The Truth About Product Management : In talks with Hotstar PM Gaurav Shahlot


Ever since I enrolled myself in UpGrad’s Product Management Program, I have been robbed of my weekends, developed bags under my eyes and have had cold fear struck in my heart with just two words – “Submission Day!”

Then a day like the one earlier this month, makes it all seem worthwhile. We were privy to an engaging session on transitioning into a product role by Ravijot Chugh (Head of Products, UpGrad) and Gaurav Shahlot (Director, Products at Hotstar) at the UpGrad Mumbai office. The two of them took what seemed like a torrential downpour of questions and answered them all patiently and like experts that they are.

Because of the sheer value that I derived from this talk, I wanted to share an excerpt of the interaction, so that some of the aspiring product managers out there can be inspired too.

Q: What are some of the traits you look for while hiring a product manager?

1. A love for technology: You need a deep appreciation for the power of technology to solve real-life problems.

2. Passion for a delightful user experience: You need a burning passion for products that delight the user with their depth of understanding of user needs and insights. You also need to be the kind of person who is very excited about feature launches of your favorite products.

For example, if you use, admire or follow Uber regularly, did you wait with bated breath for the latest upgrade of the Uber App?

3. Analytical and data-driven approach to problem solving: As a product manager, you’ll be taking some very important decisions that will affect the direction the product takes in the future. So, it’s imperative for you to understand a problem, break it down into smaller pieces, and arrive at a solution quickly and accurately based on the available data.

Also Read: Product Managers Who Changed The World


Image source: Sugoru

 

Q: What are some of the common mistakes newbie product managers make?

1. Not launching a product until it’s too late: As a product manager, it’s easy to get very attached to a product since you’ve probably spent all your time and energy building it from the ground up. This might prevent you from launching the product until you consider it perfect.

However, it’s critical that you narrow down a set of features that go into your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and launch the MVP. After the launch, you’ll be able to gather feedback from users and decide on the future course of action, based on that feedback.

2. Taking decisions based only on your gut and not on data: Some product managers tend to take decisions based on their gut feeling rather than data. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that it’s not always easy to come by secondary data in India.

While some decisions based on your gut might work at times, it’s difficult to analyze the reason why it worked or didn’t work.

If decision making is done based on a healthy combination of intuition and data, it’s possible to form a hypothesis of user behavior and have this hypothesis validated or invalidated. It also helps to course correct in a more structured manner.

3. Not having a concrete post launch plan: Some product managers believe their job ends once they launch the product. But it’s just the beginning!

It is imperative to have a post launch plan in terms of getting the first 100 users on board, sieving through user feedback and analytics, strategizing the feature sets in version 2 and version 3, etc.

4. Not being able to prioritize: As a product manager, you’ll receive inputs from multiple stakeholders and there’s a tendency for some product managers to say “yes” to everyone. The time available is always constrained and you end up in a situation where you have several half-built features and nothing to ship.

The only way to mitigate this problem is by prioritizing features and setting clear schedules against each feature.


Image source: Attack with Numbers

 

Q:  What are some frameworks that you’ve personally used for feature prioritization?

There are several theoretical models available for prioritization, but a practical approach that has worked for us is a metric which is a combination of value of the feature to the user and the complexity of its implementation.

Once you’ve scored all features based on this metric, pick up the feature that has maximum value to the user and minimum complexity in implementation, first.

Q: How do you approach the idea of ‘value of the feature to the user’ quantitatively?

There is some subjectivity involved in arriving at what is the actual ‘value of a feature to the user.’

One approach that we have used is to first set broad product goals based on the product vision, such as increasing content retention for a learner. A feature is then rated on a scale of 1 to 5 based on its contribution towards the goal.


Image source: Pinterest

 

Q: Are there some pitfalls to getting into product management for a person with an engineering background?

The role of a product manager should be to answer the “Whats” and the “Whys” of a problem. Being an engineer naturally sets you to offer answers for the “Hows” as well, which might not go down very well with the engineering team. A safe strategy could be to recommend an approach, but leave it to the team to take autonomous decisions.

It’s a Wrap

After this, we had an extremely insightful session by Gaurav on how to bag an interview call for a PM role, what to expect in a PM interview and how to crack the interview.

This was followed by a short case study assigned by Gaurav where we had to solve a real-life problem with a strictly MVP approach i.e. what would be the minimum set of features you would launch your solution with?

The problem statement was:

“I’ve recently shifted to Mumbai and I work in an office building with 37 floors. I need to wait for 10 minutes for the lift every morning and evening. I want to reduce my waiting time in front of the lift.”

We organized ourselves into groups, made presentations and got feedback from Gaurav. The solutions ranged from apps providing status of lifts in the building with a wait time for each lift to adding an optimization algorithm to the lift’s functioning. We also heard from Gaurav on how he’d have approached the problem.

His recommendation was an app which allowed you to ask for the lift and get an ETA for the next available lift on your floor. You’d also get a notification when there was 30 seconds to go for the lift to arrive on your floor. It was a brilliant sneak peek into a day in the life of a Product Manager and we all came out of it feeling so much wiser!

Bourbon biscuits, great people, engaging conversation – it was a well spent Saturday afternoon, indeed!

Comment below to let us know if you have any great product ideas – you never know, it may be the start of your PM journey. If you want access to many such offline events, workshops and interactions, enroll in UpGrad’s Product Management Program now!

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Shruti Narayan

Shruti Narayan

Shruti is a student of the first cohort of UpGrad's Product Management Certification Program. She is a Senior Product Manager at LoudCloud Systems Inc. Before this, she was Senior Manager Business Strategy and Operations at CMS Infosystems. She has also had entrepreneurial experience as co-founder of Wizda.Shruti is an alumna of the Indian School of Business.