“Think like a user and act as a user champion” — Dhirendra Mohan on what it is to be a software leader.

Hello! What’s your background and what do you do?

I’m here now working as a Product Head at Knowlarity leading a team of PMs and building the world-class CPaaS and Cloud Telephony Products.

I started about 13 years ago when I had joined Adobe as a Software Engineer as a campus hire, mainly working on Adobe Illustrator which is the Adobe’s Oldest and one of the top-line creative product at Adobe, and later working as a Lead Product Expert in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe’s Creative Cloud.

Working at Adobe is one of a lifetime experience because you work very closely with customers every other day. Post-Adobe, I have worked with Xebia, Mckinsey, BCG, HT Media, Knowlarity and built so many different lines of products aligned to various industries which I am super proud of.

How was your transition from software development to management/leadership like?

While interacting with so many customers online, offline at Adobe and I realised that I really enjoyed the kind of work a Product Manager does and solve the customer problems and making the impact on customer lives.

I became highly passionate about the PM role and started to work as a Product User Workflow Expert and talking to multiple customers every day via forums, online meetings etc. and decided to pursue my passion at Adobe itself.

Post talking to customers, I started analysing the customer problem, prioritising the same, working on solutions, writing feature specs and that’s how it all started as I saw more opportunity for growth at Adobe but since it was my first company so wanted to evaluate the world outside.

So, after a couple of years, I moved out from Adobe to Xebia>Mckinsey>BCG>HT>Knowlarity (current). It has been an amazing journey so far, starting from a well-established world-class brand, working in the biggest consulting firms as a PM, working with the leaders in Media business and today at Knowlarity working closely with the leadership team and building successful customer-oriented cloud telephony solutions.

What does your day-to-day work look like?

Stand-up Meetings: We follow the agile development process at Knowlarity and hold “scrums.” This is when the team gets together and talks about what they worked on the day before, what they will be working on that day, and if there are any hurdles preventing anyone from efficiently doing their work.

Talking to Customers: Whether in person or through other mediums (customer support tickets, phone, video conferencing, etc.), I spend time with my customers to understand if my team is building is useful/valuable for your customers. Time with customers will help my team in planning the upcoming features.

Product Backlog Review with PMs: This involves managing the product feature backlog to make sure that your team doesn’t have any dead time in between feature development. It also includes prioritizing which features our engineering team needs to work on first in upcoming sprints.

Spec Reviews with PMs: Whatever work Engineering Team does require the Product Specifications which I review with my PMs to understand what they are building and most importantly why they are building it.

Strategy Planning: As a Head of Products, I always keep a backlog of short, mid, and long-term product feature ideas. It’s extremely important to always be thinking about whether these ideas make sense given recent market changes or data analyses that you’ve performed.

Sync-up with the Leadership (Bi-weekly): Regular sync-up with the leadership team members about how the business is moving and what are the strategic customers we are currently working with. A summary of how the PM initiatives are aligned with the organizational goals and showing the progress with the metrics.

Roadmap Reviews with PMs: Understanding the estimated completion times and release dates as per the agreed Roadmap with the PMs. Not just for myself, but also to share with product marketing so that they have a head up as to when they should start working on new campaigns or ad creatives.

Data Analysis: Very crucial to making well-informed product decisions

Meetings: With various cross-functional teams like sales, marketing, business development, delivery, support etc.

What motivates you to do it every day?

Thinking about and executing on a strategy to fulfil our mission: One of the main reasons I decided to join Knowlarity as a Product Leader is that I’m passionate about our mission and I wanted to have an impact on the directions we take as a company and team towards that mission. I’m excited that I get to spend my time thinking about how to make the product better as well as how we fit into the industry and the world. On a related note, I really like thinking about how my team’s work affects the bigger picture. Having the time to zoom out and understand how you fit into the rest of the product and strategy is challenging, but also really rewarding and exciting.

Multi-tasking and constantly learning: I’m one of those people that always likes to have a ton of balls in the air at a given time. I get pretty restless between projects if there isn’t something else I can divert my energy towards. Additionally, the PM job comes a lot of breadths, especially at a company like Knowlarity. This was super appealing to me because it meant that I could learn a lot of different things that would mould my career going forward. It was intimidating at first, but I’ve really grown to love that there is such a wide range of things that a PM has to do depending on the type of Product or a Product feature. So, I feel like I’m constantly kept on my toes and learning something new every week!

Boosting morale and creating team culture: I care a lot about creating a culture where everyone’s having fun and working towards a common goal. One of the best parts of my job is getting people excited about a goal. I’m all about having fun while building a great product, so I’m really big on making people laugh in meetings and creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable to contribute. So, I really like getting to think about how we can encourage people to participate in the planning/brainstorming process as well as how to make sure everyone’s thoughts are being heard along the way.

Aside from these big buckets, there are a few other things that I love about being a Product Leader that play off of some of my natural personality traits:

I’m naturally really organized and enjoy developing processes.

I love leading the team of PMs and giving direction to my Engineering Teams.

I love working with people and lean extroverted, so getting to work with a lot of different people is pretty exciting.

Thinking about things at the company level and organizing “bigger picture” processes is pretty fun.

I really like meetings (with conclusions). Not sure why, but I do!

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far? What did you do to overcome them?

Understanding the consumer: Before we can go about delivering exceptional connected experiences they first need to understand the customers’ basic needs and requirements from their digital product. Getting to grips with what your customer expects should be the foundation from which your product is built and at the core of your teams’ mission when designing. So, it is very important that you are connected to your consumers either virtually or physically.

On-boarding new technologies: When mapping out the organisation’s digital strategy it’s important to measure new technology: Is it cool and useful to your consumer or just cool? For example, voice technology has taken off with brands from all sectors seeing the practicality of leaving the traditional interface and introducing a more conversational experience for the consumer. Although starting off as a novelty, conversational tech has evolved to streamline the customer experience and is now seeing widespread adoption. e.g. Marriott International has even begun trialling Amazon Alexa in their hotel rooms and has also enabled the voice bots over the telephony channels. Bots and automated assistants are also changing the way brands deliver customer service and allowing product teams to automate large parts of the customer journey.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about being a manager?

These are 2 key advice which I got early in my career from my BU director at Adobe:

Getting people on board as quickly as possible: At Adobe, we were taught not to operate in isolation. The important part of the PM is to help shape group vision or to get people to buy into a product idea or vision. The truth of the matter is that as a product manager you need the collaboration of a wide range of people in order to make things happen. As a product manager, you are in a perfect position to bring together ideas, to talk about assumptions and to bring ideas to life.

Think like a user and act as a user champion: I believe that as a product manager you effectively are a user champion. The shape of a product might change, but as a product owner, you continuously need to assure that the product addresses the needs of your (target) users. It is easy to get dragged down into the day-to-day challenges of product development, assuming that you are building or managing the right product. As a product manager, I am always trying to challenge my own or other peoples’ assumptions, going back to what the user wants or expects. Whether you use real-time data or go out of the building to engage with customers, I feel that it is vital to be on top of what users think they want.

What do you tell developers who are considering making the switch or new to the role?

Following are the 2 things which I typically tell the Developers who are looking forward to making a switch into the PM role:

Communication Skills: Often, a product manager will act as a ‘facilitator’; acting as an intermediary between internal stakeholders (e.g. developers, sales and designers), external stakeholders (e.g. clients, regulators) and the end-user of a product. It is therefore critical that the product manager is clear in his/her communications, both on the ‘big’ things (e.g. a product vision and goals) and on the ‘small’ things (e.g. in daily stand-up meetings or when interacting with people on a day-to-day business).

Not knowing the answer: Do not be afraid to show that you have not got all the answers to a problem or a question. However, I believe that a good product manager will always try to demonstrate a can-do attitude, setting out to look for the answers and building products iteratively to dissect the problem in small, testable chunks.

Final call to action! Where can we go to learn more about you?

I am quite active on LinkedIn and you can connect with me over here or reach out to me over the email: erdhirendramohan@gmail.com. I’m always happy to talk to folks about their experiences, give advice, or share what I’ve learned in my product management career so far.

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