5 things I learned about Software Product Management in India

I am currently enjoying my week long vacation in my hometown of Ernakulam after a week of software product management seminars and workshops in Bangalore and Hyderabad. As a bonus, my host Pinkesh Shah, CEO of Adaptive Marketing and I were invited to the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad by the students who were keen to learn more about product management.

So what did I actually observe and learn from the 125 product professionals I interacted with? What is the real state of software product management in India? What are the software product managers doing now and what are they looking for? Though I did not get to meet with software product managers from large MNC’s such as Google, eBay, IBM, Cisco etc. that have large operations in India, my numerous conversations with Pinkesh indicate that the picture there is not that different from what I learnt from the product managers I met with.

So here are the top 5 things I learnt about software product management in  India.

1) Current focus is on requirements management and software delivery: Software Product Managers in India currently are playing the role of requirements managers or product owners (in the world of Agile). They are responsible for defining the product functionality and working very closely with engineering teams co-located here in India to ensure the iterations/releases get delivered on time.

2) They manage products sold in the United States: The products they work on are primarily (if not all) for the US market. Hence, the amount of direct customer facing activities they take part in is very limited at this time. They do not seem to have many opportunities to travel to the US to meet with their customers. They understand this as a major pain point. In most of the cases, the Indian product managers (I got to speak with) do not have a product management counterpart in the US. Input for the product enhancements were coming directly from marketing, sales or the executive management, as opposed to someone who was spending time listening to the customers in a non-sales situation. This is very worrying because those of us who are experienced product managers know how frustrating listening to just sales to drive future product direction could be.

3) Titles are one too many – Just like in the US, there are too many titles for product managers in India. Technical product manager, product owner, product manager, product professional, the list goes on.

4) Engineering talent is itching to find new career opportunities: Folks who have spend a lot of time in engineering and project management are now starting to ask – what next? I heard this during my seminars and it is also a common question I get from the readers of this blog – how to transition into product management. Training demand and opportunities for vendors who provide training on software product management are bound to increase.

5) They are confident, fearless and hungry: What impressed me the most was the talent and the confidence of the software product managers in India. There are some that work on very successful products in the marketplace – for example, the product managers Mukesh Marodia and Ramesh at OpenText were working on a very successful portal product used by a number of Fortune 500 (apparently 1 out of 3 pages on the internet is powered by Open Text web cms). The product managers at Nokia were working on the different software components such as messaging and video capture used in all of the Nokia mobile phones. Then there was Chaithanya from Inmage Systems, the lone product manager in the company responsible for his company’s data recovery solution sold in the US. I could go on, but all in the all I was so impressed by the budding product management talent in India.

So what is the future? I am convinced that the talent in India has a bright future ahead. I am making a bold prediction here, not based on facts but based on the trend that I have been reading about. Given the size of the Indian market in terms of number of consumers and their total purchasing power, every company on this planet will be looking at building new software products for the Indian market. Software products that are not watered down versions of products build for the western markets and then adapted to the Indian market, but instead software products that are designed from the ground up in India for the Indian market. We already read about this trend in companies such as GE and automotive markets, but I am predicting that this trend will heat up in the next 5 years. When this happens, the current software product management talent in India would have matured enough to play a significant role. They will soon find themselves in an enviable position where they will no longer be concerned about lack of opportunities to meet with their end customers because they will be living right amongst them. These software product managers are hungry, smart and more importantly they are confident. I am so happy to have met these budding product managers and their future cannot be any brighter. Product Managers in the western world (including myself) take note, I treat the talent here in India as competition for sure.

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8 thoughts on “5 things I learned about Software Product Management in India”

  1. I am a fresh Masters graduate from a reputed college in India and about to join a firm as a Product Owner (in Agile terms). I think most of the points mentioned above by Gopal and others hold true for me. As a curious professional, I am tempted in asking you all for suggestions on how can I expect my career to shape and once I enter into Product Management, considering the work that happens in India as mentioned and discussed, how does one graduate into a proper Product Management role?

    It would be great if you guys do help me clarify my doubts

  2. I find one of the crucial aspects of Product Management, the Demand Scoping, sorely missing in what we as Product Managers do. Most of the MRDs that i’ve worked with (and MRDs are typically taken care of by Product Managers in consumer-facing locations, such as US) lack in this aspect. They do a good job of understanding and translating the business case and the market requirement, but miss out on caliberating the demand.
    And that may suggest that Product Management as a discipline needs to be better understood in its ‘values’. Even if you’re right in the middle of the consumer world, you may miss the mark by creating a product based on the first good idea that you hear from a handful of your customers.
    I feel Product Management is as much about conceptualizing and creating quality products, as it is about identifying when to back-off and keep genuinely good ideas on the backburner till there is sufficient demand.

  3. I have been a professional product manager for nearly 30 years having been trained at Hewlett-Packard and later working as a product manager for Apple. Over the years I have consulted with several India companies and have found that their lack of understanding product management’s responsibilities is one of their greatest weaknesses. From your description they sound more like Project Managers. The last company I consulted with could not, even after they had built the product, define the product’s features. Understanding the customer’s needs, culture, competition followed by distribution and pricing are things the PM’s in India need to learn.

    1. David – I agree with you. The transition is slowly happening into product management. I was surprised by how many people are interested in doing the transition and a small group have made it and are doing it very well.

  4. Hi Gopal,

    Thanks for this post. Indeed, there is another category of PMs in India that are managing End Of Life (or almost)products, especially in large multi-nationals. The job there primarily involves (a) managing a limited roadmap (b) keeping the products saleable but sustaining it at the right level. The primary advantage of this role is that it gives the individual a peek into the world of product management and brings to fore the cross functional needs of the job. However, a disadvantage of this ‘version’ of the role is that it rarely helps equip the individual to do a good job at the product inception and conception levels (when called upon to do so).

    Any thoughts?


  5. Yet another great post Gopal. I do agree to quite a lot of points.
    @ #2: yes, whether outsourced or proprietary product dev, most enterprise products are sold in US markets. However, quite a few internet companies exist that cater to the local market

    @ #4: Some people have sheer attraction towards the profile: irrespective of education, function or experience. I have spoken to freshers, folks in quality and even business (sales/services) who are keen to move in

    As I commented on one of your previous posts, there is quite a gap between product management & product marketing functions, and PM often reports in Engineering. And we haven’t matured enough to let PMs handle P&L responsibilities.

    The expectations in terms of attitude, aptitude & innovation make it difficult to find & groom herds of product managers. But as you and Vikas have pointed, those who have made their way into will prove valuable in the days to come.

    I have gathered a super-set of responsibilities here:

  6. Hi Gopal,

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend your event as I was on customer visits. So, I think the point number 2 mentioned by 2 doesn’t apply to all PMs in India. Also, we see so many companies now which don’t have only US as their only market. Indian PMs might not travel much to US for customer visits, but we do get a chance to meet a lot of EMEA/APAC customers (ofcourse depends on the company with which you work).

    #1 seems to hint that Product Managers are doing more of Project Management work which again cannot be generalized and its proved wrong by your point #4 which says that project managers want to move to Product Management.

    I totally agree with #3 and #5. No doubts PM practice is little immature in India but soon the growing talent in India along with increasing focus on India would help it grow to a new level

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