This week, Product School hosted Shyam Narayan, Principal Group Product Manager at Microsoft for a special #AskMeAnything session. Read on for tips on roadmaps, gaining leadership support, and more.

Meet Shyam

Shyam Narayan, Principal Group Product Manager at Microsoft

Shyam Narayan is a Principal Group PM at Microsoft who has been with the company for over a decade. He started off as a Premier Field Engineer and slowly worked his way up the Program Manager ladder during his early years with the company. In 2020 he officially joined the Product team as a Principal PM.

How do you prepare for the upcoming quarter in terms of creating a roadmap?

This is where I spend a lot of my time nowadays, especially leading a Platform PM team. Our roadmaps are generally planned out a little longer and we revisit on a regular basis to adjust as needed. IOW – try being less rigid to avoid reacting to macro trends but also not too disruptive for the team.

For a deeper dive on Product Roadmaps, check out this free eBook: Roadmapping: From A to Z

What is the one thing that annoys you the most as a PM and the one that is most rewarding?

person lying on wooden floor in empty apartment with cardboard boxes piled on top of their head

Great question. The constant context switching annoys me at times, but I realize it is part of the job. Something I have learned to cope with. On the rewarding side – there is no better feeling than taking something from ideation through to execution and see the ideas come together as reality.

How do you quantify risk and complexity when developing a new feature or scoping a project?

I strongly believe successfully landing outcomes is the ultimate measure of a PM. Risk management is key to this. In my experience a few things help – early on in career relying on subject matter experts (SMEs) to uncover risks would be safest bet. As you progress through your PM career you naturally understand the dependencies, assumptions in your product where you start to identify and quantify them yourself, in addition to rely on other SMEs.

What’s the difference between Product Manager and Product Owner?

Hot contested topic, my 2¢ – Product Manager focuses a bit more broadly on the user and business side of things, traditionally in Product Owner has stemmed from the Agile way of executing on ideas, so little more execution focused. Probably will merge over time.

How do you go about convincing the leadership team of any idea that you have and getting them on your side?

Awesome. I strongly believe wallowing in the problem space and coupling it with the opportunity is the one of the ways to gain leadership support. Couple this with relatively short cycles to show results (positive or negative) to reduce long term investment risks will help a lot.

For more on convincing leadership, read PM Skills: Stakeholder Management

How do you think the PM role will evolve in the coming years?

three yellow carnations against a white background. each of the carnations is in a different state of grow, going rom smaller to larger

There will be more clear definition of the role which is going help influence this. But my strong belief is that generalist will be sought after more in the coming years. 

How does Principal PM role differ a from Senior PM one?

Personally for me it really comes down to how one is able to generate clarity in a super ambiguous space + all the expectations of a solid Senior PM – comms, execution, product intuition etc.

 How much do you think it’s required to have a computer science background to break into PM roles?

In general my belief is that you do not need to have a CS background to break into PM. I have been very fortunate to work alongside spectacular PMs from backgrounds in Finance, Arts etc. The key trait I do see in all of them is they understand the tech stack – layers, constraints, dependencies etc. to have good conversations with the engineering peers.

No CS degree required! Need more info? Read Transitioning into Product Management from ANY Background

What do you think about an engineer transitioning into PM within their current team? Is it a bad idea?

I think it is easy to do it in your team if they are supportive – you can focus on learning to be a PM without have to worry about building new relationships, learning about the product etc.

What is a powerful visual tool for roadmapping for us visual learners? 

I am visual learner too. I use xMind to mind map before translating them to slides. Open to any tools you have used.

In an early stage setup where the organization is growing faster than you can build, how should one balance between building for short-term vs. clearing debt and building foundations for the long term?

My simple model – optimize for PMF and growth – tech debt is a good problem to have indicates you are successful 🙂

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