Boot Camp in Product Management

Product management has become the darling of the tech world with the boom in startups, and as more companies become savvy to the value of having good product managers in place. The job description varies from company to company, yet there are some overall aspects that remain consistent.  Still, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around this fairly ambiguous role. To understand more about what the heck product managers do exactly,  I recently attended a Product Management (PM) boot camp hosted by one of our alumni, Satyajeet Salgar, ’07, who currently leads Google Search.

Satyajeet has had a very interesting couple of years at Google where he worked with teams at YouTube, Google Play Games, and Google+. He’s led some incredible product launches and I could trust no one better to help me understand the ins and outs of product management.

I think what draws me to the role is the ability to be an owner – whether you’re in a startup or a large tech giant, a PM is responsible for a product and everything associated with it.

But being a PM is far from easy. In the classroom, when Satyajeet asked what makes a good PM, we had widely differing answers – leadership, communication, analytical thinking, project management. And that was the point. There are a variety of ways one can become a PM, mostly because it’s a matter of having the right skill set. A PM has to be data-savvy, analytical but also empathetic to the needs of customers, a defender of her team but also an agitator when the team gets too complacent.

While I’m familiar with many of these skills, like the ability to influence without authority, being data-oriented, etc., the one about selling stood about to me.

Tech companies are always talking about 10X improvements but that’s easier said than done. I liked how Satyajeet suggested creating context – to discuss a unique customer need that no one has come up with on the team yet, and to make a case for why that change is necessary. He also talked about going to basics.  Like in the case of a YouTube player – instead of reducing the lag in this part or another – he encouraged the team to scrap the existing player and start from scratch. That’s a freeing process, and can jumpstart thinking.

He also talked about creating a single defined metric to help people above and below you understand your vision, as well as, an easy way to track if the product tweak is really creating that kind of impact on the metric.

During the workshop, we went step by step into the details of product management. First we came up with a few product ideas that we’d want to work on. Next, we created a case and picked the one that felt like it had the most potential (in terms of improving customer experience, and also revenue. While not a big concern at tech giants, it’s nevertheless important and more often than not, helps bolster the case for changes). We went through developing personas, creating PRDs (Product Requirement documents), sketching tools, and how to take the PRD and translate it into PowerPoint decks for different audiences. Although it was simplified, it gave the students a taste of what to expect.

We wrapped up the day discussing the different flavors of product manager roles. Understanding who one is as a person is key to understanding the type of product and team that would be a good fit. Satyajeet also shared that a career in product management is a life-long learning experience. You can never exhaust all there is to learn, and sometimes when you’ve become the expert, you create something new that others will try to learn. So for those who are inquisitive / leaders / communicators / project managers / empathizers / good listeners / agitators (the list goes on…), maybe PM is the right career for you!

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