Product Manager, or Product Experience Manager?

In my last post Experiencing the product, or productizing the experience?, I talked about my experience with SiteZ and how their overall experience left much to be desired even though the core product was good enough. In this post, I will try to analyze things that went wrong which shouldn’t have.

Here are 5 things that went wrong for SiteZ if I look from a customer’s perspective:

  1. They misled the user about the time it takes to register.
  2. They didn’t allow the user to abort the registration attempt gracefully (which left the email address behind and created rest of the mess).
  3. They were not forthcoming about who is sending me these spam emails (the email address was hidden with a display name that was the advertiser’s).
  4. They exposed a feature to me (unsubscribe) which didn’t work
  5. They didn’t give me an easy way to delete my account – emails bounced, UI didn’t have a button to delete, etc. Continue reading

Experiencing the product, or productizing the experience?

About 6 months back, I saw a print advertisement from a well-known job portal (I will call it SiteZ): “Free webinar and live chat with well-known Mr. X”. When I visited their site, they helpfully informed me that I need to be a registered user of their site (which meant I had to be someone looking for a job, which I was not), but it would take only 30 seconds to register. I didn’t mind giving 30 sec and a few bits of personal information to attend this webinar so I proceeded with registration. It took me about 2-3 minutes before I realized that this is going to take quite some time – they wanted all kinds of details about my profile, what kind of job I was looking for, what I had been doing so far in my career, etc.; simply uploading my resume didn’t SiteZ. So I abandoned my effort and tried to find a way of deleting this account I had just created. Continue reading

Why you should vote for Mrityunjay Kumar (IITDAA EC election, 2013)

When I received the following mail in my Inbox, I was excited:


Dear Alumni,

We are glad to announce the elections of new members of the Executive Committee of IIT Delhi Alumni Association for the year 2013. It has been noticed that there is a very thin attendance in the AGM chaired by the Director IITD and Chairman IITDAA owing to the election process and cultural programme, which is not only embarrassing but also not in the interest of the Association. To improve attendance at the AGM, the program will start at 5:00 P.M. Voting will be from 5:00-6:30 p.m. Only

 …

-Election of Executive Committee members (During AGM)                                                    27th April 2013

(Full text at the end of this post)

After coming back to India in Feb 2012 to start my second innings of life, getting associated with IITD Alumni Association (IITDAA) has been on top of my mind. And being part of the executive committee is one of the best ways of getting connected and make some impact. Continue reading

3 Pitfalls to avoid when creating resume

This post is a follow-up to my earlier post Creating Resumes that Work where I shared some tactics for creating purposeful resume.

I review a large number of resumes every week – they come through ‘Get Resume Review’ section of our website (now closed), from Sunstone students, and from family and friends. I share my perspectives on resume creation with all of them and review a number of iterations of their drafts. However, it seems that telling ‘what to do’ is not enough. This post is an attempt to capture some of the important ‘what not to do’ when creating resume. There are 3 ways people lose focus on right things and end up with mediocre resumes.

The ‘Why’ Pitfall: Focusing on showcasing your talent, and not on getting an interview call

It is very common to find resumes full of great accomplishments, awards, experiences, buzzwords, which don’t create a compelling story for the reader. This happens because these people create resume to showcase themselves. However, this is not why a resume needs to be created. Single-most important purpose of a resume is to get you an interview call. In an interview, you will get more opportunities to showcase yourself. Eulogizing yourself is rarely the most effective means to awe the resume reader and make them curious enough to call you for an interview. Connecting to reader’s needs and wishes and connecting to their belief and values is the best way to make the reader curious.

The ‘What’ Pitfall: Focusing on activities, and not on results

This is most common pitfall people fall into, and many templates and samples you will find on the web perpetrate this. Frankly, no one cares about what all things you did in your prior roles. What they care about is what you accomplished for the company (or client or someone else), and how big and hard was the accomplishment. This is because activities tend to be domain-specific (what you do in a semiconductor industry to achieve growth is very different than what you need to do in an internet company for example), while results (when written like specific and measurable business outcomes) tend to be domain-agnostic (20% growth or customer sat of 4/5 mean the same in different industries). So the resume is better understood if it is written focusing on outcomes or results, than when focusing on activities.

The ‘Who’ Pitfall: Focusing on what is important to you, and not what is important for reader

Many resumes tend to focus on activities and accomplishments they hold dear to their heart. However, it is important to understand who you are making the resume for, and what is important to them. Many people find it hard to do, for 2 reasons:

  1. They may not know what is important for the reader, because they haven’t thought much about the reader
  2. Focusing on reader may mean dropping a few details that you hold dear, which many people find hard to accept.

For example, if the reader is likely to look for ‘creative problem solving’ as a key skill, burying it deep inside the details and instead highlighting your team management skills doesn’t help your reader, and diminishes your chances of achieving your objective. It is important to research your reader (read job description, company profile, talk to someone in the company, etc.), and then re-prioritize your resume content by putting yourself in reader’s shoes.

To avoid these pitfalls, it is critical to keep a keen eye on 3 areas:

  1. Purpose
  2. Results
  3. Reader

In subsequent posts, I will present a few suggestions on how to take a resume that suffers from one or more of these pitfalls and fix them. I am also interested in hearing about what pitfalls you have come across.

Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Job Change – Changing Domains successfully

It is not easy to change your domain when changing jobs. A domain change may mean moving from a functional domain to another (say Banking to Real Estate, or semiconductors to internet) or moving from one discipline to another within the same functional domain (Developer to Product Manager, Support Engineer to Sales Person, etc.). In either of these cases, you expose yourself to a changed environment, where many of your prior experiences are rendered useless, and you are required to learn new domain very quickly. Hence, many of such changes might not work as expected.

So why do people go for such domain changes? There are many reasons, most have something to do with your career choice. Here are a few:

  1. New domain is hot and happening, existing domain is boring and stagnant
  2. New domain offers role that old domain can’t offer, and you want that role
  3. You can perform very well in the new domain since your expertise of old domain can be leveraged.
  4. Long term career can be better developed in the new domain than in the old

Whatever the reason for change might be, it is very important to proceed with caution and a good plan. We have posted a document Changing Domains that presents 5 steps that should be followed when changing domains – this mitigates the risk of failure, and prepares you for success.

Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Creating Resumes that work

An effective resume presents you in an impactful way and compels the reader to invite you to an interview. It also acts as a marketing brochure for the product YOU and presents the value you offer to a prospective ‘buyer’ (employer). Therefore, it is very important to construct this document carefully and provide right information that conveys your value in the best possible manner. Quality and presentation of a resume impacts the # of interview calls you will get when you are looking for a job. It also impacts how the interviewer will perceive you – a well-written resume creates a positive bias in interviewer’s mind towards you and helps you a lot. Hence it is important to pay utmost attention to your resume and create it with good principles in mind. There are 3 things that need to be focused on:

  1. Context of the reader: There are different types of readers who read a resume and each has a unique goal and characteristic that must be factored in when creating a resume
  2. Principles of good resume writing: There are some key principles to create a good resume and they must be adhered to
  3. Creating a domain-independent resume: This is useful all the time, but becomes critical when you wish to change your domain (say banking to real estate, or semiconductor to internet).

We have posted a document Creating Purposeful Resumes that presents this in more detail and will help you create resumes that work. You can also send your resume to us if you want to get resume review.

Slicing Roles, Stifling Careers

Recently, I had an opportunity to meet many test engineers from a large IT services company. These were 0-5 years experienced engineers. Here are a few comments I heard multiple times:

I am in performance testing and I don’t know about manual testing

I only write automation scripts (execution and reporting is done by other roles) so I don’t know about how the system performed in final results

I was at loss for words at times. I know that IT services companies need to drive down their costs (since they find it too hard to move up the value chain of IT projects) and slicing job roles is one way of doing this. But it was first time for me to talk to people who worked in such fine slices of roles.

Writing scripts, but not knowing about how the system performed? Calling yourself tester and not knowing manual testing? What kind of workforce are we creating? Where is the well-rounded test engineer who is supposed to be the customer advocate in the engineering team? Where is the omniscient test engineer who is supposed to be the go-to person even for the dev team regarding all the functionality of the system?

To be clear, this is not only test team within an engineering team. Similar role slicing is happening within development, project management and other teams. This reduces cost in the same way assembly lines reduced cost of production in manufacturing sector – put all the intelligence in the line (process design) and reduce the dependency on the quality of personnel (or as Henry Ford is alleged to have said “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?”). Resources become eminently replaceable, don’t require training, and hence wages can be reduced.

I pity those who get slotted in these slices of roles and think they are making a career by sticking to a well-known company. They don’t realize that they have stopped learning, that too so early in their career. At least in 0-5 years of a career, the goal must be to try out as many career opportunities as you can, learning a lot on the way, before taking a role which puts you in a silo (read climbing the wrong hill for a great analogy from computer science).

I also pity the companies – it is very hard to take this bunch of employees and develop them into next set of leaders and managers. While I am sure many companies are trying to give their employees enough knowledge through training, interactions etc., there is really no substitute to on-the-job learning. While this approach to software delivery is laudable from cost cutting perspective, it can’t build long term success.

If you are in one of these roles, reflect on your career path carefully: you may be hurting your career growth much more than you think. If you are not sure, ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Have I learned new skills (other than maybe new domain because of new project) over last 3-6 months?
  2. Do I understand a lot about various aspects of the software I am working on?
  3. Do I know enough about the work being done by those who depend on my work, as well as whose work I depend on?

 

 

3 good reasons to change job

In a previous post 3 bad reasons to change job, I presented 3 reasons which people usually give when changing jobs, but which are really bad reasons to do so. Subsequently, I was asked what are good reasons to change jobs, and hence this post.

A job is a promise of fair exchange between you and your organization – you promise to deliver results for the organization, and the organization promises to provide you with financial incentives in exchange. Both sides believe they get a fair deal in this bargain (which is true for any fair-market exchange). This exchange takes place through your manager, who representative organization to you, and you to the organization.

In addition to financial incentive, you can also get non-financial ones, like learning new skills, visiting new places, meeting new people etc. which you might value a lot. In a stable state, organization gets great results delivered through you, and you get great financial and non-financial gains from the organization. Higher the alignment of non-financial gains to your career goals, higher the value you assign to these gains. Of course, this assumes that you have defined your career goals to some level of detail; if you haven’t, then you have a bigger problem to worry about!

Manager plays a crucial role in this exchange. Organization relies on the manager to quantify the value being created by you through your results delivery (through the often dreaded performance appraisal process). You rely on the manager to derive your financial and non-financial gains from the organization. So manager is an important piece in this exchange and can strongly influence the outcome for each party.

Given this market-style definition of a job, let me present 3 good reasons to change job. However, please note that it may not always be clear that you are encountering one or more of these. So it is always a good idea to do a simple check from time to time by asking yourself this question: Am I having fun at work, and am I looking forward to another day at work? When answers consistently come negative, it is time to investigate more.

You give much more than you receive

This means that your financial and non-financial gains are much less compared to what you give to the organization. This is an unfair exchange and you are losing, so you must cut your losses and move on. It is also important to keep an eye on each of the gains (financial and non-financial) even when overall gains seem fine:

  1. Very low financial gains, high non-financial gains – When your non-financial gains are high, they may compensate for your financial shortfalls. It is important to see if your financial goals are being met. If not, it is time to move on. However, if the financial stability is ensured (though your bank balance might not be growing as much as your friend’s), non-financial gains is great to have and this is a good situation to be in. Typically this situation is encountered in early phases of the career.
  2. Very low non-financial gains, high financial gains – It is important to keep an eye on the extent of non-financial gains, since they build your stock value and make you more valuable for the next company and years to come. If the non-financial component is very less, you should consider changing job even when the financial gains seem to compensate for the non-financial shortfall. An example is when you are asked to do highly repetitive/mundane work (though critical for the company) which doesn’t give you any learning but the salary is good. Keep doing it for years, and your career will get irreparable damage though your bank balance will be fine. Typically, this is encountered in middle phase of the career.

You give much less than you receive

This means that your financial gains are much more than what you give to the organization (since organizations don’t typically look at your non-financial gains when comparing the fair exchange value). This may sound like a contrarian advice to change the job in this situation, because it is great to get paid much more than what you offer in value. However, staying in such a situation for long makes you complacent, and vulnerable to changing market dynamics (since organization is getting much less value for its money, it is much more likely to react to get rid of you). For example, you may be a highly-paid senior employee in a company that does cutting edge technology work and your expertise is highly desirable for the company, but your salary has grown so much over the years that it hurts the company (and you may be paid much more than your peers in other industries). This will happen in niche industries where talent is scarce and deep expertise is required. This is also reached when you become too senior in the company but there is no space to grow beyond your current level.

Your manager is not your well-wisher

As mentioned above, manager is a crucial link in the exchange between you and the organization. When the manager doesn’t have your best interests at their heart, you are not in a place where your career can succeed, and you must change your job. There have been many cases (read my earlier post ‘Is your manager killing your career aspiration‘ to see one of the ways manager can be problematic) of managers adversely impacting a career, and when you encounter such a manager, you must change your job.

A note on ‘change the job’ advice is in order: this doesn’t always translate into changing the company. Depending on the kind of issue you find yourself facing, sometimes it could mean moving to a new part of the organization, or taking a new role. Change is the operative word here: something must be different in the new state, and a new company is just one (though the most common) dimension that can be changed when changing a job.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Organization Politics – Tactics and other takeaways

This is the final post in the series about Organization Politics. In the first post Organization Politics – Truth or Myth, we presented some examples of situations which might be termed ‘political’ and proceeded to analyze these situations in more detail in the next post Organization Politics – Anatomy of Office Politics. In the last post Organization Politics – Dealing with Politics, we presented some strategies of dealing with politics at workplace and reasons why it is a good idea to deal with them rather than walk away from it. In this post, we will wrap this up with a discussion on what you need to do in various roles you play in a decision-making situation.

As we talked in the previous post, it is important to engage with political situation, it helps the organization as well as your career. We also presented a high level framework for dealing with such situations. In this post, let me get into the details of tactics you can use to handle politics by applying the framework.

Whenever you engage with a decision-making situation, you are in one of these 3 different roles:

  • Observer/Recipient – You are not part of decision-making team and you have to live with the decision. Usually this happens when some high-level organization-wide decisions are being taken, like reorganization, new goals for the organization, etc. This also happens when you choose not to be a participant.
  • Participant – Your input is solicited but you are not the decision-maker for the decision. This is the most common scenario when you either choose to walk away or engage fully.
  • Decision-maker – You are primary (or one of) decision-makers for the decision. This is the case when you are a leader or manager.

For each of these roles, there are actions that need to be taken in 3 phases: before decision-making happens, during decision-making, and after decision has been made.

Let’s see how each of these roles should be handled.

Observer/Recipient

When you are an observer, your goal should be to understand the decision (and its implication) as early as you can, as well as learn from the experience of others. It is important to understand the decision and its implication to your work, otherwise you will not be able to adapt to it in time, and sometimes it can cause significant issues. For example, if a reorganization within your business unit merges 2 groups into one, it is important to know the new leaders/influencers who are close to decision-makers and understand their priorities, otherwise you may be spending late nights on some project that is not considered important by them and which is likely to be cut.

Before decision-making
  • Understand the context and the problem to be solved
  • Identify decision-makers and influencers
  • Try and stay close to one of the decision-makers or influencers
  • Create your own hypothesis of what the final outcome should be
During decision-making
  • Get to know the discussions as they unfold
  • Make attempts to influence the outcome
After decision-making
  • Read up on all written material available about the decision
  • Talk to as many participants as you can
  • Compare final outcome with your hypothesis to explain the difference if any

Participant

When you are a participant, your primary goal should be to be in the best position to influence the decision and then proceed to do so in an ethical manner. You should also be in a position to justify your actions after the decision has been taken, so it is important to stay consistent and transparent, as much as possible.

Before decision-making
  • Understand the context around the problem
  • Talk to other decision-makers and influencers to understand their positions
  • Identify potential allies
  • Prepare to present and defend your proposal
During decision-making
  • Understand others’ points of view and self-interests
  • Create coalition with like-minded decision-makers/influencers
  • Present inclusive solutions and use your influencing techniques
After decision-making
  • Clearly articulate your position during decision-making discussions to those who want to know.
  • Discuss with observers/recipients to understand their reaction and understanding
  • Compare final outcome with your proposal and study the differences

Decision-maker

When you are a decision-maker, your primary goal is to convey the sense that the decision will be taken by involving right stakeholders, using a well-known decision-making process, and will be in the best interests of the organization, and then adhere to it.

Before decision-making
  • Identify right stakeholders to be included in the decision-making process
  • Clarify how the final decision will be made (consensus, majority, etc.)
  • Create your own viewpoint about the decision but stay open for feedback
During decision-making
  • Understand others’ points of view and self-interests
  • Make the process inclusive by making sure everyone participates actively
  • Use your listening techniques to gather the most out of discussions.
  • Make final decision using the process identified before
After decision-making
  • Clearly articulate decision made and rationale behind it
  • Encourage participants and observers to learn more about the decision
  • Compare final outcome with your initial point of view and study the differences

When you are seen as ‘playing politics’

In spite of your best intentions and efforts, if you are a participant or decision-maker in a decision-making process, you may be labeled as ‘political’. This can undermine your personal brand and damage your credibility. Best thing to do in these circumstances is to over-communicate. Two things need to be communicated, using multiple channels ((emails, blog, videos, podcast, meetings, etc.) and multiple times:

  • Decision-making Process: Make sure people understand how the participants were selected, how were options generated and brainstormed, how were options compared and final option selected, etc. Understanding of the process helps give a sense of comfort and fairness.
  • Rationale for the decision – Communicate why this is the most optimal decision made under the circumstances. Everyone has their own version of ‘best’ decision, and it is important to share all the inputs that went into making decisions so that people can make a more informed assessment of ‘best’.

Key Takeaways

Frequently, you will participate in (or observe) a situation where you think you are being exposed to ‘politics’. It is tempting to say ‘this is politics’ and bail out of the situation, rather than take it on and learn to handle them. If nothing else, these are worth engaging because of the wealth of learning to be gained:

  • Discovering self-interests that drive stakeholders in a situation
  • Create inclusive solutions by focusing on AND of multiple viewpoints rather than get into debates about best viewpoint
  • Deal with difficult people and tough conversations
  • Make complex decisions with incomplete information and multiple right answers
  • Critical communication and listening skills

An organization is a complex system. It achieves optimal results when multiple perspectives (and interests) intersect and a collective, and best-for-the-organization decision is made. If people walk away from these conflicting situations citing politics as a reason (rightly or wrongly), organization suffers and gets destroyed in the long run.

It is best for the individual (great learning) and organization (best decisions) when individuals engage with complex situations (termed ‘political’ many times) and give their best.

Don’t get me wrong: Workplace politics is a real thing. When senior leaders have only self-interest in mind (and no thought about organizational goals), situations can turn messy and unmanageable. This is the office politics that you should be wary of, especially if you are not the political kind. However, situation is not always so bleak. What I am pushing back on is really the pseudo-politics that we think we are victims of – I want us to buckle up and handle it successfully.

Comments and suggestions on this series are most welcome and much appreciated.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net