Shreyas Doshi is a product lead at Stripe. In this Path to PM post, we discuss switching product management careers and Shreyas's 10-30-50 product management framework to becoming a successful product lead. Previously Shreyas has served as a director of product management at Twitter, and a group product manager at Google and Yahoo!.
Tell us about how you first broke into product management.
My first product job was at EDS (Electronic Data Systems) where I was an engineer. I increasingly found myself doing product work and more in a state of flow when I was doing the product work than when I was doing the engineering work. That was the point at which it became clear that I needed to do this full-time. I later joined Yahoo! in 2006 as my first PM job.
You’ve switched your product management career several times, from Yahoo!, to Google, to Twitter, and now to Stripe. What have you learned along the way, and what advice do you have for someone switching product management careers?
Be clear on what you want from your next job before you've left your current job. I'm a firm believer that as product managers, we should think of our own career as a product that we are managing. We should apply the same level of analytical rigor to decisions about our careers and these kinds of changes from one company to another.
The second factor to be mindful of is the quality of the talent at the company, including both the product management and the engineering talent. I have always chosen to put myself in situations where I'm typically not the smartest person in the room.
The third common factor for me has been joining a company or a product that is growing. And that is from the observation that business growth makes a lot of things easier for you as a product manager. It provides incredible clarity on what you should focus on, and also leads to greater actual personal growth.
The last factor I would say that I have personally used is not to care too much about the domain of the company. I learned this early on in my PM career, when I went from being an identity PM at Yahoo! to an AdWords PM at Google. Despite my initial concerns about working on ads, I found that AdWords was a spectacular team to work on, mainly because it had great people. In most cases what brings day-to-day enjoyment and growth are the people you surround yourself with and how well your company is growing.
You’ve recently posted a wildly popular tweet storm on becoming an effective product leader. You mention the importance of becoming a 10-30-50 PM. Tell us about why this is so critical.
There are three essential senses that a PM should possess:
- Execution sense: the ability to align people towards an objective and orchestrate complex projects.
- Analytical sense: the ability to frame the right questions, evaluate a problem from multiple facets, simulate outcomes, be able to use data as well.
- Product sense: the ability to usually make correct product decisions even when there is significant ambiguity.
It turns out that human beings are not built in a way that they can be great at all three simultaneously without putting in any work. What is more typical of really good PMs is that they have a natural bias towards one of these senses.
The 10-30-50 framework suggests that you should aim to be top 10% in one of the senses and that's typically the sense that you are anyway naturally good at. By being the top 10% in your natural sense you will really shine in at least one aspect of product management. Once you've done that, you also need to focus on the other two senses that may not come as naturally to you. And you need to be at least in the top half in one of them, and in the top third in another one. The actual order doesn’t matter much, as long as you’re top 10% in one of the senses, top 30% in another, and top 50% in the third.
Another point I called out in my presentation is that product management is one of the very few domains in which you cannot merely focus on your strengths. You also need to work on minimizing your weaknesses.
In my own personal case, I was naturally very strong on product sense and extremely weak on execution. To improve upon this weakness, I put myself in uncomfortable situations, working on many complex projects that required me to be organized, to communicate to a greater degree than I normally would, and to orchestrate large teams towards meeting particular objectives.
Curious about how to improve your product sense? Read more in our second part of this post, where I ask Shreyas how a product manager can go about developing one's product sense.
Were you ever worried about focusing on your weaknesses so much that you would actually stunt your career?
Not really. I think you do need to have the confidence in your ability to learn and in your ability to deal with unfamiliar situations. I think given enough effort there is a clear path towards being able to improve each of these senses. To get really good at these skills, you need to immerse yourself in situations that stress you. You can't just go by Medium posts or books. Picking projects that force you to exercise your weaknesses is the best strategy here.
What advice would you give to a current PM interviewee?
Familiarize yourself as much as possible with the company's products, form hypotheses for the problems that they want to solve, and make sure in the interview process that you come across as being the most thoughtful candidate as it pertains to their products and the problems that the company might be facing. That's the best way to already add value to the company before you even join them. And if you are able to do that, you make the decision very easy for that company.
Who is a product manager that you admire and why?
Oh, there are so many. I really admire Shishir Mehrotra who ran YouTube for a while and now has his own company. He is an excellent analytical and systems thinker.
Are there any books that you would recommend or blog or website or podcasts that you would recommend to an aspiring product manager?
The most useful books and resources change as you reach greater levels of proficiency in product management. In my case, the Getting Things Done book was really useful earlier on in my career.
Then as you grow as a product manager, your thinking needs to be more nuanced. Your quality as a product manager is no longer just the quality of your execution, it is the quality of your decisions. At that stage in your career, I’d recommend The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli.
As you grow further, your success or failure at later leadership stages really rely on the ability to manage your own psychology above everything else. The book I’d recommend is Courage to be Disliked, which provides non-obvious but on-point insights into managing one's own emotions and reactions.
Learn more about Shreyas's perspective on 10-30-50 product management here.
Visit Exponent's PM Interview Course for more great product management interview prep.