Today in our Success Story blog, we introduce you to Sriram Viswanathan who is a Product Manager and has been a part of PGPPM, 2021 at INSAID. He shares his journey of achieving success and landing a career in the Product Management industry. Get to know more about him as he guides us through this amazing process.
Q1. Tell us about your current role and background
I am a product manager at Technicolor India Pvt. Ltd, which is part of Technicolor Creative Studios. Before I started my career, I did my engineering in electronics and instrumentation, but soon I realized that my interest was in animation, VFX and all that.
So I did a PG diploma in 2005, and I got into a Character Rigging role. I found this role to be very interesting, especially for people who are technical, and still want to be part of a creative journey. So the role was about setting up joints, deformers for the CG characters (like bipeds/quadrupeds) so that the character animators can use the character rigs and do animation. The journey started there. But, I started writing a lot of tools using Python and MEL scripting for automating parts of my rigging job.
So that led to a programming job with another company called Prana Studios in Mumbai. I worked around two years as an Application Developer writing tools in Python and MEL for a whole bunch of departments. Then, DreamWorks opened their dedicated unit with Technicolor India Pvt. Ltd.
I joined as a Technical Director with DreamWorks Dedicated Unit in Bangalore. I was asked to take care of lighting initially and then I slowly moved to other departments like Modeling, Matte Painting, Animation and many other departments. The TD role is about investigating problems and providing a solution or work-around to enable shows to go without technical hiccups.
At the end of the day, a TD solves lot of problems for the user (artist). TDs will be supporting shows and will always be given an error or an issue viz. memory issue, high-memory jobs, render farm issues, access issues or you’ll have issues related to archival, issues related to handing-off assets from one department to another, many, many things.
For close to eight plus years, I was pretty much spending my time with DreamWorks, and all their amazing projects, like Shrek, Madagascar, Puss in Boots and many other Hollywood Animated Movies. I was fortunate to be part of a very bright team.
After DreamWorks had closed their unit in India, I immediately had an opportunity with MPC Film, which was also part of the same company, Technicolor. I joined as a Department Manager and worked on this role for a couple of years, managing an amazing software department.
I learned a lot from the team. I was able to pick up some of the cool ideas from my managers and run these ideas through the Head of Departments within software and my Head of Technology and bring it to life. I think that was a very exciting phase. Then, I eventually moved into a Product Management role in early 2019. And that was my 16-year journey in the domain.
Q2. What challenges did you face while exploring a Product Management role?
So the interesting thing is, I wasn’t exploring the role, per se, I was a problem solver by heart and I was always looking for solving problems both, being at a leadership level and even at a hands-on level.
So I think the way I was asking questions, and the way I was strategizing, gave a very good signal to my leaders that I could potentially shine in the product management role, so I was actually given an opportunity in February of 2019, to start as a product manager.
It was an internal product manager role and I immediately accepted it.
Q3. How has Product Management helped you in your new role?
Product Management helps you have a systematic approach to solve problems. That’s what I really learnt. I initially went through a crash course with Pragmatic Marketing which laid the foundation. At the end of the day, you try to understand the problem well enough and come up with a problem statement. You try to understand the pain points per persona by interviewing them, before you even think about any sort of solution.
Understanding the problem was more important. Then, getting into solution mode was a very interesting approach. This really helped me to think even more into the problem space, and then making a conceptual framework to show it all to the stakeholders and say, ‘Hey, these are the potential solutions we have for the problems faced by these set of users. Example: This solution offers faster iteration for the user (artist) while this solution could be better for the business in terms of license cost and so on.’.
Many subject matter experts had a lot of solutions when I consulted with them, but I was able to understand the solutions better when I understood the problem and the per persona pain points better.
And I was able to empathize with the internal customers. That’s really what product management helped, it’s a systematic way to approach the problem and to strategize as to what do we build first? What do we build next? What should be the plan? And so on.
Q4. What was the interview experience at your current company?
The opportunity was given to me. I think I know what could’ve motivated my leadership to suggest the product management role for me.
We went to France for an internal Technicolor Conference. I had the opportunity to attend the conference and listen to the amazing sessions and participate in birds of feather discussions. I think people were able to see me asking specific questions around artist workflow and me empathizing with different users.
I was also trying to suggest as to how we should approach for such scenarios. I think those were the signals I gave the people around me. Plus, the company was already building a product management team back then.
And so they really, were looking for people who had domain expertise, who were a problem solver by heart at the same time, who can actually learn product management process and frameworks via a crash course, and potentially drive some of these projects in a systematic way.
I think based on those parameters, I was lucky that I was given a product management role.
Q.5 Why INSAID? How did it help you?
I am three years into product management now, the initial course I took was with pragmatic marketing, which was awesome as well.
I started using those frameworks and practices in my day to day work, like I prepare the problem statement carefully, I actually have an interview document for each persona. For example, in my domain, we have personas like VFX Supervisors, CG Supervisors, Head of Departments, Artists, Key Artists, Lead Artist, Production Coordinators, etc.
At the end of the day, when I interview different personas for the pain points related to a problem space, I really try to understand how each one is looking at it.
And then I create a deck of slides and I show the conceptual framework, how can we solve this problem using this solution? And what can be the phase 2 of the solution, what can be a phase 3 of the solution, and then I can get a buy in from the stakeholders.
During the proposal call, details from project charter are mentioned, like we need five developers for X amount of time, and we would like to have these three problems to be solved first. And for this specific problem, we need to build this underlying framework and we need a new system design etc. Obviously, the architect and project manager in the call to share more information, if its required by someone in leadership.
But then the important thing is for us to present it to the stakeholders and to get a buy in. So that constantly needed finessing. I was always curious about product manager’s contribution and role in companies like Flipkart, Amazon or even other B2C and B2B companies. What are the kinds of challenges they run into from idea to execution?
During my exploration stage, I saw INSAID starting to market their course and I realized that their staff have come from various backgrounds.
This looked like a great opportunity in both timing wise and exposure wise. I can attend the classes during weekends, which won’t affect my work schedule with the company during the week. It was easy to decide and sign up with INSAID.
Q6. What advice would you give to Product Management beginners?
I think that the most important thing is to understand the frameworks. Forget about the goal and focus on the process, like how do we approach it, what are the frameworks which are available commonly, what are the kind of questions you can ask and so on. It’s always about asking questions.
Sometimes people say, you should ask the right questions, sometimes people say, no question is a silly question and so on. I would just say, ask as many questions as possible within the available time related to the user’s present journey and try to understand their pain points, try to understand the problem space and try to empathize with the users.
Sometimes you might have a customer interact with a product, and sometimes there could be a merchant selling something using a product/platform, which in turn is used by customers to buy stuff, there could be a lot of combinations.
So pain points are to be really understood properly. And, I’ve heard that companies like Amazon or bigger companies, you will have many product managers. I think for each product manager, you will have a narrow slice of problem space to focus and solve.
So in summary, listening to customers and asking questions to them helps product managers understand the problem space well. The other ways one can learn more is to constantly participate in product management conferences and discussions. During the product management role, keep thinking about the core problems and never leave a grip on that as the product evolves, it’s very important for us to keep reminding our-self if we are indeed solving problems for different users.
And it’s important that every time we reach a milestone as a team, we appreciate each other. It keeps us going and brings the team together. That’s something I’ve learned, both being in the leadership role and in the individual contributor role.
Next suggestion is to start writing narratives. The conceptual framework which we develop around a problem space thorough power point slides etc. is necessary and awesome. It’s important to visually frame the problem very well to everyone and to get a buy-in.
But when we start writing narratives, we really understand how much detail we need add. You start thinking about many things that only pop out when you start writing it.
And then building quick mockups helps a lot. It could be a quick mockup, but it helps everybody from stakeholders, customers, even the engineering team to get the answer to the question: What are we trying to build? The ‘what’ and ‘why’ is defined by the product manager and the ‘how’ is decided by the engineering team.
So we need to be very clear on what we are trying to build. It’s also important to explain ‘Why do we want to build this feature now’, instead of phase 2, why should we focus on this problem now.
And learning a bit about the business terms also helps. If you’ve watched this famous show called Shark Tank, a lot of entrepreneurs come and pitch their ideas to the sharks.
And I think I would encourage that you check out this show. They mention a lot of business terms like stocks, equity, how do we raise funds through VCs etc. The discuss using business terms, and it really helps product managers to grow overtime to know this language and the concepts.
Even I’m in the journey of learning all these things. I realized that it’s an ocean. It’s a constant strive to learn these things.
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