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First month as Product Manager

I joined Microsoft four weeks back. It is my first full-time role as a Product Manager (PM), and I learned many things in the last month. I want to highlight two key learning in this blog post.

Customer advocate

The Product Manager should be a customer advocate. A very simple statement. It’s tricky to carry that mindset throughout the job. During PM interviews, we are given a product to critique or improve by adding new features. It ends at sketching out a highly opinionated plan. The PM job is slightly very different from the interview process.

A PM will be owning a product or feature area. It can be in the Platform (that is not visible to users) or in the User Experience (UX) module (which the user views on their screen).

A super simplified representation of a software product
A super-simplified representation of a software product

First thing to do is to understand the product. Login to the product and start using it as an end-user. Then, look at the engineering design behind it, not to the extent of reading the codebase but on a relatively high level. Checkpoint one passed.

The second thing to do is to read customer feedback. What the customers are saying about the product, what they like, what they don’t like, what they wish to see in the product. These are crucial inputs to the next step, research.

A PM should research potential product improvements. It can be done through customer interviews, competitor study, reading industry reports like Gartner. And that is how a PM lands on a plan very similar to the one sketched out during the interview phase. The key difference is, this plan is fact-based, metric-driven and relatively less opinionated.

There are three steps in deciding a product solution.

  1. Why do we need this solution?
  2. What is the solution?
  3. How are we going to build the solution?
Three steps thinking to a product solution
Three steps thinking to a product solution

PMs spend a lot of time in 1 & 2 and to a small extent in 3. The learning I had in my first month is understanding why 1 & 2 are important. We start with Why. Customer interviews and secondary research will help answer this. It’s very important to validate the assumptions with customers. It’s the principal character of the PM who strives to be the customer advocate.

Based on the inputs from the first question, we move on to the second part of the product solution—What is the solution. It involves deciding what customers would like to view when they use your product and in what order. PMs make a list of items they are planning to build and show it to the customers. Customers will say which items they like and want immediately and which items are not urgent needs. These prioritised items will be given as inputs to the development team in a product requirement document.

A product requirement document consists of User Personas (customers), their needs and the expected behaviour of the product/feature—User Jobs. PMs will be required to engage with the engineering team to help them clarify any doubts in the requirements and involve in the solution discussion (the How part).

User jobs with PM and customer priority
User jobs with PM and customer priority

A wise PM told me that most of the not-so-great PMs spend a lot of their time in the third question (How) and don’t get the fundamentals right (Why and What). He further added without a strong backing of Why and What, How is worthless. Often, PMs and developers build a solution that nobody wants. This miscommunication gap is bridged by iterative improvements in the Why and What questions with customer inputs.

A good PM adds a lot of value by being a customer advocate.

Measuring effort

I joined work after a two-year gap due to higher education. There were a lot of tasks and I was initially overwhelmed. I asked the wise PM during one on one, how do you manage your tasks? He showed me a two-by-two matrix like the one below.

An action priority matrix for tasks
An action priority matrix for tasks

I asked him how he measured the effort. He told the amount of time spent on that activity. I replied, “yeah it makes sense. Time is money, right”.

He replied, “That is a misconception. Time is actually greater than money”

Time can only be spent and spent linearly. Money can be earned or spent exponentially.

We always have finite time in a day. These things make time a more valuable entity than money. This perspective will influence how we prioritise the tasks at hand. PMs are always caught in situations to prioritise tasks. It was the second learning I had in my first month as full-time PM.

I will keep y’all posted on the upcoming learning in my PM role 🙂


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Thumbnail Photo by Johny vino on Unsplash

How to have a successful product management internship

I interned with Microsoft last summer in the Program Manager (PM) role. Like many MBA students, it was my first opportunity to switch tracks to product management. After a successful internship, I am joining Microsoft as a full-time PM this June. I want to share a few pointers to maximise your chances of having a successful PM internship.

0. Communicate

First, understand the expectations of the project. Keep track of the progress. You can do this by scheduling recurring one on one meetings with your mentor and manager. Secondly, keep no surprises. Always communicate. Let your mentor or manager know what you are working on. Your early weeks will involve a lot of communication, that is normal. Mismatch of expectations can happen if you do not communicate often. A good PM will be an excellent communicator.

1. Respect others time

Your mentor and manager will be busy. Do not overwhelm them with your queries. Please respect the time they spend with you. Do some research on your own before reaching out to them. Always channel your work through your mentor to the manager. Mentors will help you avoid making rookie mistakes. Keep a notepad. Always take notes during the meeting and collate your queries in the notebook. A good PM will make the interaction productive for everyone.

2. Seek feedback

Feedback is vital to growth. Feedback comes in various forms-appreciation, criticism, suggestion. Seek all types of feedback and put efforts into using them in work. A good PM should be coachable.

3. Talk with data

Always seek metrics that will support your research, assumptions/hypothesis. Analyse the telemetry dashboards of your product, read customer reviews, customer call transcripts, industry reports, go through the presentations of your product in the team repository. A good PM should be data (evidence) driven.

4. Talk to your engineers

Until the fifth week of my internship, I did not talk to the engineers in my team. I took every question to my manager or mentor. Manager asked, “why don’t you ask this to your engineers”. It struck me then, “why am I taking all my questions to him; instead, I can ask the engineers”. I set up a few meetings with the developers, and they helped a lot in getting the technical perspective. Try to utilise all the resources at hand, including the engineers in the team.

5. Make connections

Talk to fellow PMs in your organisation to understand the work-culture in the company. It’s essential to find a good fit for you and the company. The company is evaluating you via the internship. Set up lunch or snack time one on ones with senior PMs. Understand how their careers pan out, seek advice or suggestions for your PM career. You may even get a mentor beyond the internship.

6. Be Proactive

Finally, you want your internship to be successful. Show the intent on your action. If you don’t have an assigned mentor, ask. If you don’t have access to a tool or a channel, ask. A good PM will be proactive in getting things done.

All the very best on your PM internship.

Let me know if you have any queries.


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