Why Communication is Key in Product Management with Checkr’s PM

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Anand Lakshminarayan, Product Manager at Checkr!!

Meet Anand Lakshminarayan

Anand Lakshminarayan is a hard-working, passionate, and driven Product Manager who has worked cross-functionally with engineering, design, and product. On top of this, he also has worked with various departments such as Legal, Marketing, Business Development, Operations, Sales, and Customer Success.

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Anand is always looking to expand his technical knowledge and is an extremely effective communicator and a team player. His main strength is the ability to leverage both technical skills and communication skills to get the job done. In the last two weeks, Anand transitioned from working with Checkr and is now the Product Manager at JWPlayer in New York!

Product Management Communication

Can you help me understand why there are different collaborative and communication tools in organizations?

This is an interesting question. It really depends on the size and industry of the organization in question. Startups tend to use Mac or Linux based operating systems and usually use quick and easy solutions such as Slack and Gmail.

Other corporations may be much larger and require more security and nuanced functionality, which is why Outlook and the Office communications suite is prevalent in many companies.

In general, it depends on the size and type of the company as well as their needs beyond just collaboration and communication (documenting, security, video vs. text, etc.).

How do you see the future of Messaging as a platform (Slack, Facebook Messenger, Skype)? 

In my mind, I think each product or service will capture some portion of the market but nothing will take all. Slack is going to win the SMB and mid-market segment. Skype and Microsoft communication will win Enterprise. FB is going to win (or has won) consumer.

I think it is too early for businesses to use conversational AI, but there is a future especially for simple tasks such as ordering food, making appointments or reservations, calling taxis etc. But Conversational AI must be done via text message because that will be the majority of the market. Forcing users to download an app or chat with a bot is not the most convenient form of communication via messaging.

Do you have any suggestions on how to identify opportunities and validate which opportunities to pursue?

Yes, I would speak to your sales and marketing team as they are the ones on the ground understanding the customer pain points and needs. Similar feedback for your customer success/support team.

For new product discovery, I would do research as to who the ideal customer profile (ICP) would be if it is B2B or even B2C. Once you understand the problem space, you can then figure out the market opportunity and potential solution.

As a startup/SMB, how does one handle the expensive, limited, and confined aspects of communication tools? For example, it’s difficult for SMBs to revisit old discussions on a free Slack tier, or the fact that their discussion data (Flock) is on separate platforms. 

When Checkr was a smaller SMB, we actually relied heavily on email for internal communication and while not the best method, we found that most old threads and discussions were available somewhere within an email.

Gmail does have a great internal search, so I think it is a good option for startups. As time goes on, there are better products for a knowledge base or FAQ such as Zendesk for support or Guru for internal training. Check those out if you haven’t already!

What do you consider your most important tools as a PM?

May sound cliche but honestly email, chat, and presentations. Most of your work as a PM is cross-functional collaboration and getting buy-in for features/products and these are the best tools to do so!

What is a Product Management challenge you wish you had some help to navigate?

Mainly understanding how to keep everyone informed when a startup scales its employee base. At a fast-paced startup, the people you work with can change on a quarterly or even monthly basis and figuring out communications strategies is very important!

Have you ever been faced with a challenge where an organization’s culture has not fully appreciated/utilized a PM? 

Yes, I do have that experience. In general, the way to overcome it is to educate other departments on what IS and what is NOT a PM, and have a shared understanding of the product lifecycle!

Do you have any suggestions on networking outside Product School. Are there any suggestions for events or Meetup groups?

I would recommend searching the website Meetup or Eventbrite for Product Manager related events. Conferences hosted by tech companies are also a great networking opportunity. If all else fails, start your own thing! 🙂

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Product Management Skills

What would you say is one of the more important skills to learn in Product Management?

I would say SQL. Nowadays, almost every company has data that needs to be understood and PMs are expected to be able to manipulate and test that data on their own.

How does JWPlayer use user telemetry and analytics to drive Product Management? Do you personally dig into analytics data?

Great question! I am actually going to be the Product Manager of the data product, so this is very appropriate. JWPlayer collects data and telemetry in an aggregate of usage of its player with its varied customer base.

This data is used to figure out 1) how well the Player is doing but also 2) to help identify trends that can be used to build new product lines and use cases for existing and new customers. It is on this 2nd point that will be my main point of focus at JWPlayer.

Would you set success metrics and goals when launching a platform for the first time? Without any idea of the traffic or baseline, the KPIs are mostly blind guesses. 

I would try and use industry benchmarking for similar products or make your best guess based on past product release results at your company. If all else fails, you will have to make your best guess but it’s important to measure this over time to make sure things are working out correctly!

As a Product Manager, how do you manage/adapt to the constant change in market conditions, tech, and any other organizational changes?

I would highlight constant communication. So long as you know who your cross-functional anchors are in each department (sales, marketing, engineering, etc.) you can rely on them to help keep you up to speed with the organizational and market changes. As a PM, you don’t have to do everything alone (and you definitely shouldn’t!).

What are some of your go-to references for acquiring industry/domain and/or tech knowledge? 

I would mainly highlight keeping up to date with tech news via your favorite tech website (TechCrunch, Verge, Wired) and for domain specific things there is a nice hack you can do using Google Search Alerts.

For example, if you are interested in healthcare, create a Google Search Alert for the term “healthcare” once a week, and Google will aggregate recent news around that search term for you! I use this myself and it is very good. 🙂

What are the top hard skills you have found useful in your career so far?

The biggest one is SQL / Data Analysis. PMs don’t really have to code these days, and besides the full stack tech landscape seems to change every year (LAMP -> Angular -> React etc.) but data analysis skills are huge for PMs. I have been trying to learn more by taking SQL classes and I recommend everyone do the same!

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When introducing new features to a product, what are your strategies for pivoting or changing something that isn’t working for the currently successful Product?

I would make small, incremental changes but also have some measurability or success criteria to ensure that the features are actually working as intended. For B2B, you can pivot products only with a good customer beta program – where customers understand that what you are working on might have bugs but they are ok to try things out!

What do you think about companies creating their own apps for community engagements? 

I think its interesting! Though I think the app ecosystem is quite saturated and most users only use 5-10 apps (80/20 rule).

Which metrics framework should a SaaS product be assessed on?

I would recommend AARM (activation, acquisition, retention, and monetization) as a good SaaS product base.

How should you get SMB clients for interviews while conducting an MVP experiment?

Leverage your network!

Do you have any resources that would help me build a Product Playbook?

I would look into the Product Lifecycle process and similar resources online to help establish a playbook of how PMs operate with other departments at your company!

What was peculiar about the Program Manager role at Microsoft? And what did you love about the role?

I think the main thing is the title. At Microsoft, they are labeled as Program Managers but functionally they are the same as Product Managers.

The main thing that I loved was the structure and clear goal setting/mentorship from the management department while at Microsoft. Being such a large company does have benefits and the biggest one for me was the structure to help Product Managers succeed.

Of products developed in the past, what would have been your dream product to be a part of as a PM?

I think a dream product would be something like Robinhood or Uber – where the user experience is seamless and the app pretty much does exactly what the user wants (and disrupts an industry).

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Transition into Product Management

Do you have any suggestions for transitioning into a Product Management role?

Yes, I would recommend using your network and leveraging the contacts you know. Think about your 2nd-degree connections as just one introduction away, rather than just your 1st-degree network.

Chances are you know someone who knows a Product Manager in a company you might be interested in. Get an introduction and then discuss with them your experience and passion for Product Management – that might help you in the future!

Do you believe it is possible with BA skills to progress into a career as a Product Manager? Also, do you believe there are ways that I could obtain Product Manager skills?

Definitely! I would say you should highlight your analytical skills when trying to transition to Product Management. A lot of PMs come from a BA background, but it is important to try and assist or own features end to end whenever you can to build out this product experience. Talk to PMs within your company to try and learn how they do things.

How difficult will it be for me to transition to Product Manager role outside of my current role?

I think you should try and build PM experience within your company OR with side projects. It will be tough to go directly to Product Management without showing companies you have experience in some form. You can try attending hackathons and being the “PM” of the group to build project experience.

With 7 years experience in marketing, do you think it’s possible to pursue a career in Product Management?

Yes absolutely. PMM and PM are closely related – PM does less market research and more execution and vice versa for PMM. I would speak to PMs at your company or in your network on the best way to highlight your experience as a potential Product Manager!

Were you asked algorithm and coding questions (SQL or NOSQL) in your interviews? On the Product Management side, what are the challenges you are going to solve for your product in next 6 months?

Rarely if ever do I get technical/coding questions. I’m mainly going to be working on the Data Products at JWPlayer.

What is expected from a person who is interviewing for a Product Manager role and is coming from a software development/technical background?

For interviews, you should do prep on the specific company and the industry/product area that they are in. That will give you the best insight into what kind of questions they may ask. As far as interview prep, I recommend the book Cracking the PM Interview. It will go over pretty much every area possible in the interview process.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

My advice would be to use Cracking the Coding Interview for interview prep, use your network to learn about PMs, and always be open to trying PM opportunities out in your current company! You never know when the right opportunity will come your way 🙂

Feel free to message me on LinkedIn for further questions!

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