By Abhishek Kumar
I had just completed my first semester at IIM Ahmedabad. As the Summer Placements semester got going in full swing, I decided to pursue an internship in the Product Management domain.
When someone asked me: “Which is your dream company?”, I was not sure. I realised that although there were renowned names coming on campus, for some reason, I wanted something more exciting.
After days of pondering, I decided to apply off campus. A list was compiled, and the options trickled down to three: Google, LinkedIn and Gojek! Thankfully, Gojek had a PM internship opening. I applied, interviews went well and I was extended an offer at the Bangalore office.
Chapter 1: Documentation
1st April 2019
I reached the office full of enthusiasm, ready to make a mark of my own. The whole day went in different formalities and it was almost evening when I got to meet my team. To my surprise, by the end of the day, I was part of all relevant communication channels, team drives and had clarity on what I would work on for the next four weeks.
I just loved the agility shown by my manager to enable me to embark on my journey. In the process, I also realised why my undergrad friends working at Gojek used to say that if you love speed, this is the place to be.
The next few days were spent understanding the product, people, and culture. I was surprised by the volume and quality of the documentation done at the company. For a company which prides itself in being one of the fastest growing startups in the world, this kind of emphasis on documentation was something unheard of. And because of these hundreds of beautifully crafted documents, by the end of the first week itself, I was participating in their BAU (Business As Usual) meetings. (How many interns can claim this? 😜)
Chapter 2: Reading
15th April 2019
I was no longer a newbie in the company. I was having 1:1s with different stakeholders, attending IPMs (Internal Planning Meetings), BAU meetings and working tirelessly on my dedicated projects.
During the course of these all, one day I reached out to my mentor for suggestions on how to prioritise among different features. This was his response:
“Read Abhishek, Read. What differentiates a good Product Manager from an average one is his/her willingness to learn, and reading is the first and most important step there.”
He gave me different links to read, (37 to be precise) which ranged from Product Prioritization, Product Design, Product Critique, Design Heuristics and even the Psychology involved in product success. As I pored through them, I realised Product Management is not as random as it seems from outside. In fact, it is a fine cocktail of art and science mixed in just the right proportion.
Chapter 3: Inclusion
23rd April 2019
By this point, I had completed my first project, got positive feedback, and was about to finish the second. In the meantime, being a part of so many BAU meetings had boosted my confidence and now I was chipping in with suggestions.
During one such meetings, I raised a point in contradiction to what the other team was saying. I tried to explain my point of view but we were not able to come to an agreement. When I came out, I realised that I should have dealt with the situation differently. I went to my mentor and explained as much.
To this, he said: “Sometimes it’s not only about how you or your team is looking at things. You also have to look at what is the value proposition of other teams involved”
This was the second important lesson which I learnt: being a PM your job is to first bring everyone at the table to a common ground before pushing any agenda. Whether it is inter-team or intra-team, to get the job done, you have to bring people to your side by understanding what they want and why they want it.
Chapter 4: Relevance
30th April 2019
I had just finished my second project when I met a senior engineer while passing through the pantry area. He asked how it’s going and what I was working on. I, with full excitement, told him many ideas I came up with.
And then he said: “Man, it doesn’t matter how cool the ideas are or how great they sound. Judge them on their relevance. Are they correctly solving the problem intended? Are they adding value to the lives of relevant stakeholders?” And then he gave me a set of 10 similar questions and said that if after answering these 10 questions, you still believe you should implement the idea, then it matters.
Chapter 5: Impact
7th May 2019
I had started understanding the nitty-gritty of product management and was raring to pick a more challenging project. And then I got this mail from my manager:
Really??? After such nice product & strategy based projects, this is what you want me to do!!
But again, that was my inexperience talking.
During the course of the next week, I learnt one more valuable lesson: “Look at the impact of your work, not how cool it sounds. Being a PM, the world is your domain and processes are as important as the product itself. If you want your product to succeed, you need to oil the whole machinery.”
Recently, I came to know that a senior PM found the document to be super good and now it is being used across the substreams to onboard new hires. (I’m allowed one humblebrag right? 😅)
Chapter 6: Communication
21st May 2019
The changing weather of Bangalore had hit me hard and I had to take a leave owing to ill health. I sent a message each to my manager and mentor regarding the same. My mentor replied asking me to inform the whole team, which I missed and read quite late. When I did, I figured I am an intern anyway, and don’t have any current projects with the team. Even if I don’t send the mail to them, it doesn’t matter much.
When I met my mentor the next day, he asked why I didn’t send the mail, and I explained why. He said: “Abhishek, it doesn’t matter whether you have a current project with the team or not. Being a PM, one of the most important skills is being very clear in communication. There might be situations where you wouldn’t even know and people would be waiting for you. Not only in this case, but in every everything you do, a PM needs to be a clear and careful communicator.”
Chapter 7: Ownership
24th May 2019
My internship was nearing it’s end, and I reached out to my mentor for some suggestions on the last project I was working on. During our conversation, he asked if my previous one had gone live in production. I said no, but clarified that my part is done and it is stuck on other collaborating teams.
That’s when I realised I had one last lesson left to learn:
“Being a PM it’s your job to get it from conception to production. If there are blockers, you have to proactively reach out to remove them. Being a PM is a tricky job, once you have dirtied your hand, the onus comes on you to get it to completion.”
“Once you have picked up something — It’s All Yours.”
Today, when I look back, my internship at Gojek was a short, but sweet journey which taught me many lessons. As I go back for my second year at IIMA, I am much more confident when it comes to Product Management.
Special thanks to my manager Vikrama Dhiman, my mentor Manas J Saloi, Shobhit Srivastava, and all the members of the Transport team who were always ready to help me during the course of my journey.