Product Strategy and Prioritization with ServiceNow Group PM

Manjeet Singh is a Product Management leader with 16 years of experience in the tech industry, having worked with startups, mid-size and high profile public companies. He has a great track record of delivering high impact enterprise and consumer-facing products from ideation to launch to growth.

Manjeet Singh

Should a product manager be a generalist or a specialist to be relevant across industries?

I have this 40:30:30 framework.

40% of PM skills are common across all PM roles. 30% are specific to Ent vs consumer products and the other 30% are specific to the company/products you will work on. If you ask me to pick one then I would pick a generalist unless the product requires a specialization (for example PM for Autonomous Car). When I started my first PM job it was more of a specialist but now as you move up the PM ladder it moves more towards generalist.

With all the hype around machine learning and AI, I’m curious how (and whether) you consider these type of “smart solutions” in your product offering?

I agree that AI/ML is going through the hype cycle but at the same time it can solve lots of use cases much more easily and at a lesser cost. I think you will be successful if you take a use case based approach instead of applying it generally. I have written on this same topic here.

How would you say your role as a “Group Product Manager” differs from that of a “Senior Product Manager”? Our company is growing rapidly, and we are looking to define a structure that allows us to get the most out of each functional area — each functional area currently has several senior PMs.

This how a typical PM ladder looks like in mid size to big size companies:

Associate PM –> PM –> Sr PM –> Principal/GPM –> Director –> VP of PM –> CPO

The difference between Principal and GPM is that as a Group PM you manage a portfolio of products and can also have people reporting to you. I have written more here on this topic.

Colleagues

My question is regarding transition to Product Management from a software developer background. What should be the best strategy here?

The four most common paths into PM

  • Internal transition at a large company
  • Find a Junior PM role at a large company
  • Join a startup with burning needs
  • Starting your own company/side projects

I think the best strategy is to find an internal PM role. Coming from a Software background already gives you credibility.  I think the most important skill a PM should have is the ability to understand customer problems/needs clearly, and be able to excite all the stakeholders about why it is worth solving, both from a customer and business point of view. The building of this skills takes time and deliberate practice before jumping to a solution.

The second most important skills is around communication and influence. As a PM you will be talking to lots of different teams and external customers and a PM who can communicate clearly to all stakeholders goes a long way.

There are many other skills (analytical, design, leadership) which are also important, based on type of products and market the company is serving.

Business briefcase

What are the top three skills a product manager should have?

  1. Execution: how to make things happen
  2. Product sense: understanding of what makes a product good/bad. 
  3. Communication and influence

What is your approach to exploring more mystified, “disruptive” tech like voice, chatbots, or AI in general?

I am very optimistic about these new technologies and the benefits they provide once they starts to converge.

For example, in the Service Management Industry that I work in, chatbots are becoming a main interface to handle support level 1 questions. We have done integration with Alexa for voice interface and we are using AI models to provide more intelligent automation when it comes to resolving tickets faster and with higher customer satisfaction.

How do you prioritize? In cases where you have two things to do: fix issues with existing feature or make a new feature? Both have the same impact/ and require same time together.

First, take a step back and remember that a business is just a group of people solving problems for other people in exchange for money. Your job is to (1) figure out the problems, and (2) solve them in the most efficient way possible.

Step 1: Figure out the problems — get the ground truth:

  • Talk to customers
  • Talk to employees who talk to customers (CX, sales)
  • Observe your customer’s behavior, through data and user research
  • Use the product yourself
  • Look into what caused users to churn

Step 2: Solve problems in the most efficient way possible — least work for most impact:

  • Develop hypotheses around what you believe will solve the problems
  • Ideate solutions to these hypotheses
  • Put these ideas into a spreadsheet

Step 3: Rate each idea from 1-5 across two attributes:

  1. Impact: How impactful it’ll be in solving the problem, and…
  2. Effort: How much work it’ll take to execute. Guesstimate — what matters most is relative differences

Sort the spreadsheet by ratio of Impact / Effort. How do you estimate Effort? Simply ask the team members that will be implementing it. Spend a bit of time diving into unknowns when necessary.

Sticky notes

How do you connect your product strategy and portfolio to agile/lean practices and activities?

Here is one planning process framework:

Problem -> Goals/Mission -> Strategy – > Ideation -> Prioritization -> Synthesis -> Share widely

Once planning is done, you break it down into smaller EPICs and Stories to fit in to your agile sprint. Align the EPICs with strategic themes so that everyone has clarity on why we are working on a story.

What traits and qualities do you look for when hiring someone transitioning into Product Management?

I look for skills in these 4 areas: Product sense, Analytical sense, Execution sense and leadership sense. I did a Product School talk on this topic sometime back.

Any final words of advice for aspiring product managers?

Here is some my advice:

1. Become a student of PM frameworks. One particular one I like is continuous improvement.  Continue to work your way up the PM ladder, finding ways to refine and optimize each step:

Execution -> Strategy -> Vision

As you move up the PM ranks you will shift towards the right, so practice and get better every day/week. Small improvement compounds over time.

2. Life is too short to work on building products that no-one wants. Experiment, learn and iterate. Make sure you are having fun while doing that.

3. Take care your health and wellness. Because when you are sick in bed – it does not matter what products you build. Personal health above everything else.

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