Punit is a Product Management Leader at Nielsen, President of Harvard Extension School’s Management and Finance Club, and is pursuing her part-time business management degree at Harvard University Extension School. She is a multi-dimensional entrepreneurial leader with strong philanthropic values. Besides holding her corporate career, she founded and led Warrior Buddies, a non-profit for children with disabilities, providing them an opportunity to build their social skills while also advocating and promoting their inclusion.
Outside of work and entrepreneurial initiatives, Punit is a creative music artist who sings, plays musical instruments, and creates Indian music. She is also the mother to an amazing child who with a rare and special journey of Lowe’s Syndrome, inspires her and the world around him.
I was a software engineer for 12 years. My interest in product management peaked when I led an offshore team in India. During that project collaboration, I had to solve more than engineering problems. I had to change my engineering perspective to a user perspective and design solutions for it. Over time, I ended up being empathetic with users. That’s when I decided to move into product management completely. I have been a product manager for five years now. It was an organic shift.
One of the challenges that I faced was thinking like a developer as well as a product manager. I have to think about how the requirements are being perceived by the engineering side when writing product requirements.
A product person has to consider all the scenarios that an engineer or architect might think about. The PM has to ask questions and interpret the answers from a designer's and engineer's perspectives. I learned to implement this strategy of thinking like a product person, designer, and engineer for every problem from my initial years as PM.
The most important part of the transition was empathizing with the users. An engineer’s main focus is to solve programming problems. A PM needs to understand if the technical flow of the product is the right fit for the users. If someone wants to transition into a product role, they must sit in meetings where people don’t understand technology very well. That will give you the right understanding of users’ needs. A PM must sympathize with the problem, understand user requirements, and then translate them to the technical teams.
Often users come with requests that can easily be handled by the tech team. But as a PM, you realize that isn’t beneficial for the product. Hence, you must question and analyze things for the long term.
Another thing I realized is the importance of documenting. I've improved on writing effective documentation that works as a reference for future meetings. Writing is an important aspect that a lot of people transitioning into product management don’t realize.
If I were to recommend somebody on transitioning, I would tell them to start with solving problems for the users. For example, when a bug is reported by the users, don’t just solve the bug, look beyond that one bug. Focus on finding the flaws in the product through these support issues. That is what it takes to make the product successful. Any number of books and articles about transitioning into PM can’t take over hands-on job experience.
Another piece of advice is to network with people who can help you with the transition. Build genuine connections with hiring managers, other product managers, influential people in the industry, etc. It is crucial to have a good reputation with people who can help you land your dream PM job.
A good PM knows how to communicate with different teams efficiently. There could arise gaps between the teams working on a product. A PM then analyses through everyone’s lens and then makes the right decision in favor of the product. Hence work on your people skills.
Be creative and open to learning. Product management is a lot of creative work. You should enjoy coming up with new features, planning things, and thinking for the long term. There's a lot to learn and that should motivate you to build better products.
Communication is a learning process. The easiest way of learning is to talk to many people. Understand what they are seeking from you and then gather knowledge to help them out. Share your ideas and exchange views. As a PM, you need to brainstorm solutions and collaborate with many teams. Being a leader and communicating with teams well will take you a long way.
I feel that AI/ML is overrated. People think that AI will solve any problem, but sometimes a product might need a very simple solution. That being said, certain products need AI/ML for better functioning. Currently, I'm working on a product that needs AI/ML methodologies in place to enhance our solution.
Many companies don’t need AI/ML, but rather rely heavily on user data like engagement rate, retention rate, crash report, session length, etc. to make decisions. Hence, AI/ML is subjective to the product. Things like predictive modeling are included in every single product these days. But whether that will solve the customers' needs has to be taken into account when building features. Some AI/ML elements can be nice to have, but it’s not always necessary.
I have used many tools over my years of experience. Initially, I used to like Jira for its integration feature. Confluence is also a great software tool for PMs. Google Docs are used often for collaboration all the time. Many technical PMs are fond of GitLab which is a great tool for merging requests, updating code, and automating many processes.
When you say favorite, I will pick Monday and ProductBoard. They are product roadmap tools. These tools help with presenting to teams across geographies. And finally, the good old Excel sheets. I have used Excel for most of my career. It helps with collaboration across teams better and presentation to executives. It's sophisticated and gets things done.
The first piece of advice is to build relationships wherever they are. It means volunteering for projects, building trust with whoever you want to work with in the future, enhancing your creative knowledge by looking through what's happening in the market, and proposing solutions.
I believe product managers should know data analysis. Many technical decisions heavily rely on data. A PM gets bombarded with tons of data. The key is to find relevant information from it. I've learned in the last three years that data is used vigorously in this industry. Learn to pull insights from a huge volume of data.
Do not hesitate to speak up and put yourself out there even if you have very simple ideas. Even if they are going to be turned down, it's okay. Be ready to fail. Be ready to be humbled. And be ready to learn. Be open to feedback. Because these will help you grow.