There has yet to be a job field that has grown as exponentially as product management. Many product managers and leaders are attempting to expand both their careers and their companies. And are searching for the right kinds of career development. So, how do you develop your career as a product manager? In this episode, Product Talk host and ALTR Product Lead, Neha Shah, interviews Root Insurance fmr CPO Hemal Shah who takes us on a journey through product management and into leadership.

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On How to Become a Product Manager

Hemal strongly believes that the best product managers come from diverse professional backgrounds and that anyone can become a great product manager. Finding the people and resources that can help guide you is the best way to develop your career. Through mentorship and off-clock career development, you can learn the trade of exceptional product leadership. Here are some tips for breaking into the product world: 

“Find a PM, and find a way for them to take you under their wing. Whether it’s to shadow them, be a fly on the wall for their meetings, or do the grunt work. Whatever it takes.”

“You have to use some of your time off the clock to make that transition and practice the skills you need to make that transition.” 

“[Ask yourself,] am I taking the time to explore and gain depth and diverse experiences?” 

On Career Development through Mentorship

The greatest rulers, leaders, and business professionals across the globe largely attribute their success to the guidance and mentorship of those who came before them. There is much to be learned from the successes and failures of other great product managers and leaders. Finding a mentor who can guide you through the difficult waters of product management is crucial if you are looking to develop your career in product. Follow these guidelines when looking for a mentor: 

“Always build relationships with people and do not be transactional. It is about the relationship and not about how this person going to do something to make me better.” 

“Working with them, my goal was always to make them successful, to work really hard, and to take a genuine interest in building a relationship with them.”

“The side effect of that was feeling more comfortable asking for coaching moments when I was struggling. Or being able to learn from them in that condensed period of time because they were more comfortable about sharing their stories and failures.”

On Career Development through Building Relationships  

One of the most important things that Hemal learned from his mentors at Crashlytics was the importance of building and sustaining relationships with customers. Crashlytics had someone the strongest word of mouth and customer satisfaction scores Hemal had ever seen, and he attributes that to their philosophy. Great products and built when you have a customer-first mindset. By understanding your customers, you can ensure your products will be successful. Check out these tools for career development: 

“See every opportunity with your customer as [a chance] to learn something about them [and] build a relationship with them. The side effect is that they care so much about you that they [are] shepherds of you and your product.”

“The way to handle all relationships, whether it’s professional or personal, is to invest in the relationship. A lot of people have taken chances on me and given me more than I probably deserved because they didn’t see anything transactional.”

“[When thinking about the customer, ask yourself:] how do I understand who you are and what you need? And how do I develop the intuition to go beyond what you’re telling me and do something that we hadn’t thought of before?” 

On Seeking out Formulas and Roadmaps 

We have all heard the saying that you must climb the ladder to get to the top. But sometimes, our paths aren’t straight and our plans veer off course. There is no checklist or step-by-step plan to follow to develop a career in product. While having roadmaps is important, it is also important to focus on the journey you are on right now. Career development happens in the present, not in a 10-year plan. Keep this in mind while developing your roadmap: 

“It’s great to have aspirations, but sometimes it’s actually better to play checkers than it is chess, and focus on the journey you’re on now and the relationships that you have around you.”

“There just can’t be a one size fits all because we’re not all one size. Our careers can’t be that way. There could be some formulas that that may work, but they’re not going to work all the time.” 

“Every single job I’ve gotten was from a relationship I built. Every major career jump I’ve made was from a relationship I built. It wasn’t from me mapping out my career.” 

On the Product Managers Role in a Company 

Product management is still very much evolving and growing as a profession. The job is now less focused on project or task management. And it is more focused on understanding the customer pain points, building a great experience, and being the glue across the team. As Hemal points out, a PMs job description does not look exactly the same for each company. So, your career development will be unique to the needs of your company. This is what Hemal had to say about the product managers role: 

I spent a lot time working with product teams just to help them understand what the customer was asking for.  I would give my unique perspective on what I thought they needed. I was that disruptive stakeholder that I learned to hate later on. But hey, it’s fine.”

“[Product management] is more focused on understanding the customer, their pain points, building a great experience, and making sure everybody has the context of where we are trying to go.”

“PMs are the conductors of an orchestra, where they are not the creator of all ideas, their role is to be the curator of the best ideas.”


If you and your product team are searching for a space to grow and learn as product leaders, check out our personalized Product Mentorship Program!

About the speaker
Hemal Shah Root Insurance, Fmr Chief Product Officer Member
About the host
Neha Shah ALTR, Senior Product Manager

My experience covers the trifecta of B2B Product Management, Sales, and Marketing. I also co-founded a B2C startup focused on family and education technology. I believe technology can be a creative and powerful driving force for change, and am passionate about building products that improve every day experiences.

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