Institute of Product Leadership
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The Product Industry in India Today - A N Rao, Global Head, Cognizant Academy

Mr. A.N. Rao is the Senior Vice President and Global Head for Cognizant Academy. With about 3 decades of experience, he has held numerous positions in companies as Wipro, HP and Microland prior to joining Cognizant.

Mr. Rao was a keynote speaker at the DILO event held at Hyderabad on April 22nd. We caught up with him after the event for a short Q&A.

How is the Product Industry placed in India as compared to that in the west?

I think we are at a massive transition tipping point. There is huge opportunity to get into the product and platform space. If we don’t grab the opportunity now it may be a serious growth threat to the industry. Digital transformation is pushing markets towards a user experience centric, solution centric business model. Likewise, for India as a country, the opportunity is when automation goes deeper into the process and starts taking over low and simple work. In this scenario, for the services industry to grow, we definitely need to get into products.

What is the one thing you look in a product manager when hiring? Is it passion, domain expertise or communication?

It's all the three and more. To me it's not the hard skills that matter. That part is easier to handle. What we really look at is the ability to articulate a problem, to be agile about solutions, to curate an ideation and decision making process, to focus on the user experience and understand the customer segments. It's a whole bunch soft behavioral skills I will look for.

Any career advice to people looking to transition into a product role?

The first step is the acknowledgment of the fact that product management is not project management. Many still get confused between the two. Product Management requires whole new sets of skills. So it is good to approach it formally, get trained through the process rather than assuming that you will intuitively know how to be a good product manager. So if that's the career choice somebody wants to take, it is better to go through the formal coaching and mentoring with an institute like IPL to train into that space, rather than jumping out and hoping it will work.

Any suggestions with regards to building a community around the product space?

This is a great forum. You need to create a community of interest because it's a brand new growing area. So you can experientially learn from those who have walked down the path before. Create a community where there is an exchange of thoughts and experiences. Ideas need to be exchanged about what went well. Equally important is to exchange ideas of what did not go well. There is no point someone else making the same mistake again.

3 take-aways:

- The services industry should be ready to adopt and get into the product space in order to sustain competition and industry growth.
- Acknowledging that Product management is not Project management is the first step towards a successful transition into product space.
- It is important to learn from others mistakes and not do the same mistake again.