subsequently, I had 3 rounds of phone screen interviews with PMs on the team I’d later join and the final round was a presentation on a given problem statement.
I’d suggest checking some detailed interview experiences online and also going through a few books like Decode and Conquer and Cracking the PM interview if it will be your first PM interview. For experienced PMs, you know the drill 🙂 most of the questions for me centered around your work experience, product prioritization, and organizational behavior.
Check out: How to Get a PM Job at Salesforce
“What kind of Salesforce technical queries are asked in the interview to become a salesforce PM?”
It depends on the role and the product area. For example, Platform teams may need the PMs to be technical, while more consumer-facing product teams may have a different set of asks of their PMs like being adept in competitor analysis, user research et al.
It helps to know some kind of programming language or algorithms, web-development basics, database, SQL etc but not a mandatory requirement in most PM roles I’ve undertaken.
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“Can you chat a bit about pivoting from a non-dev role to product, and how to best showcase side projects as points of experience that can positively impact a hiring manager/job application?”
I’ve seen many such examples where non-software folks have become a PM and have excelled. There are many such examples on Product School where some very successful PMs without any development experience talk about their road to success, I’d highly recommend watching these talks and webinars.
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To your second question, it helps to work on the resume and get it reviewed by peers and professionals in that area (not just PMs), so I’d recommend resume review sessions and in an interview, I feel if one’s passionate about something one’s done well, it will show, I was fortunate that my interviewers asked me straight about them and I could speak freely to them.
You might also be interested in: How to Ace the PM Interview with fmr Amazon Sr PM
How was your journey into product management at Salesforce? And what would be the paths to move into a PM role at Salesforce?
I think the key step is the shift of function from being an engineer/QA/pre-sales to a PM role, everything else is part of one’s career progression. Change of function is generally not easy and this is where I’d attribute a lot of credit to my MBA. Given my tech background, it became easier to land a PM role from the campus even though the competition is as tough even on the campus as you compete with some of the best brains 🙂
What are the key skills, experience do you think are necessary to highlight in a resume/ profile?
Some of the key skills that most PM roles need are (not necessarily in the same order):
- Prioritization, Prioritization, Prioritization
- User/Customer empathy
- Ability to structure problems into practical frameworks
- Competitor analysis
- Stakeholder management / organizational behavior / maturity
- Product design skills
- Ability to execute / Get things done!
Check out : The Skills Product Managers Need in 2021
“Can you describe a typical day at the job?”
- Start the day with a ToDo list that consists of items from emails, yesterday’s not done items and what I want to get done on the day.
- Daily stand up /Scrum with the team – provide input, take notes on action items to remove any impediments that have the team waiting, and more.
- If the quarterly product planning is around the corner, then I am deep into collating requirements and feature prioritization which also involves conferring with the team, the wider product org, engineering management, and leadership as we collectively shape the next release.
- Then there are important customer calls to get their feedback, product requirements, and presentations on what’s coming and validation of requirements.
- On a lucky day (when you get some time) I like to spend time analyzing the competitive landscape and I love this part as I get to learn many new products that some bright PMs and engineers on the other side have built. It’s a good learning exercise and an important step in understanding the market we operate in.
- The list goes on 🙂 and there can be many calls because as a PM one’s job is also to align the stars at will, and that needs communication.
So you can find both Kanban and Scrum being followed, depending on the nature of the product/project. And team sizes can vary but not so much from a typical scrum team size that you’d see elsewhere. And w.r.t effort estimation, while certain techniques like planning poker do help, I believe the team only improves on estimating over time as they get more experienced with the product area.
Is there a specific methodology that you recommend a PM should have at the back of his/her mind? Companies have their own structure of GTM strategies, development cycles etc.
“Do you have any books recommendations around the PM topic in general?“
Just like how each agile implementation is different from the other, even though the principles remain the same, PMs can choose their own frameworks while the underlying principles remain the same. For example, for prioritization, one could follow the RICE or WSJF frameworks depending on what works best or even devise one’s own, but I feel the key is to have a framework and then follow it. Frameworks bring structure to problems and make one’s approach consistent and then it also helps in justifying decisions to ourselves (yes!) and then to the rest of the stakeholders 🙂
In many companies, some of these problems are already solved at a certain level where top-level priorities are set at the leadership level even though one plays their role in influencing them.
I love “Inspired” by Marty Cagan and I recommend following some successful PMs on Twitter and watching some great content product school brings from time to time 🙂
“How should one approach becoming more platform focused as a PM?“
While the end goal of a platform-focused PM remains the same as client-side PM – doing the best for the customer – achieving it may involve different paths. In my stint as a platform product manager, I have found stakeholder management (there are many!), ruthless prioritization through a solid framework, and understanding architectural requirements to play a key role in being successful, sometimes over UX design and A/B testing. I learned along the course, that a platform PM has to have a very different mindset in that they have to be careful not to paint themselves in a corner by building features that can quickly be adapted by many consuming teams, and then there’s no going back!
One key differentiator is that fail-fast iterations in Platform are rare so a lot rides on the smallest of decisions which can have a far-reaching effect. Brushing up on the product tech stack and the latest and greatest patterns in tech design can help smoothen the ride, but more importantly, it is the platform mindset that makes a successful platform team (not just PMs)!
You might be interested in: Different Types of Product Teams (Core, Platform, Growth, First)
“As a sales operator looking to transition into PM. Would you suggest taking formal education in UX/UI and some CS classes/ boot camps to get those technical skillsets?“
To me, a PMs role is a generalist role and while it’s good to have technical and domain skills, candidates are tested for a certain set of skills that focus on prioritization, people skills, communication, market analysis, product design skills, and the intangible PM instinct.
While it is always good to learn new things, from a purely PM role perspective, I can suggest a few things:
- Research more about the PM roles in your target companies, check what other PMs do, see if this is what you envision yourself doing.
- Look up interview questions online and speak to more and more PMs in these organizations if you can.
- It’s worth reading on the topic, Decode and Conquer and Cracking the PM Interview are good books from a prep pov.
- Critically analyze products you like and use daily and see how will you improve them if you were the PM and develop a framework for doing so.