How to Preempt Change in a New Product Management Career by Amazon PM

In this article, we spoke with Vivek Garg the Director, Product Management Audible from Amazon to understand more about how to effectively deal with change. Apparently, the best strategy is the exercise preemption.

Product Gym: Every single time you moved around in your career, how were you able to deal with change on the job?

Vivek: What I started realizing was that these changes were helping me learn and grow the most. Over a period of time, I realized that there are 3 things that would help me deal with change effectively.

Firstly, I started pre-empting the feeling of discomfort that would ensue for a few months to sometimes maybe a year, depending on the magnitude of change. It’s the awareness of the associated uneasiness as well as the growth that comes along the way that makes the transition easier.

Secondly, to effectively cope with the change, I do as much research as I could on what the expected impact of the change will be, so there were minimum surprises. That way, instead of just making the change without realizing what I was getting into, I would be mentally prepared.

The last thing is to be open to learning. Whenever I have been in a new setting, there are people around that have been there for a while and know more than I would. It is okay to not to know all the answers and have the humility to learn from others while getting acclimated to the new role or environment. However, it is equally important to form your own thoughts and conclusions about the product and business. It is important to cherish your newness in the environment in a way that you are able to grasp the facts but draw conclusions from your own perspective. Sometime, the incumbents might find it hard to draw those conclusions as they have become somewhat immune to those facts and surroundings.

Product Gym: Do you think that Product Management is done differently depending on the company?

Vivek: Yeah, absolutely. I think Product Management is an area that has grown quite a lot in the last 20 years or so. Even if I look at the definition of the role within Amazon, I think it sometimes looks different depending on the department that you’re working in and I think there’s a reason to that. The nature of the product, for example, Enterprise or Consumer, changes the nature of the role. In the former, it becomes important to take inputs from the Sales teams when defining the product roadmap, as they are the ones closest to customers. In case of consumer products though, identifying customer issues through app reviews, data, and surveys are quite important. Besides, the spectrum of Product Management responsibilities can vary from identifying a new business opportunity and envisioning a product around it to more tactically working with Tech and UX teams in building and launching a product. Different companies may want Product to play a role in either part of that spectrum of responsibilities or end-to-end. 

Product Gym: Why do you think it is different? Why isn’t there a form of standardization across the board?

Vivek: I think primarily because of the nature of the business. For example, working in Enterprise Software, I would prioritize my roadmap keeping in mind the requirements of the biggest customers or prospects in the pipeline. At the same time, getting feedback from the Sales channels became critical. On the other hand, for a consumer product, the roadmap is an outcome of understanding with the help of data and surveys how the consumers are interacting with the product and what are their biggest hurdles when using it. The nature of the organization you are working in can also influence the Product role. A big company with a single but mature product may want its Product Management to focus on iterations in the existing product that would increase customer engagement or acquire new customers. On the other hand, a company continuously making big bold bets would expect its Product Managers to think big and identify opportunities that are transformational from both customer and revenue impact perspective.

Product Gym: So along the way, what would you say are some books or resources you would recommend new Product Managers to read that has helped you in the past?

Vivek:

  • The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen
  • Hooked  by Nir Eyal

These books provide a good understanding of Product Management for professionals new to this function. What I have also come to appreciate are books that are not directly written with Product Managers in mind but still address the areas important for being a good Product Manager. The two that come to mind are Bold and Extreme Ownership.  Bold is written by the visionary author Peter Diamandis and discusses the predominant macro trends in Technology and the approach some of the new age companies are taking to create the impact on an unprecedented scale. It also tries to provide entrepreneurs with a blueprint on how they can create a similar impact, which I found was equally relevant for Product Management professionals.  Extreme Ownership discusses the key traits of a good leader. As a Product Manager, you’re pretty much responsible for all aspects of the Product. At the end of the day, it can be a tech issue, it could be a customer experience issue, or it could be some other product issue, but the buck stops at Product Management. I feel like having that mindset of being an end-to-end owner, which this book highlights, helps quite a lot.

Product Gym:  Is there anything else you’d like to add to the people who are trying to transition into Product Management right now?

Vivek: First, be able to fully understand and appreciate what Product Management is about. In my view, the three key areas that it entails are:

  1. Thinking Big
  2. Diving Deep
  3. Be Customer Obsessed

If you are someone who likes to identify problems and question the status quo, build a product vision around solving those problems and roll up your sleeves to execute on that vision while leveraging the skills of others around you, then Product Management is an area you should explore. As a first step, I would encourage aspiring Product Managers to try doing that on their own. Identify a problem, which could be small, and do a write-up on how a product could help solve it and what is the expected scale of impact for customers. Having an obsession to solve a customer problem and the ability to execute while working backwards from that problem is ultimately what would differentiate you as a Product Management professional.

About Vivek Garg

Vivek is a Product Management leader with expertise in New Product Introductions for both Consumer Internet products and Cloud-Based Enterprise Software Products (SaaS). He has led Product Management for multiple products covering Full Product Life Cycle: identifying opportunity, formulating product visionpitching new business initiatives to senior leadership and secure funding, product planning and execution, customer segmentation & product positioning, launch planning, customer support and post-launch iterations/business operations management.

Vivek has a Masters in Business Administration from the Yale School of Management and a Bachelors in Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology.

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