Product Management: A Career for the Curious
Priya Kasi-Chari, senior director of product management at PeopleReady, joins us on Product Voices to share her inspiring story of resilience and success. Her unique blend of creative pursuits - including classical dance, language learning, and sewing - has greatly shaped her product management career, bringing a refreshing perspective to the industry.
But what's the secret sauce to a thriving product management career? Priya believes it lies in developing multifaceted skills, from technology to innovation. She emphasizes the value of curiosity, adaptability, and empathy - all critical traits that have propelled her as a great product manager and product leader. And for those of you contemplating a career shift into product management without having traditional experience, Priya drops some gold nuggets of advice that you can't afford to miss.
Tune in for a stimulating episode packed with a wealth of knowledge.
Connect with Priya:
Women in Product group in Facebook
Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
Hidden Brain podcast - Shankar Vedantam
product, conversation, template, work, practice, experience, customers, improv, important, team, improv class, helps, stakeholders, concise, impactful, relationship, product managers, cost, conflict, resources
Intro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest): 00:03
Welcome to Product voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources. To help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests, or to submit your product management question to be answered in our special q&a episodes. That's all at product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of great product management.
Hello, and welcome to product voices. Today's episode, we're going to be talking about a career for the curious, I have an amazing guest here who has such a fabulous career, she's going to share her story and tell us a little bit more about what that means and how her career has evolved. I think this conversation is going to really help a lot of people because product management is not necessarily a role that you jump into. From the beginning, right, we've usually at least historically have moved from other parts of the business or other roles, whether it's engineering or design, or marketing or something else. And so a lot of us have a, you know, path into product management from elsewhere, I'm seeing a little bit of that change. I teach at Johns Hopkins and I've got a lot of folks who are newer to the business world who want product management to be their very first job, which is awesome and exciting. Not sure the corporate worlds caught up to that idea yet. And so a lot of us out there listening, I think this conversation will resonate with it will kind of illuminate some of the ways that experiences will make us a better product people, even if they're not in the product domain squarely. Right. And so I'm very excited about this conversation. So, so excited to have my guest here. She's gonna share her story, as I said, and it's just gonna be a really great conversation. You're gonna love hearing her path and her insights. So Priya Kasi-Chari is the current Senior Director of Product Management at PeopleReady. She's got 25 years in IT spanning from development now into product management. She's got over 20 years of client facing roles. So again, amazing background and I'm so excited to have Priya here with me. Priya, thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you so much for having me here. JJ, I'm really excited to talk to you, you know, just share some of my experience. And hopefully, like you said, it will be helpful to some folks out there as well. Yeah, I think that's the beauty of, you know, being a little bit kind of into your mid career late career, which, you know, we both are is is just giving back and giving back is just really sharing your story in many cases. And so, so I love that you've found the time to do this. So thanks. Thanks, again, for being here. So, very quick bio I gave of you but but tell tell me more. Tell me more about your career journey and kind of what what was your path to get to where you are today?
Sure. Absolutely. So, long, long ago, too long ago, I guess. I actually did my engineering and Electronics and Communication from, you know, from India, southern part of India, Tamil Nadu To be precise, and to have a job and it you know, with the whole y2k craze at the time, so jumped into software engineering, and did that for about four or five years, and at the same time, took on my did my MBA at Kellogg, School of Management at Northwestern. And then once I graduated with my MBA, I felt the need, I knew that, you know, I was, my passion was in bringing the business needs and development together. So I actually moved more on to the business side and started working for small companies primarily when they are like 2025 people strong and then stayed with these companies until they were about 150 or so strong. So I started managing and found really kickstarting starting mentation management teams and these companies moved on to a little bit of account management. But really, then I dove into success management for a few years, about four or five years, you know, managed success management team after I moved to Atlanta, and then I then move to product management actually, after a brief stint in solution consulting and been in product management and been leading teams and product management for the past eight or nine years. So really excited about what I've done where I've been. And I think it all kind of adds up to where we are now. Right.
So, yeah, I love that, I love that journey. And, and one of the things that I have always believed is that customer facing roles lead to a lot of success in product management, because of the fact that, you know, whatever that was, so implementation success, even account management sales, you know, you have to be good at understanding customer problems, and then and then solving them. And if you're, if you jump into solution mode, before understanding those problems, you're not going to solve those very well, you're not going to implement Well, you're not going to find, you know, the needs very well. And so, and that's exactly what, you know, product management needs. So I can imagine that, that led, or was kind of a natural progression into product for you, but but I'd love to hear your take on it. Like, what are some of the things that you believe, you know, those different roles helped in, you know, you becoming a better product manager or better pm leader?
You said it really, really well. So I think of product management as this, you know, a three layered triangle, if you will, you know, there's the really important aspect of it is to understand industry, understand the market and understand the business. The next layer, I would say is the design aspect of it, bringing innovation, bringing creativity to what we manage and develop. And then the final layer would be technology, right? So those three together, I think, makes us a good product manager. Each of us have a different combination of those. So it's not necessarily you know, trying to 3333 33 No, of course, but we all bring a different combination of it. And I think along my journey, that's what I've kind of picked up. So technology because of my education. And of course, my you know, my actual experience and programming and team, you know, becoming a team lead. The business aspect of it, the industry aspect of it is what I learned a lot from my work at the small company. So when you're at a small company, you have to wear different hats, many hats at the same time. And I'm sure all the people that work for small companies can empathize with that can resonate with that. So that really helped me understand, you know, the where, what our competitive advantages, how do we really stick with that. And many times, actually, even when I was in implementation, management or on success management, we were the source of ideas for our product management team, because we were there out there client facing or even prospect facing, and we heard so much from the field that we always came back and told them, hey, what if we could build this? What if we could build that so that you know really comes together when we are able to talk directly with customers interact directly with marketing and business and all that. And then the final layer is, of course, the creativity aspect of it innovation aspect of so really thinking out of the box, it's it's not about what is but it's about what can be. And that aspect of it. I think, for me came from my I have an education in language as well. I have a master's in Hindi. And I know a few different languages have picked up a few different Indian languages over my lifetime. So all that together that work along with my classical training or training in classical dance forms and classical music. Kind of all Bray brought that together that brings in that little bit of creative streak, if you will, you know, I know sewing a little bit and you know, that's probably a totally different conversation for another time. But all these things really add up. It's like this boy and Slumdog Millionaire right when he's at the table where he brings in all these different things. And they all your life experiences add up. So I think those three things together really, you know, brought me into product management. I think that was kind of, like you mentioned before, you know, in even five years, six years back, people kind of graduated into product management, you didn't like become a product manager, all of a sudden, but I'm glad as well as you are that that is changing. Like, you know, I see students and, you know, kids in college that really want to become product managers, and that's awesome. But there was a time when you really had to kind of find yourself and find product management to know how you fit in there.
And that's how I got there. Like, after I was, you know, in solution consulting, I thought, Oh, I am able to provide all these ideas. And my manager at the time taught thought so too. So that's how I landed here. And my focus has always been like, all through my career, I've worked with BI analytics with data a lot. So my first stint was actually, as a BI product manager, I started there. And then of course, grew into other things. And I've been leading product management teams for the last five, six years. You know, I just I love your story, because it resonates so well with me in a couple of different ways. And so I want to, I want to dig a little bit or at least comment on a couple of things. First, I think it's a great lesson for for individual people who are not in product management right now who want to get in product management, you don't have to have classical traditional product or Tech experience. Maybe you do, and that's great. And you'll have to learn some things along the way. But there are so many different ways that our creativity comes, comes to light that our business acumen can be built that I mean, you know, dance and language, I mean, you wouldn't think those are traditional tech or product roles. But man, I bet they taught you so much and brought so much to the table. So lean into that if you're someone who, who wants to be in product, and you don't have the experience, yet lean into what you are, right? I loved that you, you know talked about the kind of triad of you know, knowledge or skills, and that it's not always going to be 3333 33. And maybe you're better in tech and lean into that for a while as you're building the others or business etc. So I think that's a really huge point. But the second point, I think, really needs to be pulled out there is that it's also important for us as hiring managers and product leaders who are looking to build our team, that we don't have to hire only folks who have product experience. In fact, some of the best product managers are those who have come from other roles, and have used some of their other attributes and skills and education, to bring a sense of curiosity and empathy and all of that right. And so I think that's so important from your kind of a story from your background is that, yeah, you've got a lot of, you know, great education that fits nicely into the, you know, box of product, but you also bring so much other, you know, things to the table that a lot of hiring managers may not think of, and I think it's incumbent upon us to bring that and broaden that that horizon as we're looking to build and hire hire folks on our team. Yeah, I completely agree with you. In fact, I would say, if we were to kind of list out the most important qualities, like what I've learned is curiosity. That's why this episode, I think, should be called this because it's not about settling in with one thing, it's having the curiosity to dig more deeper, explore wider, and then being able to see, you know, what do I like and, and being able to also identify what I don't like, and then move on from there. I was talking to one of my friends sons just a week ago, and I, you know, he had a great internet internship opportunity at a company and he said, Well, you know, I have this opportunity, but I still want to do something else. And he got a different job, a part time job, leaving that consulting internship opportunity. And his parents were like, Oh, my God, what is he going to do? Why is he doing this, he can get a permanent job here. And I told them, This is the perfect time for him to explore, right? I mean, a field loves analytics, let them take up this job. And maybe it's a small company, maybe it's a completely new field. But if he doesn't explore that, when will he and I told the kid that the important thing for you to know is not just what you like about something, but what you don't like about something? So that's how you learn and you adapt.
I completely agree with you. Yeah, and I love that. And I can only imagine his parents being like, oh, gosh, no, but But you're right. And and at that point in his life, and career is the best place to to explore that. Not that we can't later in our life and career, but it's always easier than a little less risky. But, you know, I think that's a really important point and segue maybe to the next question I have for you. You know, you've mentioned a couple of really critical learnings like be curious and explore what you, you know, like and what you don't like and I think, I think seeing multiple roles right in different areas, helps you learn the nuances of of all of those, and again, can probably eliminate some of that what you love and what you don't love? Part? But what other critical learnings Do you think you've found along the way that have ultimately helped you be a great product manager and be a great product leader?
Yeah, good question. I actually, I think the if I were to kind of list out things, which I always do a bullet pointed, but the first thing I would say is we talked about curiosity, but also up there as being adaptive, right? Adaptive, not just learning, but then being able to change and evolve, based on what you've learned thus far. So it's not just about learning, but also in, you know, that influencing your action? So how, what do you change about? And how do you keep yourself not just from an education perspective, but also, how do you put in some best practice, you've learned that that far thus far, when you work with a lot of customers, that's one thing, you know, you know, because you're not all your customers are the same. And in fact, when I interview for some of my roles, that's what I say, like, you know, I cannot say that I have experience in this industry, or I worked with this one particular customer before, but what I can say is that I've worked with so many different customers, and in so many different industries, that I can grasp the main things in a particular industry. So being adaptive, and then, you know, being able to learn, and you mentioned, and, you know, when we talk before that, it's really important for us to, you know, be able to learn from every single opportunity and product managers, again, this is where it comes, you don't have to be a technology person to be a product manager, but you need to be able to grasp certain technical nuances for you to do a product managers job, right. So those are two different things like I know, some really good product managers, successful product managers that have no technical background, but they are able to understand like, what is the basis in which, you know, they are able to communicate with their technology partners in a way and understand where they are coming from in order to build good products, you know, good and good products. And the third part that I would say is empathy. And that goes a long, long way. Again, a lot of it comes from experience, of course, you know, but some sometimes empathy is also inbuilt. Like I've seen some, you know, really young kids that are very empathetic, empathetic people that are not that's missing in older people. But empathy is so important, because if you don't have empathy for your end users, for your buyers, for your business stakeholders, then it's very difficult for us to build products that are going to talk to them, because I may not be the right user for my own product for the product that I'm building. But I need to know what the demographic the end user is looking for on this product for us to be able to cater to their needs. So think of those are some critical learnings that have learned a lot, you know, all along, especially with, you know, based on my consulting career and working in success management, it's really important for us to know how to make our customers successful. That's the whole point about success management. And when you really dive deep into how do we make our customers successful, then you take, you know, peel it back a little bit and then say, so how do we make ourselves you know, our company successful by making our customers successful? And that brings a lot to the product management table, I think.
Yeah, absolutely agree with that. And one of the ways that I found on that last point, that kind of a tangible way to think about it or thought exercise that helps with that. And it really helps with empathy, right, empathy we talked about so much. And to your point, sometimes it's just innate to, like we in a lot of us have, I think most of us have at least some level of innate empathy. But but in the, in the real world of doing a job, sometimes it's hard to activate that if you will. And so one of the things that I've done is, like you said, you know, you got to make your customer successful, but then you've also got to make the business successful. So one of the things that I've seen work is, is just start from a place of absolutely no, no constraints whatsoever on the business, we can spend $8 trillion, we can spend all the time in the world, we can hire every single human on Earth, there are no no parameters. What would absolute perfect success and happiness look like for our customer, right, start there. And we're never going to be able to actually do that of course, but start there, right and then start to layer in constraints because we often start with the feasibility, the constraints that we place on on the situation as an organization. And of course, it was a realistic and we have to pull them in at some point. But if we start there, sometimes we don't see all the opportunities. And that in its in itself is limiting our empathy, I think in some way. So I love that I love that that learning. And, you know, as you said, every single thing we do in product management is a learning experience, right? Sometimes we don't realize we're learning until it comes up again. And we kind of harken back to that experience. But it really is important. And I absolutely loved that you talked about, you know, being adaptive, I don't think we talked enough about that. And in product in, it is so important to be able to, you know, navigate the ambiguity in our role to move from industry to industry to understand different customers, I think that's a really, really important, important learning as well.
So, you know, earlier, you mentioned that you believed that some of your skills and experiences would would end up being successful in product, and that you had a manager that also believed it, which is a huge part of the equation. Right. So thinking back on your career, are there people who helped along the way? Are there people that you, you know, would thank for your path? And, you know, what were those roles? And how, how are those people able to help you alone?
Absolutely. And, you know, even before my professional career started, I do have to take a step back. And, you know, thank my mother, my late mother, she passed away three years ago. But she was a huge, huge pillar, I would say, No motivator and inspiration for me to be where I am today. She was the one that kind of at that time, I thought thrusted too much on me, right? So I was when I was in school, even in elementary school, I was learning so many different things, being you know, and bringing in art and science and so many other things. In fact, I have a certificate and typewriting. Now you know how ancient I am. But what she said, Well, if nothing else, so her primary goal there was like, she literally I tell my husband and my daughter this, but she literally created an OKR and a roadmap for my life with the goal being that I should be self sufficient.
That was early on, like, you know, I didn't really appreciate it as much when I was growing up naturally. But as I, you know, once I got started my career is when I realized that, you know, that has helped a lot. Like the amount of what we did when or she did for me and motivated me to do actually helped me be where I am today. So I would first start with thanking her. And then I would say, there were a lot of people that put in the trust. And I would like to call out my manager, I introduced him, I she hired me and introduced them, which is a contact center, automation company, software company, but she hired me. And then within a few months, she actually recommended me for her role. And she became an individual contributor. And, you know, she reported to me, the thing that I was, you know that that was a huge motivation for me, right that someone could trust me with that. And Carolyn Morgan says her name So Carolyn, thank you. I'm actually having dinner with her next week. So we are in touch still, but motivator. And similar thing happened in my last company with remedy where and Kim see, you know, she, I reported to her, she took me into her team and she started leading product management, again, a person that, you know, that that shows that people can be successful in product management without having a huge background and product management. But she also recommended me for a promotion to her role when she left the company and referred me to the current role I have. And finally, of course, I have to thank the manager that I have now in my company only because I think she is one of those person that really motivates people. She's a role model for a lot of people, I think and really, you know, Margaret, I really appreciate the candor the and the feedback that you provide every single day and the support. I think she has really shown what it means to have a manager support and evolving and growing in a career. So all those people and all my efforts, my wonderful colleagues along the way I learned so much from all of them.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's, I love that because it shows how important a good like leader, and I'll say mentor, mentor, mentor type leader can be. And you don't have to be a an actual mentor to to your employees, but you you should understand their goals and understand their strengths. And you know, the best example of being a great leader in my experience is helping your your team get other jobs that they want, right, moving up or moving around. And I think literally giving them your job is very interesting. So yeah, I love that story. And there's so many people along the way, and absolutely love the story about your mom and building OKRs for your for your life and career. So that's a lesson to all parents, you need to create it. Okay, or for your, your kids. Now, that's fabulous. I love that story.
So I guess my last question for you. And I just love to hear this from from so many people, because again, we all learn in different ways. We all have different, you know, resources that we have found valuable. So as you've gone through your career, and you know, as you advise others, what resources would you recommend to product folks, whether they're aspiring, whether they're in the seat, whether they want to be leaders, or are already leaders? What resources have you found valuable?
Yeah, um, so I think, you know, when we have actually questions about like, operational product management, like how to write product requirements, or things like that, I think medium has several good articles. substract has a really good, you know, forum. And I think just searching on internet provides a lot, but medium and substack are typically where I think real good expert advice is available. But for me, what has helped me actually in product management are some of the non traditional product, you know, non traditional books that are not related to product management. So, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and then the art of choosing by Sheena Iyengar, again, it's more of a psychology book, but it really brings out that empathy part of it right, like, how do people make choices? And how can we kind of, again, influence some of those. And then I love all of Malcolm Gladwell book books. But the tipping point was one of the first ones where it really showed like, Oh, what is possible, what is feasible, and how, again, the app, you know, the art of influencing things, and what gets influenced by what so I think those three books have been, I would definitely recommend, but I'm sure most of us would have already read that. I do have to highlight the women and product grew in on Facebook, especially, I mean, they have other platforms, where they are on where they are on but Facebook one really brings a lot of people together, I am really happy to see some of the discussions that happen there, where people challenge each other, but at the same time also support each other without being too critical. No judgments there. So I think that's a really good group that I go to many times. And then I follow again, this is not a traditional product management podcast, but it's the hidden brain podcast by Shankar Vedantam. He brings in a lot of unique perspective on a lot of things, including sometimes products, and of course, product voices by JJ so for sure.
Thank you for that shout out. No, I absolutely love all of those Thinking Fast and Slow is one of my favorite books. Hidden brain is one of my favorite podcasts. I have not read the art of choosing so I'll definitely have to check that out. And for for listeners, we'll we'll have links to all of those resources in the show notes. So, Priya, this has been such a fabulous conversation. Lovely to spend time with you. I've enjoyed hearing more about your story. Thank you so much for sharing your path with everyone I know. Everyone will have love to hear your story and learn from you. Thank you so much, Priya for joining me.
Thank you so much, JJ, for the opportunity. And thanks, everyone, for listening.
And thank you all for joining product voices. Again, we will have links to the resources and a link of how you can connect with Priya on the show notes. Thanks for listening. Hope to see you on the next episode.
Outro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest): 29:41
Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.