Ask an Expert: Building an Enterprise Search Solution with Instacart PM

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Preeti Chadha, Product Manager at InstaCart, where she is building Enterprise Search and Product recommendation solution. She discussed her 10 years of PM experience with a focus on Enterprise Product Management and the challenges that come in this sphere.

Meet Preeti Chadha

Preeti is a Product Manager at Instacart on the Enterprise- Search and Recommendation team. She is very passionate about building an Enterprise search solution for grocery retailers that enhances and personalizes their online’s grocery shopping experience.

Preeti has 10+ years of Product Management experience of launching digital products across various platforms such as IVR, Web, and Mobile apps. She moved to Canada in 2016, wherein she discovered her love for data and curiosity to learn more about data science and machine learning.

Most recently, Preeti pursued her Master’s in Management Analytics at Smith School of Business (Queen’s University) which has opened up an all-new area for her wherein she can synthesize her learnings and use her PM skills & expertise.

What are your thoughts on a Master’s degree, having done one yourself? I was considering an MBA, the MMAI program at queens, among some others.

Pursuing a Master’s degree was more of a personal goal rather than any professional requirement. However, pursuing MBA vs MMA (which is more like a specialization) was the longest debate, until I chose an MMA.

Especially for 2 reasons: Product Management in itself is a broad function and for me doing MMA added specialization and in-depth knowledge on leverage data science and machine learning, adding more value to overall PM expertise suite.

What are the most severe challenges you have faced in your job?

In Product Management, the challenges one always faces are about bringing in the Right Balance!

  • Sometimes it’s about managing short term vs long term goals.
  • What to build next that is valuable from the strategic vs tactical.
  • Managing priorities and keeping the team on the right track.

Bringing in the Right Balance and Harmony is the biggest challenge!

What Project Management best practices have you carried over into Product Management?

Although I was in a Project Management role for a small period of time, I truly believe a good product manager needs to be a great project manager! Product management is more of a visionary role, while project management is more about execution- Work prioritization, time, management, working cross-functionally and identifying these competing dependencies, resource management are some of the project management skills that are essential for being an effective Product Manager. there’s always a Project Management piece within a Product Manager role. Now, overall responsibility may vary depending upon the size of the product/project.

In my experience, this varies a lot in B2B vs B2C product management.

My team and I build enterprise platform products. What are some of the metrics that B2B Product Managers should track?
Or, how should our thought process be while we are trying to figure out what metrics to track?

It totally depends on the overall Enterprise vision and business metrics; Assuming there are some North star metrics/themes in place for your platform overall Enterprise platform – as long as you tie your goals/initiatives towards those to company-wide metrics, you are on the right track!

I do a lot of tactical work in my current job as a Product Manager. I want to move towards learning to work more on Product Strategy. What advice do you have for that?

Like I mentioned above, bringing in the right balance is one of the biggest challenges for a PM. So if you are able to bucketize your work – Tactical/Strategy and start progressing towards increasing your strategy work and slowly diminish the tactical, -would be the right approach. 

How do you increase customer utility?Specifically how have reviews helped you in increase customer utility at Instacart?

Reviews are a great way to improve or enhance a product. You could utilize these explicitly by turning this into a feature (wherever possible) or implicitly by utilizing it as a UI/UX improvement/enhancement.

I’ve been wondering how the scope of responsibilities for a PM may change depending on the size of the company.

I imagine my career will need to find the right small//non-conventional/startup company, as my credentials don’t really align with the conventional PM candidate.

So, -I would place this exactly the opposite way i.e. the smaller the company -> wider is the PM responsibility. A startup company usually doesn’t have various different roles that are actually part of a matured company’s PM organization.

So, a startup needs a more experienced, matured Product Manager who can wear many hats and work towards launching a product.  I have seen people working ni support function, for example- analyst or operations centric role moving into Product management, but that would be in matured organizations/ nonconventional startup companies.

I had been a co-founder for a startup based in Washington DC. It didn’t do well. 
My role was primarily building the product from ground up and onboarding several clients to our enterprise suite.

Because we never had a gazillion users, there’s a big skill set I miss ie. Analytics. I was looking to move into larger organizations into a product management role, and I don’t have enough experience with analytics. Any suggestions you have for me/ex-founders?

I think data is like fuel in any PM role. Without this, there’s definitely a limited capability in terms of identifying What, Who and Why? And fortunately, all this knowledge is easily accessible, I would suggest starting from there and this will make your PM expertise invaluable! Remember, failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of the success!

How do you ensure that the users actually use the new features and benefit from using them?

There are a lot of tools available to achieve this, one of the tools that we have used is Pendo! It helps in creating targeted walkthroughs which can be used to create how-to guides for users and also provides insights on the feature usage.

As the Head of Product Development in my company, we are in a pilot phase of going completely remote. What is the best way to work with a remote dev team? Considering the fact that we might not all be in the same time zone.

Managing teams remotely can definitely be challenging! Assuming you figure out some common meeting times and strategies that work within your team:

  • Have daily standups – this can be done on Slack or whichever tool you use where people are addressing common questions and raise blockers (if any)
  • Weekly meetings to track progress and have a specific call to action.
  • Have a project tracker that everyone can access and fill in as per their timezones.

Again there’s no one tool to manage but a combination of efforts is an effective way to manage this.

I’m wondering since your job is to build search solution for the grocery retailers but the search service seems to influence the end users eventually, how did your team actually work to balance the two ends’ wants and needs?

Was there a moment when conflicts showed up and you had to prioritize one over the other and how did you justify your prioritization?

Search influences the end customer’s shopping behavior. This is one of the most important tools in an online shopping journey and a great merchandising opportunity for retailers to cross-sell and upsell. So our search solution offers the right set of tools for our retail partners that they may utilize to meets their overall business goals, without compromising on relevancy, thus enhancing customer grocery shopping experience.

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