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Helping Engineers Become Well-Rounded Product Managers

Personal Growth
New PM
Career Path

2 March, 2021

Dr. Amit Sawant
Dr. Amit Sawant

Chief Operating Officer at Somatix

Amit Sawant, Director of Product Management at Dell Technologies, shares how he helped many engineers become successful and well-rounded Product Managers by helping them get outside of the engineering comfort zone.

Problem

A few of my team members came from an engineering background but lacked traditional Product Manager skills and wanted to get more exposure in those areas. I helped them get outside of their engineering comfort zone and had them take on additional responsibilities. As a manager, I had to create a safe environment that would encourage them to get out of their comfort zone and feel free to fail without fear of consequences. Trying and failing would allow them to improve their skills and encounter new experiences.

Actions taken

As I came to product management a decade ago from engineering, I was able to understand what it meant to try to solve problems from an engineering perspective. I recall struggling to expand my understanding of things to include the business perspective too. My own trials and tribulations as a new Product Manager served as a valuable guide in my efforts to make their transition smoother and more efficient.

To understand the business perspective, people need to understand financial numbers. The quickest way to do this would be to connect with business people who could help them comprehend the revenue numbers, the margins that we were making on our products, etc. I would sit with them and help them learn how to read quarterly business reports where the critical data was being published.This would enable them to read and interpret key data and come to their own conclusions about the product their team is building.

I would start by asking them open-ended questions about the data. Then we would dissect the data together with our own interpretations, I would share my opinion and add my commentary. That should help them piece together different business data and information on the product. Finally, they should be able to make the right decision single-handedly concerning updating and adding new features and capabilities. I would encourage them to vigorously seek “why” that would appear behind any product and decipher what customer needs we were solving.

Their engineering background of understanding functionalities and features should be complemented with a solid understanding of the business perspective that would allow them to make strong business cases they would defend before senior leadership.

Lessons learned

  • By helping new Product Managers with an engineering background understand the business, sales, and marketing side of things, you will help them become well-rounded Product Managers who can make the right decisions and build convincing business cases.
  • You can’t just zoom in from an engineering perspective and try to solve the problem. Solving a problem often comes through a synergy of different perspectives, and understanding the significance of the business point of view is crucial.
  • A growth mindset is essential for being a successful Product Manager. A well-rounded Product Manager should be well-versed in various skills, all of which require time and commitment to acquire.

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