Striving for Product Excellence with Ro Director of Product

This week’s Ask Me Anything session featured Aditya Subramaniam, Director of Product at Ro. We talked about all things product and uncovered the differences between B2B and B2C products, and more.

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Aditya Subramaniam focuses on building user-friendly, scalable and secure products for the enterprise & consumer markets, bringing more than 8 years of experience to his position. He has worked on a broad range of projects, including developing user rating model for network security.

For the past 4 years, Aditya held the position of Product Manager at various enterprises, ultimately serving as Director of Product Management at Ro, a mission-driven healthcare technology company that strives to reinvent the healthcare system. Aditya has a strong background in Engineering, having earned his Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.) degree from the University of Mumbai, and an MBA from New York University.

“I am not too good at coding. What level of coding should I have to crack interviews?

I’m much more of the belief that coding should not “expected” from a PM. More than coding, how you communicate with engineers will be more critical to your overall success as a PM. I would look to focus on the fundamentals of software engineering – e.g. general principles of databases, network security theory, etc. – rather than being able to code. Your goal should be to understand what engineers are coding and translate that to stakeholders.

“What are the differences of managing B2B vs. B2C products?”

As I’ve grown in my career as a product manager, the scope of my role has also grown. As a product analyst, I owned and launched small features as a part of a larger product. As I started PMing on my own, I owned and launched products, then a suite of products. As a Senior PM, I’m still owning and launching a suite of products, but also have people management and leadership responsibilities on my team and at my organization.

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“What do you feel is a reasonable ramp up time for a new PM?”

Enterprise Product Management involves a lot more direct conversations with end clients/customers than Consumer Product Management. On the flip side, consumer PMing involves a lot more data analysis to understand trends in usage, optimize conversion, etc. Beyond that B2B PMs also tend to prioritize based on conversations with key customers (or an advisory board) rather than traditional metrics-first approach. This statement is a bit controversial though, so definitely take it with a grain of salt

“As a PM, multiple people want to talk to you. But sometimes they share problems that are beyond the product. This makes me waste time. What I can do?”

These are actually conversations that I love as it helps me build a stronger relationship with stakeholders and others in the company. I would use these to understand what matters to everyone – as a PM, treat everyone as a user, even if it can feel like you’re losing time. Give your time today, as this person might give their time to you tomorrow.

“What are the biggest changes you experienced when transitioning from IC PM to a manager of PMs?

The biggest challenge has been to give up IC work and being okay with “someone else doing” it. Your job transitions to being a mentor and ensuring that your team is successful. Related to this, I think I get most value from 1:1s that have concrete agendas – i.e. have your report include an agenda for each 1:1 (you do the same as well), and ensure a focused conversation each and every time.

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“For enterprise products, do you lock in the end to end UX design before moving it to engineering or do you have a process to make it more agile?”

I try to never do that. Involve customers in the UX design process almost every single time. I go to the extent of having the UI/UX team present their mock-ups to the customer and have the conversation directly with me moderating the conversation. More often than not, these key customers you involve in your product decision making process will end up being customers for life (as cliché as it might sound), and will end up being ambassadors for your product.

“Trying to transition from finance to product. I’m still having a hard time getting those interviews. How I can get my foot in the door?”

Transitioning both your role and your company can be very hard, but do not be discouraged (first and foremost advice I can give). Try to identify roles in which you can leverage your finance background – maybe an associate PM at a fintech company – and use that to kickstart your new career. I would also urge you to attend meetups in your location to meet other PMs – networking will be super important as you transition roles and companies.

“What kind of customer research do you conduct and how often? Also, do you know how to determine that a feature is failing. If figured, what do we do differently?”

As often as humanly possible. Knowing your customer, talking to them, understanding trends in the data, etc. is something you should always find time to do (dare I say, even at the risk of finding time to write specs!). I usually use a mix of conversations with users (phone calls, video calls, etc.) where I’ll get feedback on existing products as well as new features, as well as looking at usage data to understanding patterns, opportunities to exploit and add value, etc.

To your 2nd question — I always spend some time identifying success criteria for a new feature that I’m spec’ing. I’ll fall back on this to understand whether or not the feature is failing. Your next steps should be determined by this data – roll-back a feature or iterate on it and improve it…

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“Besides 1:1 meetings, do you run weekly or bi-weekly check-in meetings with your PMs for initiatives that in-flight or launched? If yes, what’s the agenda for those meetings?”

Sometimes. I try to not micromanage initiatives, unless I see something amiss (timelines slipping, concern from stakeholders, etc.). If I do have these meetings, it will usually end up being a quick 15-20min check-in. Standup style works well – what’s the progress, what’s coming up, any blockers. Weekly or biweekly cadence is usually determined on a feature-to-feature basis.

“What are the top 5 things you would do on your first day as a PM?”

  1. Meet new people, learn their names (!!!!), try to understand (if possible since it’s your first interaction) why they joined this firm – it usually points to their motivations and will be key to your relationship with them in the future.
  2. Do not try to let your past work experience bias you in any way about how things are run at the new firm.
  3. Be excited to learn something new.
  4. Find out where the restrooms are.
  5. See (1).

“How do you grow as a PM? Are there some things I could do to build a resume that stands out?”

Always keep delivering measurable value to your user and your business. The more results you are able to show, the more your resume and background will standout. From a personal growth perspective, always stay humble and listen to users as much as possible. It will help you find innovative ways to add value through new features, new products, etc. and then will return the favor to you by allowing you to add some neat results to your resume.

“How do you define the MVP vs Non MVP feature. How do you convince someone that a feature should be integrated?”

One way to go about it is to determine is someone will be willing to “buy” your product (without coercion) in the absence of a particular feature. Another way to go about it is to identify if this particular feature is central or core to the use-cases you’re attempting to address as part of the product. There’s no hard and fast rule, in my opinion, but these are two really broad ways I like to start thinking about things.

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“A developer in my team expects me to answer questions that are technical. I don’t have technical answers all the time. How can I sort this out to avoid poor team bonding and lack of respect?”

I would try to give him the answers wherever possible, but also reach out to a senior engineer on the side to give them a heads up that the new engineer requires guidance. This might be a flaw in the onboarding process that you might also want to consider reviewing with the team and understand how you can help onboard new engineers without it impacting your time.

“What’s your framework for identifying new opportunities or features, and how do you validate them?”

Listening and observing users. Always try to find what I like to refer to as tension points in your users’ workflows that you can help alleviate through . Identify problems by observing and validate them using data. That’s usually my preferred mode of operation and have found it to work well across B2B and B2C industries.

“How do you ensure the lead developer and PM are on the same page?”

Get in a conference room and try to iron out your differences. I’ve made the mistake in past lives by ignoring such situations for a little too long, and that came back to haunt me. Walk your lead developer through what you see your responsibilities to be and where some of the existing friction is being created from, and then have an honest conversation on how you can mend any mismatch in expectations.

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“I am currently a project manager at a biotech company but I want to become a product manager. What can I do to close the gaps?”

IMO, you are already there in some way. Maybe try to transition into product at your current role, and try to build up experience there around talking to users, understanding their pain points, identifying root causes of problems, etc. Leverage your project management skills to quickly execute on features to get some wins under your belt!

“What kinds of skills/attributes (both technical and non-technical) you look for in a PM as you expand your team?”

Great question. I always look for communication skills – how you influence stakeholders, leadership, etc. stems from your comm skills. Beyond that, I also look for results in a candidate’s past experience rather than whether or not it was technical or non-technical. I feel it’s become an unfortunate cliche that PMs have to be technical to work at a technical company when in fact it’s more to do whether or not they can effectively communicate with engineering, UI/UX, stakeholders, leadership and MOST IMPORTANTLY with users…

Some of the best PMs I’ve worked with in previous lives have been non-technical but were really good at communicating, which helped them navigate “technical conversations” with aplomb.

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