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The Competitive Edge in Leveraging Domain Expertise to Drive Product Success
Product Management

The Competitive Edge in Leveraging Domain Expertise to Drive Product Success

Amritsawan Bhanja
8
 min read
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Nishant Pandey is a global product management leader at JLL, overseeing a suite of commercial real estate tech products. He won the IFMA Innovation of the Year Award for launching 'Dynamic Cleaning,' a game-changing digital solution that revolutionizes cleaning practices using IoT, sensors, data, and technology. Nishant holds an MBA from Northwestern University and resides in Chicago.

Previously, Nishant held product strategy, program management, and digital transformation roles at TransUnion and Capgemini. He mentors student entrepreneurs and delivers workshops on sales and product management. He enjoys songwriting, filmmaking, and recently published his first book of poems. 

Nishant transitioned to product management after earning his MBA in marketing and strategy from Kellogg School of Management. The interview focuses on the importance of domain knowledge in product management. Nishant Pandey’s years of experience in different industries make him an ideal candidate to talk about domain knowledge.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into product management?

I grew up in various Indian towns and cities and developed a passion for mathematics and science during middle and high school. Pursuing this interest, I obtained an engineering degree and joined a technology consulting startup after graduation. Over a decade, I gained experience in digital transformation, strategy consulting, and program and project management. I eventually decided to pivot to product management.

I began my product management career in a Fintech organization, managing a suite of data products focused on credit data benchmarking. I leveraged my industry knowledge and problem-solving skills from consulting to succeed in this role. Later I  pursued an MBA in marketing and strategy at Kellogg School of Management, further enhancing my business skills quickly.

I am the Global Product Leader for JLL Technologies’ Integrated Facility Management business today. In this role, I conceive, deliver, and scale innovative product offerings in the Facility Management space. 

What do you think differentiates a great PM from a good one? 

Product managers must be strategic thinkers, make informed decisions, and deliver measurable outcomes to be successful. Good product managers possess many qualities, but great ones consistently demonstrate these with a deep understanding of their industry and domain. 

Exceptional product managers combine product management tools, techniques, and mindsets with a deep understanding of their industry and domain.

Why is domain knowledge so important for a PM? 

For knowledge workers like Product Managers, “context” is crucial for solving real problems and delivering valuable solutions. Domain knowledge, which encompasses an understanding of typical personas, industry forces, competition, and business practices, is a major part of this context. Understanding this context is essential for effective product management. Therefore, I feel that PMs should invest time learning their industry and domain to maximize their effectiveness. 

Isn't Product Management a highly transferable skill?

I have transitioned from Fintech to Proptech in a product role. I wouldn’t have been able to make this transition were it not for the transferable nature of product management tools, techniques, and mindset. 

While Product Management skills are transferable, understanding the industry context is crucial for crafting differentiated solutions and driving adoption. Without knowledge of the domain and competition, it's difficult to understand stakeholder needs and user engagement with the product. At the end of the day, product managers need to craft strongly differentiated solutions and solve a burning need for the stakeholders. This is where domain knowledge comes in handy. Domain knowledge provides context for applying Product Management tools and techniques.

How did you go about acquiring domain knowledge in the new industry?

I transitioned from a Fintech PM to Commercial Real Estate Tech PM. In my previous role, I managed credit data products at TransUnion. Currently, I oversee property and facility management products at JLL. These global roles necessitated understanding diverse stakeholders and serving key users with digital solutions. 

As I moved from Fintech to Proptech, I knew that domain expertise was crucial. I gained industry knowledge by reading articles, conversing with colleagues, pursuing certifications, and attending events. Additionally, as an instructor for IFMA®’s FMP certification, I learned from my mentees, which helped me gain valuable insights about the industry. 

This contextual understanding enables me to contribute towards my team’s objective of creating differentiated products in commercial real estate.

Can you share an example of how domain knowledge helped you in the new industry?

I take pride in contributing to the launch and success of JLL’s dynamic cleaning solution, which we developed during the Covid-19 pandemic. This product – enhanced safety, reduced chemical usage and janitorial costs, and improved user experience using IoT sensors, analytics algorithms, user-customized dashboards, and platform integrations. We also engaged with suppliers and implemented change management to respond flexibly to fluctuating cleaning demands. This project impacted many stakeholders and provided a unique solution to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic event. It was my first 0-1 product in Facility Management as a product manager, and its success boosted my confidence despite the global pandemic constraints. The product won IFMA’s Innovation of the Year Award in 2022 and continues to gain traction and adoption in the US and internationally.

How can organizations support PMs in their quest to enhance their domain knowledge?

Organizations can support PMs in their quest to enhance their domain knowledge in many ways. They can encourage participation in industry events and conferences, allowing employees to network with experts and stay current on new developments and trends. Formal training programs such as certification programs or internal training sessions are also helpful.

However, the most important way an organization can support learning and growth is by making it a part of its cultural values. PMs, especially those early in their careers, should inquire about learning and growth opportunities when considering a company to work with. Being knowledge workers - knowledge is the most important asset for PMs, and organizations that value employee learning will ultimately benefit from more knowledgeable and skilled employees.

What advice do you have for people looking to enter the product management field, particularly those who may not have domain expertise in a specific industry?

For a first-time PM job, it's essential to demonstrate your product management mindset and application of basic frameworks in the interview. Spend time preparing using available online resources and books. Also, learn about the company, industry trends, and the context in which key users operate. Continuously iterate and refine your understanding. Over time build your domain knowledge.

Finally, any advice for practicing PMs considering changing industries and how they can make the transition successfully?

If you are considering changing industries in a senior role, I’d recommend making a concerted effort to learn the similarities and differences in context between the two industries. You’ll be making important decisions, and to do so confidently: you’ll need more than basic domain knowledge to be effective in your role. Learn from your peers and team members who have been in the industry. Make a 30-60-90-day plan as you ramp up in your new role. Unlearning a few things from your past domain may also need to be on your 30-60-90-day plan.

Conclusion 

While some product management skills are transferable, understanding the industry and competition is essential for crafting differentiated solutions and driving adoption. Nishant suggests gaining industry knowledge by reading articles, conversing with colleagues, pursuing certifications, attending events, and teaching. 

Organizations should support product managers in enhancing their domain knowledge by encouraging participation in events, training programs and valuing employee learning. For those looking to enter product management or change industries as a PM, it is important to demonstrate a product management mindset, learn about the company and industry, and continuously refine domain knowledge.

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