Abhishek Shukla

Career Milestones

Organization and You

Core Competencies

Go to food for thought

Favorite Products

What accomplishment in your product management career has brought you the highest level of satisfaction and joy? Can you narrate why?

I feel a sense of pride and achievement every time I hear stories of customer success and how my products have played a role. If I need to put my finger on one that tops that list, it would be "Digital Guides" - a digital alternative to the traditional classroom guides and printed books.

Back in 2013, I worked with the enterprise education division of a leading CAD/CAM/PLM product company. Classroom trainings was a key revenue generator for this multi-million dollar education division. Traditionally, classroom guides were printed and shipped globally to thousands of students. This was a supply chain nightmare and was also detrimental to the bottom line. While attempts had been made to replace printed guides with e-books, they couldn't deliver the experience that students expected.

With Digital Guides, we flipped the problem and placed experience at the center. Digital Guides offer much more than the typical e-book - on-demand access to all training material, organized notes, notes shared with the instructor and peers, bookmarks, responsive design - everything that a student would need during and after the training, all under one product. It was a hit!

We did save a lot in eliminating the printing and shipping costs; however, what makes this product my favorite is the environmental impact. Prior to the launch, more than 31000 guides were printed annually. With Digital Guides, we ended up saving an average of 70 tons of paper, or 600 trees annually! Brandon Hall Group, a leading analyst firm, recognized this impact and awarded Digital Guides as the "Best Advance in Learning Management Technology" in 2015. This is an accomplishment that goes beyond product metrics and business indicators.

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What aspect of product management did you struggle the most with? How did you overcome it?

I've spoken in the past about the importance of building trust and relationships. Product Management operates as an engine to the product development machinery. A strong sense of trust and confidence in the product narrative works as a lubricant for this machinery. It's critical for a Product Manager to proactively and repeatedly build trust by meaningful actions. This was a limitation that I faced for the first couple of years when I took up Product Management.

Being an introvert didn't help; it was an inhibition to reaching out and making connections. While I was good at the "hard skills", I lacked the "influence" and "rapport" that Product Managers so often leverage. This limitation showed up more often and more severely when the products grew in complexity and involved cross-team dependencies. I often found myself in situations where I was left out of key product discussions, and stakeholders were confused about who to reach out to for guidance on product decisions.

I followed a two-pronged approach to overcome this limitation - developing product thought leadership and taking tactical actions to build trust. Grooming thought leadership is a gradual but effective way of showcasing yourself as a proficient Product Manager and goes a long way in building trust. Tactical, repeatable actions are even more important in overcoming any inhibitions that you may face in building relationships. I started setting up working group meetings that included cross-functional stakeholders; I reached out to sales and offered to join them for roadshows and customer calls; I participated in "a day in the life of" sessions and spent time with support, operations, and accounting. These tiny steps helped a lot in building the rapport and leverage that I needed. I continue to practice these tactics even today!

‍

What's one common myth about product management that you find common among aspiring PMs?

One misconception that I come across a lot among folks who've just started exploring Product Management is the notion that Product Managers need to have all the "next big" cool ideas.

While it's true that Product Managers operate in a space where they are more likely to come up with ideas that may resonate with customers, they aren't the sole (or even primary) source of product ideas. Good ideas can come from anywhere. Great Product Managers have the ability to spot, define, validate and orchestrate the execution of good ideas. I often emphasize that Product Managers own the "problem space", not the "solution space". Thus, more important than coming up with great ideas is to validate whether it's worth investing time and resources in.

‍

What are some common pitfalls that product managers must be aware of?

Misinterpreting opinions as evidence - Often, the opinions of "influential" stakeholders (the top bosses!) are misinterpreted as facts or evidence. One must always bring objectivity before accepting opinions and assumptions.

Ignoring buyer use-cases - Specifically for B2B products, serving buyers' use-cases is almost as important as the consumers'. Think through key questions like - Who makes the buying decisions? What are their key expectations? What metrics they most care about? While building a product that your consumers love is essential, including capabilities that differentiate your product for buyers is critical too.

Great innovations that take you nowhere - Most organizations encourage experimentation and innovation. Product Managers must ensure that big bets are made in innovations that align with the product strategy. There's no fun investing valuable resources in great ideas that don't serve the broader product vision. While some moonshots do work out perfectly well, such successful bets are few and far between.

‍

If not product management, what career would you have picked? Are there any complimentary skillsets that you see between being a PM and your alternate choice?

I love teaching, coaching, and sharing knowledge. I have been fortunate to have taken coaching/mentoring sessions for students at various levels - primary, graduate, young professionals. Most of these have been voluntary sessions, but I would have gladly taken it up as a full-time career!

Storytelling and narratives have always played a significant role in my coaching sessions, especially while teaching primary school kids. Using simple language, analogies, and common knowledge to teach complex concepts has always helped me during these sessions. In a more formal setting, I try to leverage these skills to build product narratives for internal and external stakeholders.

‍

What is something about product management that you wish you knew when you started out?

I wish I knew how generalist of a role Product Management is. I would have loved to have early exposure to all the functions involved in building, launching, selling, and supporting products. For the first couple of years, I was so heads-down on executing product ideas that I was oblivious to everything else that gets the product to the customers. Although I spent significant time interacting with design, engineering, and operations, I could have built a better understanding by investing more time with support, sales, marketing, accounting. While this shift happens naturally as a Product Manager starts managing more complex products with cross-functional dependencies, early insight into "behind the scenes" would help significantly.

‍

What accomplishment in your product management career has brought you the highest level of satisfaction and joy? Can you narrate why?

I feel a sense of pride and achievement every time I hear stories of customer success and how my products have played a role. If I need to put my finger on one that tops that list, it would be "Digital Guides" - a digital alternative to the traditional classroom guides and printed books.

Back in 2013, I worked with the enterprise education division of a leading CAD/CAM/PLM product company. Classroom trainings was a key revenue generator for this multi-million dollar education division. Traditionally, classroom guides were printed and shipped globally to thousands of students. This was a supply chain nightmare and was also detrimental to the bottom line. While attempts had been made to replace printed guides with e-books, they couldn't deliver the experience that students expected.

With Digital Guides, we flipped the problem and placed experience at the center. Digital Guides offer much more than the typical e-book - on-demand access to all training material, organized notes, notes shared with the instructor and peers, bookmarks, responsive design - everything that a student would need during and after the training, all under one product. It was a hit!

We did save a lot in eliminating the printing and shipping costs; however, what makes this product my favorite is the environmental impact. Prior to the launch, more than 31000 guides were printed annually. With Digital Guides, we ended up saving an average of 70 tons of paper, or 600 trees annually! Brandon Hall Group, a leading analyst firm, recognized this impact and awarded Digital Guides as the "Best Advance in Learning Management Technology" in 2015. This is an accomplishment that goes beyond product metrics and business indicators.

‍

What aspect of product management did you struggle the most with? How did you overcome it?

I've spoken in the past about the importance of building trust and relationships. Product Management operates as an engine to the product development machinery. A strong sense of trust and confidence in the product narrative works as a lubricant for this machinery. It's critical for a Product Manager to proactively and repeatedly build trust by meaningful actions. This was a limitation that I faced for the first couple of years when I took up Product Management.

Being an introvert didn't help; it was an inhibition to reaching out and making connections. While I was good at the "hard skills", I lacked the "influence" and "rapport" that Product Managers so often leverage. This limitation showed up more often and more severely when the products grew in complexity and involved cross-team dependencies. I often found myself in situations where I was left out of key product discussions, and stakeholders were confused about who to reach out to for guidance on product decisions.

I followed a two-pronged approach to overcome this limitation - developing product thought leadership and taking tactical actions to build trust. Grooming thought leadership is a gradual but effective way of showcasing yourself as a proficient Product Manager and goes a long way in building trust. Tactical, repeatable actions are even more important in overcoming any inhibitions that you may face in building relationships. I started setting up working group meetings that included cross-functional stakeholders; I reached out to sales and offered to join them for roadshows and customer calls; I participated in "a day in the life of" sessions and spent time with support, operations, and accounting. These tiny steps helped a lot in building the rapport and leverage that I needed. I continue to practice these tactics even today!

‍

What's one common myth about product management that you find common among aspiring PMs?

One misconception that I come across a lot among folks who've just started exploring Product Management is the notion that Product Managers need to have all the "next big" cool ideas.

While it's true that Product Managers operate in a space where they are more likely to come up with ideas that may resonate with customers, they aren't the sole (or even primary) source of product ideas. Good ideas can come from anywhere. Great Product Managers have the ability to spot, define, validate and orchestrate the execution of good ideas. I often emphasize that Product Managers own the "problem space", not the "solution space". Thus, more important than coming up with great ideas is to validate whether it's worth investing time and resources in.

‍

What are some common pitfalls that product managers must be aware of?

Misinterpreting opinions as evidence - Often, the opinions of "influential" stakeholders (the top bosses!) are misinterpreted as facts or evidence. One must always bring objectivity before accepting opinions and assumptions.

Ignoring buyer use-cases - Specifically for B2B products, serving buyers' use-cases is almost as important as the consumers'. Think through key questions like - Who makes the buying decisions? What are their key expectations? What metrics they most care about? While building a product that your consumers love is essential, including capabilities that differentiate your product for buyers is critical too.

Great innovations that take you nowhere - Most organizations encourage experimentation and innovation. Product Managers must ensure that big bets are made in innovations that align with the product strategy. There's no fun investing valuable resources in great ideas that don't serve the broader product vision. While some moonshots do work out perfectly well, such successful bets are few and far between.

‍

If not product management, what career would you have picked? Are there any complimentary skillsets that you see between being a PM and your alternate choice?

I love teaching, coaching, and sharing knowledge. I have been fortunate to have taken coaching/mentoring sessions for students at various levels - primary, graduate, young professionals. Most of these have been voluntary sessions, but I would have gladly taken it up as a full-time career!

Storytelling and narratives have always played a significant role in my coaching sessions, especially while teaching primary school kids. Using simple language, analogies, and common knowledge to teach complex concepts has always helped me during these sessions. In a more formal setting, I try to leverage these skills to build product narratives for internal and external stakeholders.

‍

What is something about product management that you wish you knew when you started out?

I wish I knew how generalist of a role Product Management is. I would have loved to have early exposure to all the functions involved in building, launching, selling, and supporting products. For the first couple of years, I was so heads-down on executing product ideas that I was oblivious to everything else that gets the product to the customers. Although I spent significant time interacting with design, engineering, and operations, I could have built a better understanding by investing more time with support, sales, marketing, accounting. While this shift happens naturally as a Product Manager starts managing more complex products with cross-functional dependencies, early insight into "behind the scenes" would help significantly.

‍

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