State of Product Management in India


It has been 20 years since I left India as a young graduate. Indian software industry was unheard of at that time or was in its infancy. But since then, India has become the global powerhouse in software services. Initially, the industry grew mainly through outsourced projects for clients in the United States. Big powerhouses such as Infosys and Wipro grew to what are now worldwide brands. Then, over the years, as companies worldwide realized the talent available in India, multi-national companies started arriving in droves. Microsoft, Intel, IBM, GE, Google,  you name it, started opening development offices in India.

But, will India be a one trick pony in software – delivering just services? This has been a common topic during dinner discussions with my friends as to whether Indian software industry will ever see product companies emerge that will become as well known as Infosys or Wipro. There have been some successes such as Zoho whose entire development group is based in Chennai. Then there is Tally that owns the ERP market in India. I have always wondered as to the state of product management in India. It was refreshing to see an Indian product management forum emerge on LinkedIn where very engaging discussions are now taking place.

Then, a few weeks back Pinkesh Shah, CEO of a Bangalore based  company called Adaptive Marketing reached out to me. Pinkesh was former VP of Product Management for McAFee here is the US and had now moved back to India. Pinkesh has now set up a product management training and consultancy company in India. Adaptive has also published the first product management and marketing survey – you can download the report for free. The survey has very useful information that is worth reading both for product companies in India (local or MNCs) or for those here in the US that are thinking of establishing offices in India.

The big question is what will product managers in India do – would they be working on products for the Indian market? Or for the Far East or Middle East that are all experiencing explosive growths? This would make logical sense given the proximity of Indian software product managers to these markets and also given their knowledge of the cultures in that part of the world compared to those of us in the Western World. One of the interesting tidbits I found in the report was how even professionals in the IT services companies were performing some of the product management tasks such as requirements management and competitive analysis under the titles of Business Analysts, Client Engagement Managers and Business Development Managers.

What do you think? I would love to hear from my blog readers based in India on their take on the state of product management in India.

9 thoughts on “State of Product Management in India

  1. Hi Gopal,

    Very timely post considering the sudden tangible spike of interest levels in India. In the past few months alone, there have been launches of several conclaves/groups for the Indian Product Management eco space. As an aspiring Product Manager, I am quite excited about this shift.

    Though my experience is limited, I would like to share my views on the following…

    – Relatively speaking, Product Management as a function is still in its infancy in India. Most MNC product companies that have shops set up locally think of Product Management in the context of the parent company’s location. The ‘Indian context’ is something that needs to develop, which I hope in time it will

    – On one hand you have companies like Yahoo! India, OnMobile etc. that have homegrown products for the neighborhood (India, AsiaPac, Middle East etc). On other hand, there have been global launches at companies like DigitalChocolate, July Systems, InMobi etc.

    – Continuing from the previous point, Proximity vs Distance to the customer is still a hot topic for debate. Should Indian Product Managers only focus on Asia/Emerging Mkts?

    – Most of the Innovation and disruptive ideas are being hatched out of India. Check out this insightful article by Professor Nagendra – http://www.deccanherald.com/content/120451/why-india-desperately-needs-innovation.html

    Thanks,
    Vikas

  2. Hi Gopal,
    Nice post. Product management is being appreciated as a profession in India, and people are beginning to identify it as being different from a business analyst role. Product outsourcing companies often use the term ‘program management’

  3. In my view, US colleagues retain the key product management decisions in US based software product companies. The folks in India get to work only on the implementation of enhancement. People hired here are titled as product managers but end up doing requirements analysis and testing. This is because the products do not have enough market in India. The Indian markets are still not ready for many software products, especially in Banking, Treasury/Capital markets. Most banks in India choose to go for cheaper but ultra customized solutions rather than world class proven practices following software products. Unfortunately, the product managers aspiring individuals will have to follow US and other matured markets to get on to product management. It is very difficult to do so sitting in India, with their Indian experience. So they end up doing requirements analysis and testing. In nutshell, I think the product manager should be closer to the market. So a product manger working in India for MNC will have little opportunity to work as product manager in true sense.

  4. Dear Gopal,

    Here are my thoughts on the state of product management in India

    – Firstly, there is greater awareness about the role of product management across a wide variety of companies and how it can help them. Emergence of a number of a companies that provide training on the role of product management based on well known methodologies/frameworks has helped.

    – Companies that are derive majority of their revenues from “services” are beginning to explore new opportunities to grow as their customers demand greater value for lesser price. As they explore opportunities to create new products or “productize services” they are beginning to create a product management function.

    – Companies that focused on building products are realizing the benefits of product management in scaling product revenues (making the transition from “projects” to products)

    – Some multinationals who have explored having product managers in India have tasted success. This has resulted in creation of more positions in India – for products that are targeted at the global market.

    – More companies have realized the size of the India market for a variety of products are addressing them in a structured manner (driven by product managers). However, that said a number of product managers are defining products for a global market and not just India. Most products today will have to compete globally, it would mean that product managers will have to travel to markets that they target. That is true for a product manager sitting out of North America for example, unless that constitutes 90% of the market.

    – Academic institutions (like IIM-B) and companies (like Yahoo!) are helping product managers to network and create associations

    Regards,
    Pandith

  5. Wait, I am a little confused.

    This article and some of the comments are making it sound like the concept of product management is not prevelant in India. Is this true? If yes, all I can say is wow.

    I mean, once the product is launched – how does one go about making it better, adding features and functionality to it and/or listen and adapt to the customer? I think this is a necessary component whether you’re as big as IBM or as small as a 3 man shop. Perhaps I am biased. I have always worked in high-tech and product management is just a natural part of how things get done… But i have also seen product management in companies like Nestle, Kraft and several not-for-profit organisations as well. The case it quite compelling.

    I’d like to hear more on why this isnt the case in India.

    Twitter: AmritaMathur Blog: techkik.com

  6. Hi Gopal,

    When we talk about Product Management here, are we referring only to Software Product management or even Commercial Product Management?

    I am sure in case of Commercial Product Management reputed companies in India like Godrej,Reliance etc already practice Product Management in some form or the other. I am not sure if they term it as Product Management.

    The missing element among the Indian Product companies both Software/Commercial is to bring all the related tasks such as requirements management,competitive analysis etc under an umbrella called “Product Management”

    Just My Thoughts ! ! !

    Best Regards,
    -Ajit Kini

  7. Hi Gopal,

    There is a buzz. Quite recently. Which means that it isn’t old enough to sink in the minds of people and the system here in India. I needn’t go back far and glean to figure out what was the state of affairs of product management in Indian IT segment. Four years back there wasn’t a thing called Product Management here sparing few companies which had this function being operated in a captive environment, mostly all if not sparing few tasks being directly controlled by offshore offices, whether in US or in Europe.

    I wouldn’t be able to comment on other segments like automobile or pharmaceutics but have a hunch backed with few feedbacks that things were no different either for them either.

    Most of the products that we developed, tested and packed partially or wholly in India were predominantly used by offshore customers. PMs co-located there had constant first level dialogues with their vast customer base there and the factory stakeholders here in India. When the product portfolio became larger and complimentary products started to overlay as a result of concentration, or probably something drastically different, there was a need to shoot of some of the inbound activities to next best place in the world, naturally India as of now, considering the costs (it might not be the case in a decade’s time>.

    Initially there were prefix based PM titles that we could see, Technical-PM being the most commonly heard. Then there were Design-PM, User Experience-PM and most lately, Commercial-Product Manager.
    Requirements gathering, Converting PRD into a SFC/Design Spec, working with Pjt Mgmt to assess the cost/resource and delivery time-frames, training the support on new feature/featurettes etc where few common tasks among the rest. Where the product is successful in generating revenue or not, adopted to the intended customer base or not, sufficiently differentiated with competitor products or not, these consequences where not tied up to the Indian Product Manager’s performance in the past or may be until recently with few of them. May be there were not the ones who gathered critical inputs from customer base, not the ones who did market research or analysis, not the ones who had a word on who should consist in a survey group. Nor did anyone appraise them about the challenges in some accounts, heavy competitive presence, or tackling a problem with channel sales in any of regions. But sure did they exchanged umpteen number of e-mails with the core architects, QA Design teams and technical specialists. No one did care much about what should be pricing/positioning. Nobody did write value propositions much. And whether there should be a different pricing approach for the same product or complex solution in other parts of the world than US, and if yes what should be the approach, are all prices malleable here etc where never discussed. Yeah, few of these discussions might be spurting among few product managers based out of India. And they might have started to experience the complexity of the function, and those financial targets that recently got tied-up to their tagless performance goals until recently. I am yet to get to be one of a global product manager or yet to come across one to have a thorough discussion on that context. But I am hopeful and betting my time and money in that pursuit as well.

    -Thnx, Srinivas

  8. While many MNCs have started off-shoring product management jobs to India but nature of work for product managers working from India offices is starkly different from that of on-shore Product Managers. Primary reason for off-shoring product management function is to have product management representation to engg team who are predominantly located in India offices. So India based Product managers often end up performing system analyst role and providing support to onshore product manager.

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