Building Digital vs Physical Products with Carnival PM

This week Product School hosted Nishant Saxena, Product Manager at Carnival, for an #AskMeAnything session. Nishant discussed his background in Engineering and the transition into Product Management. Nishant also gave key insights into how to break into the industry and building physical and digital products.

Nishant Saxena AMA image

Meet Nishant Saxena

Nishant is an experienced Product Manager with an entrepreneurial spirit and extensive experience in building both digital and physical products. During his career of over a decade, he supported various ventures, from small startups to well-established enterprises such as Bosch. He began his professional career with Bosch, where he quickly transitioned from an Engineering position to a Certified Project Manager. During his extensive tenure at Bosch of over 3 years, he worked on several company projects including the first-of-its-kind Bosch Experience Center and the Bosch Net Zero Home product packages.

Shortly after, Nishant decided to try his hand at entrepreneurship and break into Product simultaneously; he co-founded a provider of cost-effective digital marketing services to startups and successfully delivered 10 products. Today, he is an eCommerce Product Manager at Carnival Cruise Line leading efforts in two critical areas of the online booking experience. An avid speaker and mentor, Nishant inspires others to take initiative while speaking about his experiences in the diverse tech ecosystem.

Can you share more about your transition to product management from engineering. How was the journey, what steps did you take?

Broadly speaking, I have always enjoyed building products and Engineering was a means for me to understand how to do so. One key skill set I developed through my Engineering studies and work was the ability to effectively solve problems.

Specifically, how to ask the right questions to frame a problem. Identify assumptions. Write out key equations. And only then, go about problem-solving. I use this skill daily when looking at solving customer needs through digital and physical products.

I also ventured into the startup space to build real-world business knowledge, including how to balance business needs, customer relationships, stakeholder management, etc. These combined with my engineering toolkit played well.

Tell us more about prioritizing the roadmap and how to balance growth initiatives.

I first factor 3 areas:

  1. Customer needs
  2. Business needs
  3. Engineering and design parameters/restrictions

What did you find more challenging, building physical or digital products?

I personally enjoy both equally. Today, I find physical products more challenging simply because my primary focus during the last few years has been on digital products, so my knowledge base on physical products is behind. But, I apply the same product skillsets to both physical and digital products:

  • putting users first
  • identifying real pain points
  • evaluating addressable markets
  • bringing together a team
  • prototyping
  • testing
  • delivering the product and continuously iterating in the market…etc.

So whenever interested in switching between physical and digital, my focus is on the subject matter around the product rather than whether the product is physical or digital.

winding road

Can you talk more about the booking experience or transformation you did for Carnival.

So I’m relatively new to Carnival (I’ve been there for about 5 months now). But, my experience here so far has been incredible. We have a great product team in place that is shaping the digital experience for the next generation of cruisers. Albeit my time here so far is short, I have been lucky to work on many exciting projects already.

Recently, we launched Carnival Finance powered by Uplift on which I was the PM. It was a cross-functional initiative across all of our sales channels (online, phone and trade), and required a collaborative effort to deliver. We have received excellent feedback from the market.

How does your team tackle bugs that are found by your Users and CX teams post-beta?

How do you prioritize?
• Is there a specific team that works on bugs?
• Is QA involved?

We have an extensive QA process at Carnival, both pre and post-delivery of features. Our scrum teams are staffed with people conducting UAT pre-delivery. Post-delivery, we have a team of product and design folks scanning through customer feedback for potential issues. Additionally, we have a full technical support team monitoring the online experience constantly.

In terms of prioritizing, we consider both functional severity and business impact of a bug. Functional severity is usually pretty obvious (e.g. Search button is not clickable –> users cant view potential cruises). But for business impact, I depend heavily on our Analytics team to provide relevant data and insights. This information plays a crucial role in helping me prioritize. E.g. I’ll take a look at our dashboard to see if / how a bug may have impacted a KPI. Based on that, I’ll prioritize the bug in relation to other items in the product backlog.

What are your main responsibilities as a product manager at Carnival? (i.e. what’s a typical day in the job?)

I’m very lucky at Carnival to have developed the Product team. We have a fully staffed scrum team including developers, testers, business analysts and delivery managers. On the business side, we have designers, UX experts, individuals building prototypes and testing features pre-development, etc. Given this range of resources, I am able to focus on the feature level.

My typical day really varies. A typical week is easier to answer and consists of
1. Discovery:

  • Market research (industry, product and general business/economic trends)
  • Review of dashboards containing metrics for KPI’s
  • Review of feature and user stories backlogs
  • Review of new designs or design updates

2. Development:

  • Pre-grooming with BA’s and grooming with full teams
  • Planning meetings
  • Roadmap reviews

And in general, constant problem solving with the full product team (with both the business and engineering teams).

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