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How do I want to shape my career?

Feb 21st, 2021

I have been blessed with exposure by shipping lots of smaller products in a few years. As I have gotten exposed to product growth strategies and analyzed companies that have created an impact, I have realized that average teams often leave a lot of ammunition back in the idea junkyard. Achieving this impact was not possible solely with a design role. Hence, in 2021, I decided to step into the world of overall product strategy. Not just product management, not just product design but overall strategy. I also believe best practices need to be ingrained from day one, or bad habits die hard. That is precisely the reason I love working with early-stage companies. This article outlines a summary of what I believe I am built for.

What do I exactly mean by leaving a lot of ammunition back in the junkyard? It's important I clarify this. These could be many things. I'm not saying I want to do everything. But I want to be in a position where I can impact these levers if I want to. A few examples are thinking through self-reinforcing loops and not just funnels, thinking infrastructure and not specific use cases (zillions of use cases automatically become possible that way), thinking through micro user journeys in addition to macro-level journeys, thinking through user segments and not the entire user base, obsessing about activation as much as dropout, rollback of features as often as we push them, thorough post-launch strategy along with launch strategy, localized experiments (for example, a geographical expansion strategy), building with conviction and not just somebody's intuition, work on willingness to pay and then narrowing down on feature bucketing, fiddling with non-product prompts like emails and push notifications that work on user behaviour and jobs to be done etc. You get the idea.

What does an ideal role look like to me?

  1. Going beyond design to the overall product strategy. While focussing just on design, I've regretted not getting to fiddle with all tweaks that come on a product level. Organizations naturally scale to support separate functions in the company. While I understand that, I prefer being in an overarching role where I've access to all sorts of product levers, with design and product experience being only parts of the equation.
  2. Facilitation of Experiements. Any org is only as strong as the weakest link. In a true sense, I create the maximum value by facilitating others to achieve the proper outcomes. I thrive on floating ideas, diving along on them and following a weird mix of data decisions, stakeholder feedback and gut instincts. The intent is to throw enough ideas on the wall, find the ones that stick the most and deduce a pattern to enable everyone to achieve the same at scale.
  3. Autonomy. I actively dedicate time outside of work hours and a fraction of work hours to grow myself on the above two pointers. Most progressive organizations today value that. Also, I enjoy going to war for people who have trust, patience and operate from their hearts.
  4. Seat on the table. My idea role enables me to co-own the vision, decode abstract industry signals and craft the product roadmap. I like people with strong opinions as long as there is a transparent rationale and not hope or hypothesis. That doesn't mean I don't make bets. Colleagues often call me instinctive.
  5. Skin in the game. It's only fair if I own shared responsibility for the RoI/P&L. Own the implementation, release calibration and backlog refinement. That would also mean flexibility to prioritize features through a 'one-list' and a unanimously agreed framework. Often, the absence of responsibility towards P&L creates an illusionary sense of impact creation. 
  6. A team for the octopus strategy. I've naturally been good with leading and have grown my teams 8x-10x in the past across geographies. I function best with a team around, and I always envision a team of product managers, product growth professionals, product designers, and a few business analysts reporting into PMs. I prefer dividing the team into two groups. Core team to keep the body functioning and an Incubation team to shoot for the moon. In both these groups, have folks focused on heads-down execution and folks focussed on ruthless evergreen product-growth experimentations. Here is a real-world reference to why I use the phrase Octopus Strategy.
  7. Always on interface with customers and users. I prefer if the team I work for inherits a culture of continuous feedback. Simply ask the user, "how happy are people on a scale of 1-10, and what we can do? Ask directly (in-person interview, in-product or outbound surveys) and indirectly (through field team). I believe in in-person feedback as much as I believe in what the data says. 
  8. Interface with cross-functional leads. Simply put, if we sell X or portray X as a company, the product should do X. What we sell should majorly be driven by what people need and, once in a blue moon, by what the business strategy is. This would also mean a focus on Tone and Voice. The same is true for the Engineering division too. We are only as good as the goals we achieve. We only achieve what we implement. Crafting experiments that do not get implemented kills innovation. 
  9. Scale the Team. I prefer to be constantly hiring. Smart people have exponential RoI, but the number of smart people is extremely low. I make bets on merit as much as I bet on experience. I have also realized that I prefer smart, hardworking, and, more importantly, aggressive folks. 
  10. Scale the culture. People build companies. Ideas don't. I invest a lot of my time into nurturing the right mindset, enabling the team to achieve non-direct outcomes and at times even learning tangential things. The idea anyway is to expand the subconscious so that our conscious brain can have occasional creative bursts. I will always devote almost 25% of my time to things like aligning north-star metrics to personal motivations to creating a work environment where happiness is not an afterthought. 

Additional pointers, you should know

  1. My belief is design as a stream will merge with Growth. The design will always sit at the very core, but on a personal level, I add the maximum value driving a design team to execute the idea and be available for design feedback from the first step to the last mile. I've written about my thoughts around designing here. 
  2. I see Product Growth as a never-ending journey: Product Growth Experiments deal with things like ingraining loops (micro and macro) at the core of the product focussing on numerous small experiments. These experiments, at best, are driven by hypothesis, and there is no playbook to do them right. You conduct enough experiments and keep building on the hypothesis. Mature growth-driven org uses terminologies like Growth Models, Growth Constraints, Growth Horizons etc, and in its true sense, growth never ends.
  3. I'm always fiddling with side-projects. I'll always have a few ongoing just out of curiosity and in a quest to satisfy my hunger for expanding intellectual real estate. These projects will never affect what I am responsible for daily, but transparency is what I believe in. Also, these projects keep me driven :)
  4. I don't believe in Job descriptions: Every place I've worked for, I have always written job descriptions, but I don't think they do any justice. Roles can continuously evolve. So, for anyone looking forward to working with me, there are a few pointers you may wanna check out.

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