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Showing posts with label product management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label product management. Show all posts

Monday, January 9, 2017

A New Chapter In My Life; Google


When I decided to leave SAP to take a short sabbatical I didn’t really know what to expect. Six months later I am happy to report that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. These were some of the best weeks and months of my life. After this short period of disconnecting to recharge and rejuvenate myself I am reconnecting to the professional world. I have accepted an offer with Google to lead the API Ecosystem for Google Cloud to help drive adoption and monetization of the Google Cloud portfolio of platform and products, at scale, by working with various partners as well as coordinating efforts internally at Google with product management and engineering.

As I disconnected I felt the life slowed down and I had more time on hands and a fewer things to do. I met with many people during my sabbatical to learn from them and bounce off my thoughts. We tend to postpone taking certain decisions and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about many things in life, personal as well as professional, simply because we are compressed on time and each task, activity, or a decision only gets a fraction of overall available time we have. I tried hard not to work hard. Just slowing down and soaking it all in helped clear up many things. Taking time off also helped me prioritize what I really wanted to do. I am a big believer in unstructured free time where there is nothing planned ahead of time; wake up and take each day as it goes. I enjoyed doing mundane tasks and that took my attention off a typical rapid life of a technologist in the Silicon Valley. I would highly encourage you to take a short sabbatical in your career if the circumstances allow you to do so.

To a lifelong learner and a “product" person nothing excites me more than immersing myself into breadth of possible opportunities at the intersection of technology and business to create meaningful impact at Google. I have always admired Google for its ability to take risk by going after some of the hardest problems that require massive scale, foster innovation, and embrace failure as part of its culture. I have always been impressed with the talent Google manages to hire and retain. I am looking forward to be surrounded by people much smarter than me and learn from them. It’s going to be an exciting ride!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Disconnect To Reconnect


All journeys, no matter how fruitful, come to an end. After a little over nine and half years I decided to leave SAP last week. What a journey this has been!

Making Design Thinking real

I was hired into a multidisciplinary corporate strategy team, set up by Hasso Plattner, the chairman of SAP's supervisory board, and the only co-founder still with the company, whose mission was to help SAP embrace “design thinking” in how it built products and processes as well as how it worked with customers. It was the best multidisciplinary team one could imagine to be part of. We were multidisciplinary to a fault where I used to joke that my team members and I had nothing in common. I am proud to be part of this journey and the impact we helped achieve. Over the years we managed to take the double quotes out of design thinking making it a default mindset and philosophy in all parts of SAP. It was a testament to the fact that any bold and audacious mission starts with a few simple steps and can be accomplished if there is a small passionate team behind it striving to make an impact.

Be part of foundation of something disruptive

Being part of the Office of CEO I worked with two CEOs—Henning and Leo—and their respective executive management teams. This was by far the best learning experience of my life. I got an opportunity to work across lines of businesses and got first hand exposure to intricate parts of SAP’s business. As part of the corporate strategy team I also got an opportunity to work on Business Objects post-merger integration, especially the joint product vision. Some of that work led to the foundation of one of the most disruptive products SAP later released, SAP HANA.

Fuel the insane growth of SAP HANA

HANA just happened to SAP. The market and competition were not expecting us to do anything in this space. Most people at SAP didn’t realize full potential of it and most customers didn’t believe it could actually help them. I don’t blame them. HANA was such a radically foreign concept that it created a feeling of skepticism and enthusiasm at the same time. I took on many different roles and worked extensively with various parts of organization and SAP’s customers to explore, identify, and realize breakthrough scenarios that exploited the unique and differentiating aspects of HANA.

HANA’s value was perceived to help customers to do things better, cheaper, and faster. But, I was on an orthogonal, and rather difficult, mission to help our customers do things they could not have done before or could not even have imagined they could do.

I was fortunate enough to significantly contribute to early adoption of HANA—zero to billion dollars in revenue in three years—which also went on to become the fastest growing product in SAP’s history. I got a chance to work closely with Vishal Sikka, the CTO of SAP and informally known as the father of HANA, on this endeavor and on many other things. It was also a pleasure to work with some of the most prominent global SAP customers who are industry leaders. They taught me a lot about their business.

Incubate a completely new class of data-first cloud solutions

As HANA started to become a foundation and platform for everything we built at SAP my team took on a customer-driven part-accelerator and a part-incubator role to further leverage the most differentiating aspects of the platform and combine it with machine learning and AI to help build new greenfield data-first cloud solutions that reimagined enterprise scenarios. These solutions created potential for more sustaining revenue in days to come.

Practice the General Manager model with a start-up mindset

A true General Manager model is rare or non-existent at SAP (and at many other ISVs), but we implemented that model in my team where I was empowered to run all the functions—engineering, design, product management, product marketing, and business development—and assumed the overall P&L responsibility of the team. The buck stopped with me and as a team we could make swift business decisions. The team members also felt a strong purpose in how their work helped SAP. Often times, people would come up to me and say, “so your team is like a start-up.” I would politely tell them claiming my team as a start-up will be a great disservice to all the real start-ups out there. However, I tried very hard for us to embrace the start-up culture—small tight teams, experimentation, rewarding efforts and not just the outcome, mission and purpose driven to a fault, break things to make them work, insanely short project timelines, and mid to long term vision with focused short-term extreme agile execution—and we leveraged the biggest asset SAP has, its customers.

Be part of a transformative journey

I was fortunate to witness SAP’s successful transformation to a cloud company without compromising on margins or revenue and HANA-led in-memory revolution that not only paved the path for a completely new category of software but also became the fastest growing product in SAP’s history. These kind of things simply don’t happen to all people and I was fortunate to be part of this journey. I have tremendous respect for SAP as a company and the leaders, especially the CEO Bill McDermott, in what the company has achieved. I’m thankful to all the people who helped and mentored me, and more importantly believed in me.

Looking forward to not doing anything, at least for a short period of time

At times, such a long and fast-paced journey somewhat desensitizes you from the real world. I want to slow down, take a step back, and rethink how the current technology storm in the Silicon Valley will disrupt the world again as it has always and how I can be part of that journey, again. There are also personal projects I have been putting off for a while that I want to tend to. I’m hoping a short break will help me reenergize and see the world differently. When I broke this news to my mom she didn’t freak out. I must have made the right decision!

I want to disconnect to reconnect.

I am looking forward to do away with my commute for a while, on 101, during rush hours, to smell the proverbial roses. I won’t miss 6 AM conference calls, but I will certainly miss those cute self-driving Google cars on streets of Palo Alto. They always remind me of why the valley is such a great place. For a “product” person, a technology enthusiast, and a generalist like me who has experienced and practiced all the three sides—feasibility, viability, and desirability—of building software the valley is full of promises and immense excitement. In coming days I am hoping to learn from my friends and thought leaders that would eventually lead me to my next tour of duty.

About the picture: I was on a hiking trip to four national parks a few years ago where I took this picture standing on the middle of a road inside Death Valley National Park. The “C” curve on a rather straight road is the only place on that long stretch where you could get cell phone reception. Even short hiking trips have helped me gain a new perspective on work and life.     

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Product Vision: Make A Trailer And Not A Movie


I have worked with many product managers on a product vision exercise. In my observation the place where the product managers get hung up the most is when they confuse product vision for product definition. To use an analogy, product vision is a trailer and product definition is a movie. When you're watching a movie trailer it excites you even though you fully don't know how good or bad the movie will be.

Abstract and unfinished

A trailer is a sequence of shots that are abstract enough not to reveal too much details about the movie but clear enough to give you the dots that your imagination could start connecting. Some of the best visions are also abstract and unfinished that leave plenty of opportunities for imagination. Product visions should focus on "why" and "what" and not on "how" and most importantly should have a narrative to excite people to buy into it and refine it later on. Vision should inspire the definition of a product and not define it.

I am a big believer of raw or low fidelity prototypes because they allow me to get the best possible feedback from an end user. People don't respond well to a finished or a shiny  prototype. I don't want people to tell me, "can you change the color of that button?" I would rather prefer they say, "your scenario seems out of whack but let me tell you this is what would make sense."

Non-linear narratives

Movie trailers are also the best examples of non-linear thinking. They don't follow the same sequence as a movie - they don't have to. Most people, product managers or otherwise, find non-linear thinking a little difficult to practice and comprehend. Good visions are non-linear because they focus on complete narrative organized as non-linear scenarios or journeys to evoke emotion and not to convey how the product will actually work. Clever commercials, such as iPad commercials by Apple, follow the same design principles. They don't describe what an iPad can do feature by feature but instead will show a narrative that help people imagine what it would feel like to use an iPad.

Means to an end

The least understood benefit of a product vision is the ability of using the vision as a tool to drive, define, and refine product requirements. Vision is a living artifact that you can pull out anytime during your product lifecycle and use it to ask questions, gather feedback, and more importantly help people imagine. I encourage product managers not to chase the perfection when it comes to vision and focus on the abstract and non-linear journey because a vision is a means to an end and not an end itself.

Photo courtesy: Flickr 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why And How Should You Hire A Chief Customer Success Officer?


For an ISV (Independent Software Vendor) it is everyone's job to ensure customer success but it is no one person's job. This is changing. I see more and more companies realizing this challenge and want to do something about it.

Sales is interested in maintaining relationship with customers for revenue purposes and support works with customers in case of product issues and escalations. Product teams behave more like silos when they approach their customers because of their restricted scope and vision. Most chief technology officers are fairly technical and internal facing. Most of them also lack the business context—empathy for true business challenges—of their customers. They are quite passionate about what they do but they invariably end up spending a lot of time in making key product and technical decisions for the company losing sight of much bigger issues that customers might be facing. Most chief strategy officers focus on company's vision as well as strategy across lines of businesses but while they have strong business acumen they are not customer-centric and lack technical as well as product leadership to understand deep underlying systemic issues.

Traditional ways to measure customer success is through product adoption, customer churn, and customer acquisition but the role of a Chief Customer Success Officer (CCO) extends way beyond that. One of the best ways to watch early signs of market shift is to very closely watch your progressive customers. Working with these customers and watching them will also help you find ways to improve existing product portfolio and add new products, organically or through acquisitions. Participating in sales cycles will help you better understand the competition, pricing points, and most importantly readiness of your field to execute on your sales strategy.

I often get reached out by folks asking what kind of people they should be looking for when they plan to hire a CCO. I tell them to look for the following:

T-shaped: Customer don't neatly fall into your one line of business and so is your CCO. You are looking for someone who has broad exposure and experince across different functions through his or her previous roles and deep expertise in one domain. The CCO would work across LoBs to ensure customers are getting what they want and help you build a sustainable business. Most T-shaped people I have worked with are fast-learners. They very quickly understand continuously changing business, frame their point of view, and execute by collaborating with people across the organization (the horizontal part of T) due to their past experience and exposure in having worked with/for other functions.

Most likely, someone who has had a spectacular but unusual career path and makes you think, "what role does this person really fit in?" would be the the right person. Another clue: many "general managers" are on this career track.

Business-centric: Customers don't want technology. They don't even want products. They want solutions for the business problems they have. This is where a CCO would start with sheer focus on customers' problems—the true business needs—and use technology as an enabler as opposed to a product. Technology is a means to an end typically referred to as "the business."

Your CCO should have a business-first mindset with deep expertise in technology to balance what's viable with what's feasible. You can start anywhere but I would recommend to focus your search on people who have product as well as strategy background. I believe unless you have managed a product—development, management, or strategy—you can't really have empathy for what it makes to build something and have customers to use it and complain about it when it doesn't work for them.

Global: Turns out the world is not flat. Each geographic region is quite different with regards to aptitude and ability of customers to take risk and adopt innovation. Region-specific localization—product, go-to-market, and sales—strategy that factors in local competition and economic climate is crucial for global success of an ISV. The CCO absolutely has to understand intricacies associated with these regions: how they move at different speed, cultural aspects of embracing and adopting innovation, and local competition. The person needs to have exposure and experience across regions and across industries. You do have regional experts and local management but looking across regions to identify trends, opportunities, and pace of innovation by working with customers and help inform overall product, go-to-market, and sales strategy is quite an important role that a CCO will play.

Outsider: Last but not least, I would suggest you to look outside instead of finding someone internally. Hiring someone with a fresh outside-in perspective is crucuial for this role. Thrive for hiring someone who understands the broader market - players, competition, and ecosystem. This is a trait typically found in some leading industry analysts but you are looking for a product person with that level of thought leadership and background without an analyst title.

About the photo: This is a picture of an Everest base camp in Tibet, taken by Joseph Younis. I think of success as a progressive realization of a worthwhile goal.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Design Lesson: Customers Don't Remember Everything They Experience

My brother is an ophthalmologist in a small town in India. In his private practice, patients have two options to see him: either take an appointment or walk in. Most patients don't take an appointment due to a variety of cultural and logistics reasons and prefer to walk in. These patients invariably have to wait anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and half on a busy day. I always found these patients to be anxious and unhappy that they had to wait, even if they voluntarily chose to do so. When I asked my brother about a possible negative impact due to unhappiness of his patients (customers) he told me what matters is not whether they are unhappy while they wait but whether they are happy or not when they leave. Once these patients get their turns to see my brother for a consultation, which lasts for a very short period of time compared to how much they waited, my brother will have his full attention to them and he will make sure they are happy when they leave. This erases the unpleasant experience from their minds that they just had it a few minutes back.

I was always amused at this fact until I got introduced to the concept of experience side versus memory side by my favorite psychologist Daniel Kahneman, explained in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow and in his TED talk (do watch the TED talk, you won't regret it). While the patients waited the unpleasant experience was the experience side which they didn't remember and the quality time they spent in the doctor's office was the memory side that they did remember.


Airlines, hotels, and other companies in service sectors routinely have to deal with frustrated customers. When customers get upset they won't remember series of past good experiences they had but they would only remember how badly it ended - a cancelled flight, smelly hotel room or production outage resulting in an escalation. Windows users always remember the blue screen of death but when asked they may not necessarily remember anything that went well on a Windows machine prior to a sudden crash resulting into the blue screen of death. The end matters the most and an abrupt and unrecoverable crash is not a good end. If the actual experience matters people will perhaps never go back to a car dealership. However people do remember getting a great deal in the end and forget the misery that the sales rep put them through by all the haggling.

Proactive responses are far better in crisis management than reactive ones but reactive responses do not necessarily have to result in a bad experience. If companies do treat customers well after a bad experience by being truly apologetic, responsive, and offering them rewards such as free upgrades, miles, partial refund, discounts etc. people do tend to forget bad experiences. This is such a simple yet profound concept but companies tend not to invest into providing superior customer support. Unfortunately most companies see customer support as cost instead of an investment.

This is an important lesson in software design for designers and product managers. Design your software for graceful failures and help people when they get stuck. They won't tell you how great your tool is but they will remember how it failed and stopped them from completing a task. Keep the actual user experience minimal, almost invisible. People don't remember or necessary care about the actual experiences as long as they have aggregate positive experience without hiccups to get their work done. As I say, the best interface is no interface at all. Design a series of continuous feedback loops at the end of such minimal experiences—such as the green counter in TurboTax to indicate tax refund amount—to reaffirm positive aspects of user interactions; they are on the memory side and people will remember them.

In enterprise software, some of the best customers could be the ones who had the worst escalations but the vendors ended their experience on a positive note. These customers do forgive vendors. As a vendor, a failed project receives a lot worse publicity than a worst escalation that could have actually cost a customer a lot more than a failed project but it eventually got fixed on a positive note. This is not a get-out-of-jail-free-card to ignore your customers but do pause and think about what customers experience now and what they will remember in future.

Photo courtesy: Derek 
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