The best product teams leverage diversity of thought, and product managers with a broad array of experience are usually more successful. Building successful products and organizations requires focus and clarity on fundamental principles and not just following playbooks. How can we encourage individuals from different walks of life to take an interest in learning more about product leadership in this Age of Product? Product leader Shampa Banerjee joins Products That Count to illustrate how embracing her training in physics and music helped map her journey as a CPO.

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On How Music and Physics Influences Journey as a CPO

Shampa doesn’t come from a traditional background in the product world. Instead of initially being an engineer, business person, or designer, Shampa began as a physicist and musician. She has brought her years of practice and study in these areas to the product world, and it has served her well.

“Indian classical music is expressed in something we call ragas. … The interesting thing about the ragas is, they’re interesting interplays that I wanted to point out. So when you perform as a singer of raga … you have the structure, you have the framework, and you have the freedom to do what you want within that framework. There is composition start to you, but unlike western classical music, you don’t just stick to that composition. You can improvise. In fact, you always are, you’re asked to improvise. That’s the whole power of what you learn.

There is another important interaction you have is with the rhythm. So whenever you’re performing, you have the music, the musician is interacting with the rhythm. There’s a cycle of melody and a cycle of rhythm. And there are predefined points where they meet. … The interesting interplays between the rhythm player and the musician who’s performing are that they go off in their own cycles, but they always have to come back and meet. So there’s always these constraints and freedom — freedom of creation and yet within constraints. 

Physics is the theory to understand the vast universe, understanding the tiny constants, what makes the vast universe what it consists of, and how it all interacts with each other. The language of physics is mathematics. Your mathematical equations allow you to describe the different physical phenomena. 

The reason why I say this is because there are similarities to product. You take the mathematical equations, you solve it, and essentially your theory has to ultimately relate to something that’s out there, something that’s concrete, You have your hypothesis, you write your equations, you find your solutions, but those solutions need to actually be validated by experiments. Only then it becomes the theory, only then is it valid. Otherwise, it’s a nice concoction, nice mathematics, like a nice brain exercise, but not physics. In very interesting ways, both music and physics gave me the initial mindset and the skillset for doing product.

On The Definition of a Chief Product Officer

The role of the CPO is wide, and it includes many different segments as a leader: chief influencer, evangelizer, coach, marketer, and have a seat at the head table. All of these aspects are key roles to keep in mind while you journey as a CPO.

“The Chief Product officer role primarily is a leadership role. It is a C suite leadership role that needs a seat at the table. If you’re not reporting to the CEO, and if you’re not with the other C-level execs, it’s very, very important to make sure that happens, because your product suffers, honestly, from not getting the right insight.

You have to be an influencer and an evangelist. You’re the chief influencer. Your product is gluing all the other functions in the company, so you need to be that person who helps become that glue. You have to evangelize both your team and your product to everyone, not just your customers, but even internally. Then you have to be a really good coach to your team. I think that’s the responsibility of a chief product officer. You have to coach your team to do the best strategy, the best product vision. The company might have a vision, but you have to formulate a clear product vision and strategy. You have to work with your team to make sure that happens. You need to account for the business and be accountable for the business outcome because if your product is not making money for the company and is not doing what the company intended it to do, you have to come back and rethink. You have a very big role there. 

Although you’re not in marketing, I think you need to influence how your product is impacting the market, you have some role to play there. … There’s certain knowledge you have to have, I think you have to have a deep understanding of the market, the market force and, of course, the users.”

On Embracing Your Differences During the CPO Journey

Diversity impacts the outcome of a product. Shampa shares some statistics about race and gender diversity within companies. However, she also highlights the need for diversity of experience to bring that outside-the-box thinking to the table of product managers. Diversity of skills is important for the journey as a CPO, both within a company and within your career.

“Product needs diversity the most. Imagine how products get created; it kind of starts with some idea. It starts with a concept. The more different ways of thinking you can incorporate into that, the better outcomes 

When we talk of diversity, people usually think of gender and race. We know there are some facts that with higher racial and ethnic diversity, there is a 35% better chance of getting better financial results than other people in their vertical. This data shows that companies with at least one woman on the board outperform peer organizations by 26%. If you have more than 20% in upper management, 10% more revenue comes from new products and services. This mixture is helping, and I would love to see beyond gender and race.

How can we diversify the product teams, diversity of experiences? Your customer is not you. Your customer comes in all ages, shapes, and internationality, all kinds of different backgrounds, from different industries. So the better mix, you have more people who can bring in different ideas, solutions, and ways of looking at the problem. You end up creating a much better customer experience. It also encourages out-of-the-box thinking.”

About the speaker
Shampa Banerjee, PhD Member
About the host
Neha Taleja Prezi, Director of Product

Neha is the Senior Director of Product at Macmillan Learning leading a set of start-up products under the institutional group aimed to address challenges in higher education such as affordability of educational materials, retention and student success. She has been bu.ilding, growing and scaling products in the ed-tech space for the past decade with her experience ranging from course-ware solutions, student facing applications, to analytics and insights tools for decision makers. She loves to travel and lives in South San Francisco to stay close to the airport

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