Two Controversial PM objectives

(img src – taken by me – Shotang Demo Day)

There are two slightly controversial topics that I hold dear to me, when I think of PM-ing.

(1) Stake holder management – internal and external. I have written about this extensively in the past. Some folks think that it is a project/program managers job. But I don’t. I think it is an integral part of a product managers job. No one knows the bigger picture and the granular details of the product than a PM. Getting every contributor and decision maker in the same page is super critical. Giving this job to a project manager is suicide. Absolutely lack of credibility will kill everything in sight. (I have nothing against project managers, but they are ninjas at managing the project as an entity, and not quite objectives and people).

(2) Data is everything in this new world. But ever so often, there is either too little data, or there is too much data. In both of these cases, it becomes incredibly hard to extricate inferences out of the data, leave alone insights. During these cases, it is the singular responsibility of the PM to work closely with leadership to suggest a solution based on “gut feel”. The extensive involvement of the PM in the multiple facets of developing the product (no one else puts their fingers into so many facets as the PMs) makes the ‘gut feel’ more credible.

Mobile Jewellery Shop – Lalithaa

Disclaimer: Most of what I talk about below – are my observations from Southern parts of India, and might not be applicable to Northern parts, which I am not very familiar with.

Lalithaa Jewellery seems to have introduced a mobile jewellery shop in the form of a modified long chassis bus. I think this is a darned good innovation. There used to be a time when the predominant way of doing jewellery was to go to a jewellers shop, where you discuss patterns, weight, wastage etc, and then the jeweller would custom make it for you.

Some of these jewellers in Tier 1 towns (such as NAC etc), who had access to capital and fast business movement, had ‘some’ ‘readymade’ stuff – things such as small silver tumblers, chains, rings etc – which are mostly impulse buys. In recent times, large box format stores (mostly chains which have large capital) have started making their presence (Malabar, Jos Alukas etc). These stores started off in Tier 1 cities, and now started slowly moving towards Tier 2 towns as well. Accessibility to ‘readymade jewels’ is significantly improved because of this. A ‘trip to the city’ is usually saved.

While accessibility is improved, it is not economical for these large format stores to go to every Tier2 and Tier3 towns. I think this is the market that Lalithaa is targeting. For some context, Lalithaa is one of those hybrid stores, which does some custom jewellery, but has predominantly large inventory of pre-made jewels. This bus looks to be a modified shell with a proper jewellery shop facade, counters, staff etc inside. The bus is now stationed in Theni (a Tier 2 town in the border of TN and Kerala), in a fair ground.

These large box stores do a ton of advertising on main stream cable/satellite TV – whose penetration in India has just exponentially risen in the last decade (next only to telecom). With the brand visibility already present, with the store coming to you, I think it is a novel technique to increase the reach.

Couple of feature-y things that come to mind –

a) Some rough schedule of the bus (perhaps a loop), so that folks in towns know when the next bus would be here next. Maybe even a call center or recorded info about the bus whereabouts.

b) Some form of demand capture – phone perhaps, (and in the long run through learning from data).

If this is successful (or not), I see this as a model that should be tried across other verticals too. Very interesting. #SolveForBharath

Empathy and PMs

http://coachfogs.blogspot.in/

I have been thinking about this word for quite a bit of time these days. Whenever I am talking to folks and describing my definition of being a Product Manager – almost every trait distills down to this one word – Empathy.

Now, let me try and recollect and jot them down here –

  1. Stakeholder management – One of the key traits that I believe a PM should have. The cliche’ phrase of PM being the CEO of a product, imho loosely translates to this. Unless you are empathetic to the various parties (product, tech, marketing, operations, leadership, …), you will not be able to get them on to the same page. You need to empathetic to the tech team as to why they are resisting a decision ~ perhaps this would involve tossing out a lot of code that they just wrote; you need to understand how they feel. You need to be empathetic to the operations team ~ perhaps they are short staffed during a certain time and they cannot handle so many escalations. You need to feel this issue. And so on.
  2. Customer empathy – this is a given. A PM should be the biggest voice of the customer within the company. This might be a bit contrary to the first point, but customer empathy trumps empathy within the teams. You do not care if code needs to be rewritten, or more support staff needs to be hired, but if the customer experience is affected, it is unacceptable.
  3. Strategy Roadmapping  – this is empathy at a different plane. A product leader needs to sense the emotions of the founding/executive team and the investors (if any), to see what would deliver the best RoI for these stakeholders. Too aggressive a roadmap might seem awesome to the investors, but not to the leadership team, but too sluggish a roadmap might make the investors lose confidence. This is extremely important. This is in most cases unspoken and very subtle.
  4. Project Management – lets face it. This is a part of a Product Managers job ~ in varying degrees depending on the org. Good PMs exhibit a bias towards action(shipping) and make a dent here. While strategy/road-mapping is part of steering the ship, project management is choreographing the drum-beat of releases. You cannot do either of these without a deep sense of empathy to the executors.

And for those who are wondering if empathy is a key trait only for PMs, nope, check out Rand Fishkin’s blog where he says –

The best skill I’ve developed and the one that’s served me best as a founder, a CEO, and a marketer is empathy.

I offer coaching/training on PM empathy. If interested, please ping me on gcmouli at gmail.

 

Informational Call for Potential Leadership Hiring

(img src: pixabay)

After a recent (particularly depressing) informational call for a Leadership position, I thought, I would pen down my thoughts on how an ‘optimal’ first conversation should be.

Some disclaimers: They are in no particular order of importance. These are my opinions. Your mileage may vary – but I would love to hear them, if you have one.

  1. If you are the Head HR and if you are going to get one of your junior HR folk to call/schedule/email details, please have a template or review the language. Firstly, don’t call it a HR interview (*gasp* and please don’t let the subject line be “Call Letter for HR Interview”). Secondly, it is not an ‘explanatory’ round. It is ‘exploratory’. I am not blaming the poor junior kid. It is up to leadership to ensure the right template is available.
  2. If this is an informational, please go first and talk about yourself and your company first. Informational does not mean, me going over my bio (while I really don’t have anything against that). I would rather go over some pertinent points if you have any questions (such as – why I left a certain company, or how was the difference in working between company foo1 to foo2 etc).
  3. Please do not ask me, why I am so pumped up and want to work with your company. For starters, I am not, and hence my request for an informational. Truth be told, an acquaintance of mine thought I might fit your requirements and had forwarded my CV to your CEO. So I think, it is more on you to sell your role to me.
  4. Immediately after I have told you how much I made in my previous stint, please do not say – “Oh. We do not believe in paying too much upfront. You have to come in and prove yourself and then we will see.” * Ouch *. Really? For starters, this conversation should ideally be the last thing that I should be speaking. Not in the informational.
  5. If you are evaluation process is — “First we will give you a case study round. If you pass that, then we will get you to speak to our leaders” — sorry, you have already lost me. You do not hire leaders this way. I am all for a case study round. But that is much later (imho).
  6. Make me feel good. Make me want to learn more about the company. How did the founders start this up? Ask me if I know about all this. Share interesting anecdotes. Give me data about how you are doing. About the diversity of people in the company. And the energy. And I can go on.
  7. Tell me about the team. Tell me why you joined the team. How much you enjoy working with this team. (And no, please do not use yourself as an example of how you joined without much of a pay hike, and you had to work hard to prove yourself, and then got really good rewards).
  8. Please be exactly on time. 3-4 minutes late, to me, is not Ok.
  9. If this is a video Skype call, please do not walk around your home/office/home-office. Yes, your wifi will break. Skype will freeze. And no, I do not want to see your home/offi….
  10. Lastly, at least, ask me if I have any questions. I sure did have quite a few. But they remain unanswered, and I probably do not want them answered at this point in time.

Find below a template that I put together, that can be used by HR/Leaders to have a first round informational for a prospective leadership hire.

  1. Say hi, hello. Get to know how the candidate would like to be called. Enquire stability of the internet/phone connection.
  2. Set the agenda.
  3. Talk about the company first. History. Team. Anecdotes. People. Funding.
  4. Talk about the role. Talk about what exists. What you are looking for?
  5. Ask the candidate for what I have enjoyed in my career journey so far, and what excites the candidate. Ask if there is anything special that stands out in the candidates CV.
  6. If the candidate already knows about the role — ask how she thinks she fits in for the role. Else, poise a question to ponder over – to get the candidate to think if she might fit the bill.
  7. Brief the candidate about the interview process and who are the people whom the candidate might be meeting with. Maybe even a bit about the role/position that each of them play.
  8. Give time for asking questions about the company/about the role.
  9. Give an opportunity to the candidate to think about this, and ask if the candidate might want to think about all this/digest and then come back – if she wants one more informational round – perhaps with a senior leader, maybe.
  10. Clearly sign off with a good note. Express that you are looking forward to these series of conversations.

 

I offer coaching/training on Leadership hiring for Senior leaders and HR. If interested, please ping me on gcmouli at gmail.

Food delivery USP

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

We occasionally order through Swiggy and Freshmenu. I order more frequently when the wife and kid are not in town. So far, I have been pretty happy with the quality of food, and of course, I order only from restaurants that I know, through Swiggy.

However, there is one consistent issue with the delivery/logistics. For the majority of times, there has been some leakage or seepage of some gravy or stir-fry, making its way on to every other container. Some times, it is a minor issue, and there has been at least once, where I had returned the food, where the cardboard container of my dosa was soaked in sambar.

Let us dissect this.

Factors that influence this mishap (in no particular order):

  • Packaging. I think this is taken care of by most players well enough. Freshmenu (and bowl company by Swiggy, and other major cloud kitchen players) have apt sized plastic boxes for wet stuff and cardboard boxes for dry stuff. The lids are pretty tight too. Have not faced issues there either. The restaurants that I order from, in swiggy, take care of this, as well.
  • Form-factor of the packaging and stackability. I think this is taken care of, as well. Most of these packages are standard sizes and neatly stackable.
  • The big bags of the delivery folks. The bag is a large box-ish bag with fairly solid sides. The guys stack the packages nicely as well. (So, I think, the process is not flawed).
  • The carrying of the bags. I think, this is where the problem begins. The boys sling the bag over their shoulder, rest the bag on the seats of their bikes and hit the road. I think during this time, the nicely stacked packages tilt. And hence seep and leak.

Potential solution:

While I am not an expert in logistics, let me propose a solution – the Dominos Delivery Box. This solution is not an original solution. I think, the Dominos guys solved this to an extent. The boxes are screwed on to the bikes. The pizzas and the other items are placed/stacked inside the box. So, other than the tilt of the bikes, during the traffic, there is no real tilting. I think this can also be reduced significantly by good packaging techniques and/or auto-balancing bases on the boxes.

As for the container of the food, the cloud kitchen guys have an advantage. As for the rest of the food delivery folks, my disclaimer (if you recall) was that, I order only from restaurants that pack well. If the food delivery guys want to nail the experience in the larger scale, Swiggy/Runnr/UberEats need to take packaging into their control. While I agree that it is a hard problem to solve, it would be the best damn experience. If I can order bisi bele bath from the local darshini, and the food still comes in a nice plastic leak proof tray – that is bliss. (For comparison data sakes, currently the darshini just plonks the food into an aluminium cover and heat-seals it.

An added feature that can be slapped on to this box, is a thermostat, and a feedback controlled heater – to maintain the food hot. There can be other IoT stuff instrumented into this box too – weight/temperature/time logging and tracking etc.

Food-tech/delivery guys – you listening? Now that the food delivery war is heating up (Swiggy vs Runnr vs UberEats vs Cloud Kitchen guys), it is all about USP. I think this might just be the two things. Food packed in clean containers (with no leakage/seepage) at the right temperature. Hmm. Yumm.

The need for labs …

(img source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/89157267601160497/)

It is becoming increasingly evident that companies should be establishing labs inside their entities, for exploring new deep tech independently.

  • The labs should have the autonomy to go far-out into futuristic new deep tech without having to worry about current limitations.
  • The research function should be independent and should encourage creativity.
  • To a large extent the labs work should not have time pressures.
  • Productising these research ideas would be the key to differentiating the companies offerings in this hyper-competitive space.
  • These labs should not be led by architects or EMs. They should be led by people who have experience in doing research, preferably PhD.
  • Research rigour is important.

Some companies have been doing this for a very long time – Mercedes, Airbus, Sabre etc. Ixigo Kitchen Sink is a classic example from a few years ago. I am hearing of more newer companies starting to do this – Amadeus Labs, Rivigo labs etc.

It would be refreshing to see this happening in all the unicorns. For instance, I would imagine Swiggy would benefit immensely — so much funky stuff can be done on IoT, route planning, kitchen optimization etc. Similarly Go-MMT does a lot of research along with the day-to-day work. I believe that this is not the right approach. You should separate these two out – for best optimality. Else, engineers and PMs are permanently at a conundrum to see which is more important – long term research drivers or short term revenue drivers.

What do you guys think?

Small data

We keep hearing about Big data everywhere – sometimes in places where we do not even expect to here it. I was listening to the latest Trailblazers podcast from Walter Isaacson, and he just casually dropped this nugget.

Small data is the capturing of the small, subtle nuances of a customer. A lot of times, these small seemingly insignificant subtle pieces of information lead to huge product insights.

While extracting big data, and distilling data out of it is important – it is still generalisation. It is amortised data. It is a collective. It is very important for PMs to observe customers at close quarters on a regular basis.

In my three years of observation, being a product leader, I have seen that insights distilled from big data, can only result in incremental improvements.

To get 10X improvements, we need to observe and incorporate these behavioural, often times visual, subtle insights. These are few in number – viz small data.

Chief Customer Experience Officer

img src: seriousstartups.com

Follow-up to a mini post on a very pleasant customer experience with Bigbasket. I strongly feel that, any company which is interacting with customers on a regular basis, should have a Chief Customer Experience Officer.

Penning down some thoughts on the same below.

  • I did think for a little while, that this should be a major responsibility of the product leader, but on hind-sight, I do not think so. It is a large responsibility on the product leader to think about the customer and evolve the products/services of the company towards that, but there is much more that the product leader does.
  • I strongly believe that, a role focussed solely on the customer is much more beneficial than, it being part of the role, of another executive. It demands and deserves a separate role.
  • The CCXO (sure, it is a four letter acronym, and overlaps the generic CXO, but this is purely hypothetical) should have far ranging powers that span cross-functional domains.
  • The CCXO should be comfortable with tech, marketing, business, field, operations, and most importantly with the consumer landscape.
  • The CCXO should be the person who knows the most about consumer environment, pain points, and behavior.
  • The out reach of the CCXO evolves over time, because the environment, pain points, and behavior evolve over time.
  • The CCXO should have be the voice of the customer and be emboldened enough to argue against any/every other function in the company and fight for them.
  • The CCXO and Product Head should work very closely in planning out current features and future roadmap.
  • CCXO should have his/her own data sets and inferring mechanisms to make sense of the customer base, and impacts being made.
  • CCXO should also work closely with customer support and ensure delight and redressal happens without fuss. Processes and exception mechanisms, and empowerment of the team are important here.
  • End of the day, the CCXO is charged with creating beautiful customer experiences that are worth remembering.

Big Basket – Morning Cheer

img src: livemint

Is Big Basket doing any form of soft skill training to its delivery staff, or was my today morning delivery an exception?  The delivery person smiled a cheerful smile and said Good Morning.

Came in. Stacked the 9 items that I had ordered neatly on the floor. Read it out. Checked it. Collected the cash. Smiled.

And said, “Thank you. I hope you have a great day Sir.”, again with a very genuine smile. 

Wow. That sealed it. It goes to show how such a simple upgrade to the mundane delivery process, can affect the customer, in a good way.  Good going Big Basket. I hope you are doing this as a process.

How many of you would agree that, this should be the differentiator for such experiences?

Idea meritocracy

Was listening to this awesome podcast from the Knowledge Project (of Farnam Street fame) with Ray Dalio, where he talks about idea meritocracy. Found it fascinating. Such clarity in thought.

“There are two things that one needs to do to be successful in anything. 1) Take the right decisions, and 2) Have the courage to execute on these decisions.”

Ray, then talks about how he makes decision. Over the years (he has been running Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the US), he has developed an algorithm on how he makes decisions. He also writes in what he calls a decision journal, where he documents the criteria for making the decision, information that he takes, and his process to take the decision.

One of the things that he talks about is idea meritocracy. Some of the key points that I understood were –

  • All ideas should be treated clearly and put on the table.
  • Each idea should be considered without a bias.
  • He talks about thoughtful disagreement ~ where one needs to agree/disagree and dissect the idea with an objective view.
  • Two kinds of decision makers – autocratic and democratic. Neither work.
    • Autocratic – the bossy types – who eventually make the decision, based on their own thoughts/opinions.
    • Democratic – who always lean towards public opinion and consensus.
  • He believes in making a decision based on discussion (and hence thoughtful disagreement) with people with high believability scores. Believability is based on competency and experience.
    • Example that he gives – I need a medical opinion. My believability score is pretty low. Doctors who specialise in this field have much higher believability scores. Get at least three of them to discuss ~ preferably even disagree and debate between themselves.

I think, I will definitely read his book – where he outlines a lot more. And will update here then.