Starting out in PM, Metrics and Iterative growth- AMA with Gourav katyal

Hello folks! Welcome back to our weekly AMA series. This week we were elated to invite Gourav Katyal, VP of Products at WhiteHat Jr.

Gourav is a IIITB and IIMB graduate and is currently the VP of Products at WhiteHat Jr.  He has built consumer products across large enterprises like Expedia and Nokia as well as tackled 0-1 problems for startups like Babajob and 1mg.

He loves building PM teams and solving problems that have business and social impact.

In this AMA, Gourav shared insights about switching to Product Management, future of Product Analytics and building relationships with stakeholders as a PM.

So let's jump straight into it!

If you had to judge a profile for a starting PM/APM role, what are the 4-5 non-negotiable skills you will look for, to have a conversation with the candidate?

Shortlisting a CV is primarily done on the candidate’s ability to communicate and quantify their impact. Skills I'd look for during the conversation are- 

  1. Communication skills 
  2. Hunger to learn 
  3. Ability to identify their mistakes 
  4. Not repeating their mistakes 
  5. Bias for action.

Unfortunately we end up using external filters like college attended etc. The best way to get your foot in the door is to reach out of cycle. There are usually roles that are going to open up and the goal should be to get ahead and not be a part of the pile of CVs.

How can one switch to Product Management a few years into their career?

A side hustle that solves a problem for your current company may be a good way to show your competency. I am a big fan of folks moving horizontally within a company to a PM role as 

a) you don't go through an artificial evaluation loop of an interview 

b) you already have demonstrated your value to the organization and 

c) your strengths as well as a good mentor/manager can get you to level up on these while getting started.

Immediate actions you can take at your current company-

  • Find a PM who is currently working in your broad area. He is most likely overworked and short on time. Find out the grunt work they are having trouble prioritizing (program management, JIRA tickets, following up with marketing folks) and offer to take this off their hands. This will give you a view of what the role looks like and how you can start picking up more tasks
  • There are always problems that don't get prioritized but are a significant pain for internal teams (automating a repetitive task, access to a database without asking the dev team). Look at a no-code/low-code way of solving this or bribe a developer to help you build it xP.

Does getting into Product Analytics at this point of time make sense since every kind of data processing is getting automated in some way or will the field boom due to its connection with ML/AI?

Trust me, if data processing becomes automated, analysts will be the happiest lot xD. As an analyst you'll spend a disproportionate amount of time cleaning up and aggregating data. Your value as an analyst will be from the insights you give the business and product teams.

Your job as an analyst is to put data in context of the business reality and help stakeholders make sense of what is happening. As processing becomes less painful the good analysts will stand out significantly versus number crunchers.

Are there any good books / courses that you would recommend for someone who wants to get into product?

First of all, figure out where you are using a framework and then identify the action to level up on specific skills. Your actions for each skill will be different.

Most courses I have seen would be helpful only once you start building things out. In the current context, figure out where the requirements are coming from and see how you can make their job easier. A slightly inorganic path would be to join a company/team that has the role defined so that you have someone you can work with as you transition.

How to build strong relationships with stakeholders who are not sponsors but still hold significant say on the product? (for eg. Legal)

As a PM you'll usually have more breadth of knowledge about other functions. For example, working with Legal you'll know more about what is going on with business, sales, operations etc. Use that to help legal navigate issues that they aren't able to solve. 

The other approach is to figure out their incentives (e.g. legal is worried about not violating the law and the whole company keeps asking them multiple questions). How can you help them figure out a way that they are only looking at new problems and questions and not repeating the same advice.

How do you manage your time and pick problems to work upon since there are always many problems to solve and many meetings to attend? What's your framework/approach to this?

I have specific blocks on my calendar for focussed work. In terms of prioritizing problems I usually look at the biggest issue a user is facing, does it move a metric the business cares about and then rank these by probable impact. 

How would you define your usual routine day? What tasks do you have on your plate on a usual day?

This is how my usual day goes about-

  • Look at the state of metrics for my portfolio 
  • Work with the team if there are anomalies and check with the team if I can unblock them
  • Start working with stakeholders with their asks, plans/manage escalations if any 

I usually have time in the second half when I can go deeper into things the team is building and work with them on the overall path forward.

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