Last week, Product School hosted Sudha ElavartiProduct Lead at Twitter for a special #AskMeAnything session. Sudha spoke about transitioning into product, shared nuggets of wisdom about going into APM roles, and parenting as a PM.

Meet Sudha

Sudha Elavarti is a cross-functional Product Leader and Mentor with almost two decades of experience leading influential product teams. She is a mom of 2 kids, an immigrant, and a WOC. Sudha spends a good time on DEI initiatives. She is currently the Product Lead for Twitter Platform Experience. She has been leading the vision, strategy, and execution of the Twitter hybrid console product suite and its underlying platforms. Before joining Twitter, she spent ten years at Microsoft. She started off as a Product Lead for their Supply Chain Warranty Services before being promoted to Head of Azure Active Directory Product Insights. She was also a DEI committee member, where she promoted a positive and inclusive culture within the organization. In addition to that, she previously worked as a Product/Program Manager II for CRM at Expedia.

How does a PM go about creating a good feedback loop? 

A good feedback loop is very important to understand the pulse of customers and build customer-centric roadmaps. While surveys are one of the most common methods, building some in-product feedback loops and reaching out cutomers in-person to understand how well/or not your product is solving their problem is most important. Visit customers, get on a call with them, and watch them use your product. Some companies use user voice as a tool.

For someone looking to pivot from operations over to Product, what sort of advice can you share?

Having the intent and investing in learning through Product School is a great start. Operations is very relevant experience for product. My best advice would be to look for “Product Operations” or “Product Strategy & Ops” roles to begin with. They work very closely with the product org and you get to partner with them in a planning capacity which will be a great hands-on experience. While you are there apply and share your product learnings. Can always ask for an internal move from Ops to PM. I just converted a Product S&O person in my org to PM. Look for start-ups where there will be more appetite for stretch roles.

How much time does your team spend on manual review of app vitals and how proactively you can catch issues?

it depends on the product and how secure/reliable it needs to be for the customer. In your case, banking is highly sensitive and a high priority. PM should not be spending a lot of time monitoring signals. You should have an SRE team in combination with some data modeling (either backed by data science or some data engineer). As a good PM this is a great opportunity for you to put an automation and process proposal to your higherups. Every crisis has an opportunity hidden.

How does your product development cycle work/flow in taking ideas from scratch to deploy in the market? And how can a broad guiding process be adapted to different product & team maturity levels?

While the execution process varies by organization, the key elements you take into consideration are always the same.

  1. Desirability
  2. Viability
  3. Feasibility

Once you decide it’s a problem you want to invest in. Lock the customer segment, define use cases, Prioritize based on what brings value to the customer and drive your metrics, work on detailed PRD< tech design with Eng, and get it whatever ENg system you use to track work.

How do you create & track global product metrics where you have a suite of them? I’m thinking product A, B, and C worked on by different teams need to have overarching metrics that are tracked at a leadership level? Or would your advice be to maintain individual product metrics without a more overarching view?

leadership needs to adapt to the OKR model. Even if your company has a suite of products as a company there should a common mission and Northstar goal (metric). That mostly is usage or revenue commonly. When you have a common objective at the company level everyone is marching towards a common goal. Then the individual teams can double-click to build their OKRs. How does it contribute to the larger goal and metric and what Key Performance Indicators should we measure. They all should roll up and be connected. It takes some practice and refining. A lot of good OKR material out there.

How did you get your first job as a product manager? Was it difficult at the beginning and what challenges did you face? Tips for beginners?

I started as a Business Analyst and built a customer-first mindset. Having customers as my main focal point in interviews, combined with the ability to work with cross-group stakeholders made me stand out. IT was not easy but it was easier than it would be today. Competition and interest in Product roles is super high. Continue to invest in your skills, and be open to trying other kinds of roles like business analyst, and product operations. Spend time on LinkedIn learnings what other companies are doing to solve customer problems. Mostly be patient and kind to yourself.

I am planning to step into Product Management and my questions is how to better solve product sense questions and behavioural questions in a PM interview?

Product sense comes with practice, we can read a ton of material and frameworks which help us structure the problem solving but do not tell you enough on how to think about customer needs and value proposition. Apply product sense in real life. When you see a product or an app or a device, think about how they would have started the product-building process, what customers did they prioritize, and how did they solve it differently than others. There are also case studies on how some companies approached their product like Netflix and Apple. The thought process behind is more important than the framework.
Behavioral comes from any work experience, doesn’t have to be in product. You still must be collaborating with people, working through conflicts, and making decisions. Try to reframe the question to fit into your experience. Here your soft skills matter, it doesn’t have to be as a PM.

How do you manage prioritization and focus on what needs to be done; and how do you manage messaging to requesters especially if you believe it won’t be worked on and is unlikely to go on the roadmap in the near/medium term? Any governance processes around this?

 You start by asking questions. Who are we doing this for? Why do we need to? Why now? What value will it provide? How does this contribute to our company mission/success metrics? which customers are asking,?is it a real problem? What will happen if we don’t do this now?
Your list should get to 5 by now.

 I am preparing to return from Maternity Leave and I am curious how you’ve balanced work and parenting, in a field that is notorious for not really having a start and stop time. Also curious if you know any great Mom’s in PM resources (if that’s a thing!).

Hearty congratulations on your baby, being a mother has been my most rewarding role so far. I am very clear in my head that my 1st priority is my family. I am passionate about my work and career development but I don’t have to choose one over the other, I have to work smartly (not hard). As a working mom, you will soon start getting efficient but set your boundaries with your manager and team. Getting work done is important not how many hours you work. Also ensure you do not take up not urgent/not important work, drive impactful work. Rely on your partner and support system, if it gets overwhelming ask for help. Happy to chat more about my experiences if it helps you.

How should a beginner prepare for any PM interview?

interviews have gotten harder lately and there is a lot of pressure from it. First work on your mindset, this is not the end of the world and one interview does not define your life. Even before preparing for an interview set a positive and forgiving mindset. There are a lot of factors that play in interviews and some are not in your control. Focus on things you can control. Study, practice, apply learnings in your current role, don’t get desperate, and set deadlines. Try with startups or small companies to get the title and experience. Rely on friends and mentors. For material there is gazillions, stick to trusted sources like Product School. It all starts with mindset.

Do you have advice or key takeaways from your experience for a newbie before joining the organization in APM role and what NOT to do?

  1. Be the voice of the customer
  2. Understand your company’s mission and North Star metric
  3. Get a mentor(s)
  4. Be curious, ask questions
  5. don’t get too comfortable
  6. Continue to invest in learning
  7. Most important- have fun while doing all of these.

Out of your experience, do you have any practical tips to influence stakeholders/team members without authority and winning mental model alignment.

Instead of thinking of it as influencing without authority, think about how you can influence with what you have:

  1. Data
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Empathy
  4. Common metric/goal
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