Rashmi Ketha is a Product Manager with Verizon, advisor to Harvard Business Review, Global Co-Lead at Women Association of Verizon Employees (WAVE), and ambassador for women in tech/product/entrepreneurship. She’s a multi-talented leader with a great positive attitude. You might find her giving insightful speeches, exploring new places, or playing badminton. Read this article to take inspiration from Rashmi’s insights and experience of being a PM.
Essentially to me, product management is defined as finding an opportunity in a customer problem to create a tangible solution.
It’s simple to imagine Product Management as a three-circle Venn diagram. One circle would be business. Product managers are always looking for what's the best problem to solve right now. Why is it a good problem to solve? What are some of the industry trends? How can we look for new innovative ideas and problems coming out of those?
The next one would be customers. Product managers determine the customers’ pain points. Where are they facing problems with any idea or process? Then, we look into solving any of those pain points by building a product.
The third circle is technology. Whether that's hardware or software, we need technology to solve customer issues. Product managers decide the ‘How and What’- how is it feasible and up to what extent.
And then, on top of that, put timelines, financial, marketing, and so on and so forth.
I'm a visual learner. So that's how I explain it to people where you have those three core functions and product management is smack dab in the middle of those three, building the solution. In a way, product managers are a part of three core teams, and many more outside of those- it’s truly a cross-functional leadership role.
A PM comes in to provide structure to the processes. PMs analyze, ‘What's the customer problem that needs immediate attention?’. PMs decide how technically feasible a customer request is. We streamline plans for profit. A PM has to be organized and analytical. They shouldn’t be afraid to just keep asking questions even if it seems repetitive.
I think I read this somewhere, ‘A PM has to keep asking the question of Whys and Hows?’ The ‘who, what, where, when’ is figured out together with the project managers, business teams, and tech teams. But ‘the Why and the How’ is where the core skills of a PM come in.
I studied both data science and business. After graduation, I joined a three-year rotation program called the ‘Verizon Leadership Development Program’. The track I chose for it was data science and analytics. It was a hands-on experience building machine learning, deep learning, and computer vision models across multiple functions of the business.
Each rotation, I only had one year to build technical products, so I also had to be efficient from the business point of view. So there I was talking to business, sales, finance, customer, and every other team to make this possible within a year- building the short-term technical product but also building the long-term product roadmap.
That process of talking to other people plus being on the technical team got me into the product mindset. Although I loved to code and create those solutions hands-on, I also loved talking to different people and connecting those dots to a bigger strategy. So that was what got me transitioned over into PM.
Rashmi chuckles and replies: When I want to; I’m very intentional about it. I may call myself an extroverted introvert. The types of conversations I love are about how we can help each other as people in multiple spaces such as learning the hard skills for our job, soft skills to succeed elsewhere, bonding over similar interests, hobbies, etc. I generally love to know what inspires people, what makes them happy, and why they do what they do.
Calls take up almost 60% of my time. Usually, calls involve making sure that people are on track. For example, if there is a product in progress, then there’s plenty of checking in with people about the progress, making sure we stay on track, cooperating with teams across, etc. As a PM is seen as the point of contact for the whole end-to-end product process, we have to make sure we are following everything at a detailed level to make sure everything flows smoothly.
Then, 20% of my time is researching new ideas, new business use cases, ways to create more products, talking to potential customers, etc. This is the more fun and creative side where I get to draw out multiple scenarios for potential products and really believe that the world is my oyster here.
And finally, as a PM I bring different pieces together and a lot of that involves educating others about what you are working on. The last 20% of my time revolves around documentation. Not a lot of people mention or know, but documenting everything is key for PMs and can sometimes make or break the timeline toward product launch.
I wish! I don't think I am strict enough. Product management does require a level of strictness to keep tasks in check. For example, when you have a really good product and customers are enthusiastic about it. But at the same time, company folks are busy with other priorities. I need a stern attitude to ensure we get to the finish line.
My management style is collaborative and transformational. Let me walk you through my course of action to work collaboratively with others to transform an idea into a revenue-generating product.
The PM is designing the strategy and is usually the main point of contact for the whole time. In the beginning, it helps to pull all the stakeholders together, which I call the “kick-off” meeting, to discuss the product and then define the mission, vision, and goals.
To determine the mission, we discuss questions like, “What do we want to be when we grow up? What is our end goal?”
Then the same thing with vision is, we ask, “How do we want to achieve that? What is it that we want to bring to the customers? What is our impact on the world and our customers?
And then break those down into goals to determine, “How do we get there?”
After this, I connect with individual stakeholders from the technical, business, and customer account teams. Together, we break down each of the goals to build a plan. What do these goals mean for them? Miro is a great tool for cross-team collaboration.
Once we have that plan, is when you become best friends with Scrum Masters and Project Managers. They can help with setting up the timeline and help me follow up. We use the management tool- JIRA- to track the whole project, different goals, and milestones. That way, I can concentrate on other important things which need to happen concurrently.
In terms of time management, I prioritize maintaining my sanity and not being on calls 24/7. I work Eastern time zone but I have teams from India, Germany, and all the way to the West Coast Pacific. My office time per se is around 9 am to like 7 pm. I don't mind staying up that long. But I make sure that no work-related calls can reach me before 9:00 am and after 7:00 PM.
A lot of PMs don't do this in the beginning because they want to learn, they want to prove themselves. But the older you get, you realize the importance of blocking time for yourself. I'm still not there yet, but I've seen a lot of my mentors block off calls just to get that documentation time in, create strategies, and realign themselves.
One piece of advice that I religiously follow and would tell others is to “do things that you fear.”
A few years ago, public speaking was what scared me the most. I found a way to combat that by joining Toastmasters. It's a global organization to help people communicate better. Public speaking doesn't only mean getting on stage and presenting at a conference of 5000 people. It also means ‘How do you make those everyday conversations as meaningful as possible?’
Examples of those are: when you're at a networking event and have only 30 seconds to make an impression on the other person, or you're making small talk between your meetings while grabbing lunch, or all the way up to ‘How do you negotiate for a salary increase or the next promotion’. Public speaking applies horizontally to all of these scenarios. Honing in on that skill will help you present yourself better. One way that I've learned to be more comfortable with public speaking is through really engaging myself with Toastmasters.
Once I got confidence in myself, I was able to translate that confidence to other aspects of my life. I have mentored more than 60 students, spoken at 24 events, on 11 panels, in 9 conferences, and have been featured in 9 talk shows/articles so far- and looking forward to more! Lately, I have been talking to others about my passion for hobby sampling, which is basically trying out different hobbies/interests for a short period of time to see if you like them or not. I actually did a podcast episode on hobby sampling with The Toastmasters Podcast.
I look forward to conquering more of what I fear!