Key learnings in my first year as a PM at Amazon
On July 11th 2017, I will complete my first year as a Product Manager at Amazon. It has been a very fruitful year for me from a learning and a professional development standpoint. I have mentioned my key learnings as a PM - I hope that these are helpful to professionals starting out with Product Management roles in Tech.
- Choose the right manager - When I was deciding the team at Amazon to join, I was lucky to reach out to a VP at Amazon (with whom I worked during my summer internship) who was starting a new team in Amazon Video to focus on consumer engagement and marketing automation. He had hired a team lead and I knew people at Amazon who had worked with this guy before. Everyone spoke very positively about his leadership style, data driven decision making mindset and good people management abilities. I had opportunities on other teams, which sounded more ‘cool’ from their job descriptions. However, I decided to choose a better manager. That decision has been single handedly responsible for an amazing first year at Amazon. For most other PM’s I know, their managers have been hugely responsible for a good/bad experience.
- Always measure what the product does - When I joined Amazon Video, I was entrusted with managing a product that some believed had great potential, while many believed otherwise. I was myself not sure which of the two categories the product belonged to. With my team, we pursued an initiative to build robust reporting and metrics for the product, primarily to help us decide which category the product belonged to. We spent close to 3 months to design the data infrastructure and onboard all the data required to answer the questions. I still remember the joy I got when I wrote the first query on the redshift cluster after we onboarded the data. Using the data, we were able to identify that the product had a lot of potential, but there were programs that weren’t working and we stopped running those. The data helped us showcase the impact that the product was driving and helped us define clear 2017 goals and our roadmap to achieving those goals. Being able to come to work everyday and look at robust dashboards that help understand what is working and what is not, is a great privilege compared to where we were 1 year back. I think about data as being a great leveller - when multiple people have their own hypothesis, without any data, usually seniority wins! I have seen many of my hypothesis turn out wrong, when we experimented and looked at the data. Also, robust metrics helps me sleep well at night, knowing that things are working as expected, and if they don’t, we will automatically figure it out.
- Keep experimenting - A great question to ask yourself as a PM is ‘What would we learn about the product 2 months from now that would help us operate better?’ To ensure we constantly keep learning, I ensure that at any point in time, we have at least 2 experiments going on. The experiments over the last 6 months have helped us understand how our customers behave and the key trigger points that lead to that behavior. Some of my most fruitful insights have always come during the analysis of an experiment by looking at behavior across various customer cohorts and segmenting the data through cluster analysis. Jeff Bezos spoke about ‘high velocity decision making’ in the most recent shareholder letter as a key distinction between Day 1 and Day 2 companies. Experimentation is at the very core of high velocity decision making. Always measure the impact of decisions that you make. Everything you do at work is a learning — for you as an individual and for the organization. Most decisions (>95% of those you make as a PM) will be reversible. Hence it is very important to measure the impact of your decisions so that you keep learning what worked and what didn’t.
- Weekly 1:1 with key stakeholders - My product is global, with 5 marketing teams internationally using it to drive their marketing initiatives. Driving consensus in such a scenario always seems like a struggle. One of the best pieces of advice I have received at Amazon was to have a weekly 1:1 with all the key stakeholders. Communication is such an important aspect of working with global teams. A 30 min 1:1 conversation is a great way to stay updated on the key developments and also transfer knowledge and best practices from one locale to another. It helps people understand each other’s’ perspectives and accordingly make prioritization decisions.
- Advice on a successful PM role - I recently got an opportunity to chat with a VP of Product Management at Amazon for some career advice. He mentioned that the two most important things to consider in a PM role are (1) The product and (2) the team. If you ensure that you work on a product area that you find interesting or are a customer yourself, you would be the most passionate working on it. He had seen PM’s pursue opportunities that are ‘cool’ without necessarily being interested in the product. They usually don’t enjoy their work. Also, if one had to trade-off between passionate product and great team, he advised to choose the team over the product. “If you work with smart people who are always innovating, you will always be motivated!”
I am excited about what Year 2 has in store for me!