Different input signals compete for a product manager’s attention every day. Technology trends and new developments, changes in the market and competing products, growth and engagement metrics, and more. How to sort through all of that incoming data and define a path forward? Grammarly Global Head of Product, Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, joins Products That Count to speak on user-centered product development and shares examples of successful, and not-so-successful, implementation.

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On user-centered product development in the post-pandemic world

The world at large, and the world of product development, are in a period of massive change. In fact, we’re just at the beginning of that period. 

“The world is changing very rapidly as companies emerge from the pandemic,” Rahul said. “There’s remote first, there’s hybrid. There’s this new normal that’s emerging. But the reality is, we’re in the very early stages of what the steady state will look like.”

“And we don’t really know how to design products and what the needs will be. For all of us as we communicate and work and navigate these changes. It’s a big shift. And we are very early in understanding what that shift means for our product development process.”

“So as we navigate all of these changes, and all this uncertainty, one Northstar that we can hang our hat on is putting our users at the center of everything we do.”

On the importance of staying connected to users

It may seem obvious, Rahul said, that PMs would maintain a user-centered focus, but drifting off track is common.

“It’s actually quite easy to lose user focus, and to get led astray. I have done this many times in my career. And I’ve learned lessons the hard way. So I want to share these lessons with you that I’ve learned along the way that helped me keep the user focus when things got difficult.”

On five lessons he’s learned in staying user-centered as a PM

With about 20 years of experience in tech companies, Rahul has distilled five lessons that help him maintain user-centered product development at work.

“Lesson number one, measure what matters to your users. Now, often as PMS, we’re juggling a lot of different priorities, tracking a lot of different metrics. There’s business metrics,” he continued, “user engagement metrics, as quality metrics. And it’s hard to keep track of all of these things and understand where to focus our attention. And a very human tendency in the face of all this uncertainty is to measure what is easy to measure what is right in front of you, instead of measuring what actually matters.”

Lesson number two is about understanding your users’ world, or their context. “As product managers, we need to deeply understand the context in which our users use our products. And this is not a static thing. It’s dynamic. It’s shifting all the time,” he noted.

Lesson number three is about understanding your users pivotal journeys. Typically, Rahul said, PMs focus on getting the common tasks right, the tasks that users need to handle frequently. It’s core functionality. But pivotal journeys are equally important. 

“When they do happen, it’s really important for us to get it right, because it happens at moments of heightened stress, heightened anxiety, and heightened emotional states. Think of things like getting locked out of your accounts, or changing your password, or getting a payment declined because your credit card is no longer active.” 

Lesson number four is delivering moments of joy to your users. People have feelings and stressors and life. “We are human beings. We’re trying to get things done, we have places to go,” Rahul said. “And as we are busy with our work and our work-life balance, just getting little shots of joy, loose shots of happiness in our product experience can make all the difference.”

The fifth lesson is earning and strengthening your users’ trust, especially in the face of rapid tech advancement. “Technology has changed and evolved a lot over the last decade, the pace of change is incredibly fast, and we’re making lives better across the board. But there has been an erosion of user trust along the way. This is particularly true for big tech; I was in one of those big tech companies. Across the board, I think the pace of change is moving faster than people’s ability to make sense of it.”

About the speaker
Rahul Roy-Chowdhury Member