Institute of Product Leadership
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Transitioning into Product Roles - Sarath Kummamuru, Head, Tools and Automation, Google

Sarath Kummamuru is the Head of Tools & Automation at Google. He has held numerous positions in companies as Yahoo! and Amazon before heading the division for Google. He specializes in large-scale architecture and agile methods.

Mr. Kummamuru shared his insights on product management as a keynote speaker at the recently held DILO event at Hyderabad.

We had a chance to have a conversation with him post the event to know more about what makes a product manager!

Who is a strong Product Manager?

For somebody who wants to be a strong product manager, out of the 3 things that I believe are very strongly needed, the most important thing is clarity of thought and vision. Once you are able to build clarity on vision and thought, the next thing we expect is for you to be able to communicate that clearly. A lot of times, communication is just not about talking, but as a product manager, you should be able to build a framework which drives visibility to what are your inputs for a decision, what are the different options that are available and a mechanism that is metrics driven. This will prioritize decisions in such a way that everybody from the executives to the engineers who are building the product is clear about why and how a decision is taken. That I think is a key aspect of what a product manager needs to do.

Finally, product management is a leadership position and needs a lot of collaboration. So the final skill that I would expect is a passion for collaboration and working with different teams to achieve the goal that we’ve all agreed upon. These are the things that differentiates a strong product manager from any ordinary product manager. The other aspects like the depth of knowledge in a domain are learnable skills.

Any career advice to mid-career professionals looking to transition from a tech role to product role?

A typical tech engineer has always been trained to have a short focus. They think only about how to get something done? A Lot of times engineers don't ask the questions about what needs to be built and why it needs to be built. I think that is the biggest mindset change needed when moving from an engineering role to a product role. You should be able to ask the questions on why should we build a particular product or a feature; why is it important to build it now and what is the business impact that will be delivered by building this now versus later. That ability to prioritize is the key to any products success and eventually the product manager's success. Now as engineers, people are not trained or expected to have this kind of thoughts. So as a mid-career engineer wanting to move to a product role it is all about starting to think about the whys and whats, rather than just the how's.

Do you think community events as IPL's will help people in the product movement?

Absolutely. I think product development as a role in India is relatively nascent when compared to engineering roles in India. Engineers have been there for quite some time. But product management and maturity in product management are may be a decade old. I think having community events like this are extremely important because it allows people who already know about product management to share their knowledge. People who want to make a transition to product roles can open up and ask the questions that they have in their minds so that they can clarify and decide on if the product path is right for them or if they should even consider trading the product path. And for people who are already on the path, a community helps them understand best practices. The community is definitely needed to grow any role or expertise and I think it is a good initiative that IPL is doing.

3 take-aways:

- The most important thing needed for a product manager is clarity of thought and vision.
- An engineer needs a shift in mindset to be able to ask what product is being built and why the product is being built in addition to just concentrating on how to build a product.
- People who want to transition into product roles should become a part of communities where there is knowledge sharing product management so that their queries are answered by people with apt experience.