This week, Product School hosted Rohan Gupta, Senior Product Manager at Amazon, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Rohan explains why customer obsession is so important for a successful product, which leadership principles Amazon values in its PMs, and how to focus on one key metric when collecting and analyzing data. For more, check out his upcoming talk on Metrics in Product Management on January 25th!
Rohan is a Senior Product Manager at Amazon working on creative marketplaces, platforms, and IoT data solutions. He is a part of the EU team working on growing their fleet. Before his current role, Rohan was a Product Manager at H4. During his time there he scaled the platform to 300% user growth and led changes to the platform that unleashed growth in the B2C market. He has also worked on product at Altus Group and Track-Ed.
What makes a successful Sr. PM vs a PM or Lead?
I think these roles are not too different but come with subtle differences. Sr. PM takes a lot more ownership than a PM would. Typically at least at Amazon you would be managing a lot more products (or a suite of products) and sometimes even work with vendors, whereas, a PM would typically on their own product. A Product Lead would usually lead a team of PMs and therefore should have good people management skills.
Amazon’s leadership principles are important for all positions, but probably especially important in product. Which among the 16 principles are most sought after in a PM candidate?
All 16 Leadership principles are important. However, Customer Obsession, Ownership, Deep Dive, and Earn Trust are probably THE MOST important Leadership Principles. As a PM that is what you do every day with your team and your customers. In fact, even in your interviews you are likely to be tested on these.
How can a candidate demonstrate qualities like Dive Deep and Earn Trust in rounds of interview?
I would suggest writing a few achievements in your career and seeing where you used data to build your opinion or shape someone else’s opinion. Essentially that is what we are looking for. With Earn Trust we want to ensure that you would take the team with you and not act by yourself. It is encouraged to shape opinion as no PM can achieve anything by themselves, it’s always a Team.
It seems like most positions are for Sr. PM. From the JD, how do we distinguish between IC vs leadership role?
At Amazon a Sr. PM (L6) role is usually an IC. It is at the next level that you get to pick a career path whether you want to be an IC or get into management. At L7 you could choose to be a PM(T) PM Tech or a Manager of Product Managers. L7 is the last IC role at Amazon in Product Management
What do you suggest to someone interviewing at Amazon for a Senior PM position?
One thing to remember is that most PMs don’t have a straight path out of college into PMing. They have usually had alternate/parallel careers. Beyond Leadership Principles it is important to think in a structured method and use data to support your arguments. (STAR methodology). It is really useful not just for interviews but also for structuring conversations and writing documents which Amazon does a lot of.
How do you define Product Management? It seems every company, industry has their own definition.
Yes, each company has this role done differently. A PM for me represents a customer and sits in the middle of Tech, Business operators, Finance, Legal, R&D, any vendors that you work with. Try not to think that you work with an engineering team, instead align yourself with the customer and think about what is it that they want and how valuable something is for a customer.
Check out: What Product Management is NOT
How does one get better at setting product vision and strategy setting?
A lot of vision and strategy setting comes from experience. In my experience always have a big and bold vision, but always support the vision with data. Break the vision into strategy and usually each quarter you will end up modifying your strategy and that is normal. That is part of the job. As you receive more information throughout the quarter from your customers, your strategy and vision will evolve. Just don’t be too rigid on strategy but always have a focus on your vision.
How do you go about synthesizing qualitative data?
Start with defining the problem you are trying to solve and what is the ONE KEY METRIC that you want to improve. This is a concept I will talk about more in my Webinar on the 25th. I typically focus on the ONE KEY METRIC and try to find data that gets me insight into that.
What are the top 3 qualities you look for while hiring for an Associate Product Manager role?
- Customer Obsession – always start with customer problem (not their solution).
- Ownership – there are 100s of things that will go wrong or change, always take ownership and keep pushing through
- Ability to work with Data – we have loads of data nowadays, one has to be data literate, not necessarily an SQL pro though
What is the ideal role one should target to be a PM after graduation? Is India a good market for PM opportunities?
India is a great market for PMs. There should be no shortage of roles there. Nowadays you can PM directly out of college. If you don’t have that then Consulting is the next best role followed by Business Analysis or having expertise in a specific industry. I would put them in that order.
Do you recommend any resources for the tactics according to maturity level of product?
I can recommend Lean Startup for beginners, otherwise I would say The Lean Product Playbook should help with MVP and Growth Hacking. Please know that growth PMs are different from tech PMs who usually work more with tech teams.
How should a new startup identify what problem it wants to solve, and then bring its product to market?
That’s a big question. I would always suggest start with the customer, interview them, understand their pain points, document that. Find data that supports that YES the problem exists and then have a pilot/MVP product out before looking to scale. A cheap poor product that addresses a problem is still better than an expensive failure. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate
Which framesworks for metrics are most relevant at Amazon and to your work?
Amazon gives Ownership and as part of that, you are free to choose your own framework. I prioritise based on what is most important example Safety of people, Compliance with regulations, Value that we are creating for our customers, Value for us and everything else. For me and Amazon Safety and Compliance are top. Each company has its own culture and what is important i.e. ONE KEY METRIC. And any prioritization should impact that.
How do you distribute your time each week? How do you bounce back when you feel less productive?
I split my day between dropping my daughter off at school, going to work, and then picking her up and taking her to classes. And then I work again
Whenever there is a lull in my day, I tend to look at my To-Do list and see what is next in priority or something that excites me. I always make a point to spend enough quality time with loved ones and that is a good way to recharge, or exercise.
More productivity tips: 10 Weekly Habits of Product Managers That Make a Big Difference
How do you make responses in customer interviews actually uncover customer problems?
Always test with your customer. Whether it’s a mockup or a prototype or a beta. If it’s B2B that’s one way. Secondly, always collect and monitor the data you are getting on usage and whether your core metrics are moving. You should know before your customer that it’s working or failing and only one way for that, which is to gather data. Customers will give you anecdotes but they are usually not enough unless supported with data.
How to tackle a domain specific product design or question in an interview if you’re not from that domain?
If you are not from the domain you probably won’t be able to answer that question if it’s very specific. When I interview, I am domain agnostic but what I am looking for is the ability to learn a new domain/tech etc. That ability is what PMs should bring because they need to learn the customer behaviours, needs, wants along with working styles of a new team.
Once in a company I tend to spend the first 3 months learning and engaging deeply with stakeholders. One superpower I have had to learn is to show vulnerability, and that it’s okay to not know something. Ask for help, first 3 months are a great time to ask for as much help as necessary.
Would you agree that very few software companies use 100% scrum?
Yes, I agree. Not many use 100% SCRUM
What are the things that are expected from a new PM in a company?
First 1-3 months its about learning and starting to display ownership. 6 months onwards it’s about being productive using what you have learned.
For more on this, read: Every Product Manager’s First 90 Days
What are the good tools or frameworks that help you understand the need to conceive the product and test it?
Something like a Miro board is helpful to collaborate and it’s quite flexible for brainstorming too. It’s good for conceiving products. To test it depends on the product and how extensively you want to test. At a startup, I used prototypes to test a product and gathered data in excel and that was sufficient for me I would just advise that to test, keep your tests simple. There are a lot of tools out there to gather metrics like GA, Optimizely etc. Totally depends on what kind of test you are running and its scale.
Is a product designer or a IT support level role a good start to break in to a PM role?
I have seen Product Designers break into PM roles and have seen IT support breaking into Technical PM role before. So it can be done
How would you go about creating a product strategy for an entirely new product?
I would start with the customer – what is it that the customer want? Then break it down into many small steps at the end of which is a functionality that I can roll out to customers and that they can benefit from. I would prioritise these based on some metric example how much money they make my customer or save my customer (again focus is on the customer and not my company here). And that gives building blocks to your Product Strategy. Again you would need data to prioritise each functionality you want to role out.