EP #32: Product Management Lessons From Grofers on Personalized CX and Experimentation

EP #32: Product Management Lessons From Grofers on Personalized CX and Experimentation

About this Podcast

Product management unearths the customer’s current and potential needs – insights that fuel into the eventual product roadmap to drive greater product adoption, user growth, and retention. This assumes even greater importance for B2C brands. To understand the finer points of product management, we caught up with Gagan Mahajan, Senior Product Manager at Grofers, India. Founded in December 2013 , Grofers is one of India’s leading digital grocery e-commerce players . A pioneer in this space, Grofers operates across 28 cities with about 5000 partner stores; helping customers retain some sense of normalcy even during these times. Gagan shares insights on the following:

  • The 3 most important qualities a Product Manager (PM) should possess
  • The need for PMs to focus on personalization to drive user retention
  •  The key OKRs to focus on and the prerequisites to achieve them
  • The framework to follow in order to ensure process prioritization and management
  • The need for PMs to have a digital-first mindset in order to tackle a post-COVID-19 era

Tune in to learn how an ambitious Indian e-commerce player is curating delightful personalized user experiences, with product management playing a pivotal role in this growth story!

Episode Transcripts

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “Hi guys, welcome to another insightful episode of the Martechno Beat specially curated podcast powered by netcore smartech. It’s where we have the leading marketers, product Champions, and market influencers share their thoughts and stories around user growth retention, and personalization. Today, we have a special guest, Gagan Mahajan,  a senior product manager for the growth domain from Grofers, who shares his thoughts with us on how product management has evolved over the last five years. And what are the things that product managers should get ready for in the next few years? Hello Gagan, welcome to the Martechno  Beat, happy to have you here.” 

Gagan Mahajan: “Hey, Avadhoot, thank you so much for hosting me.”

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “ Great before we kind of get started. I’m sure our audience will like to hear a little more about you and Grofers so over to you Gagan.” 

Gagan Mahajan: “Sure, so hi everyone, so I graduated from st. Stephen’s College in 2015 with a degree in computer science, right after college. I joined a start-up called Gyros, which was at that time a jobs platform for women, where I learned most of my early lessons about product management and doing a lot of user research. I ended up building up a community that was a women-only community for women at Gyros. And then I grew it with the entire team. All this experience. Basically let me learn a lot about the basics of product management as well as I saw myself doing a lot of growth hacking at Gyros, then after three years. I moved to grow first to understand the dynamics of a business that had both digital and physical operations. Fortunately. The journey is going really awesome till now and I had the privilege to work with some really smart product people in the country.”

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “Amazing to hear that Gagan and I think that gets me to my first question, you know that I think with you having more than five years of experience in product management, you know, how is life really changed for a product manager over the last five-six years and what do you think are those three most important things to be a successful product manager.”

Gagan Mahajan: “So, I believe product management has evolved very fast In India, especially within the past few years. There was a time when merely being a CSP or certified scrum product owner was enough to be product management professional. Then there was this time when releasing a feature became a job. It is still that way is in many companies and then it evolved to product managers where they were becoming more responsible for the impact of their releases. Now in a very recent change, we see that companies see product managers as user evangelists who are responsible to facilitate strategic decisions and drive business impact while keeping users at the same time. So it’s a very recent change that I see and it’s definitely in the right direction. The three most important things that I would say are important for a successful product management career. The one thing that is absolutely on the top is user empathy makes you put yourself in the users’ shoes and derive those insights, which otherwise you would not have taken talking to users understanding them in a way that no one else does become your core skill as product management. Then as a product manager, the second thing that you need to have is you have to be an expert of experimentation and in analysis, whatever be the hypothesis you have to be super creative to come up with an experiment to validate that hypothesis. But while validating a hypothesis you need to make sure that you are connecting the dots with user empathy which is rare and insights need to be validated while running an experiment. Once the inside is validated, you can build the product scale in multiples.  The third and one of the key things that I believe is important for a successful product management career is being an experienced freak. How the user experiences your product at each stage is super important, showing them the right things at the right place, sometimes just the perfect thing that they were looking for, candlelight them and keep them hooked on your product. So just to sum it up. I think the user is empathetic, has expertise in experimentation and analysis, and being an experienced freak. These are the three things that I believe are most important from a product management perspective.”

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “I think the really interesting thoughts cover. I really like the way you put the third Point around, you know, being an experienced freak, any specific examples or you know any specific things that you’re currently doing, you know to help improve or build a personalized experience. I think it would be great if you can share some thoughts on that.”

Gagan Mahajan: “ All right. I think we’re still in a very early stage of personalizing experience at Grofer’s but there are very top experiments that come to our mind in the domain of the lane experience that is personalized for users is personalizing the product discovery showing the right products that users are looking for. What we’re trying here is the first cut will be definitely led by a segmentation model but then we take it to our user if we’ve also built a recommendation engine that shows products that are connected to the products that are currently in your cart. So that is something that is currently live on the Grofers app and we are continuing to improve the algorithm there and then there are experiments on personalizing the home screen experience using third-party tools that give us data science capability. So that’s how we are going about dating a less experienced person which is super personalized for the customers.”

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “Got it, got it, and I completely agree with you. I think discovery is one of the most important challenges to be solved today because very clearly the faster the user is able to discover a product. I think, you know, the pace at which he completes the transaction is a lot faster and simpler and I think that’s the final goal for any brand. I think we’re also seeing a lot of acceptance for using AI-based personalization, you know, for solving the discovery problem, and I think a lot of brands are kind of putting the focus on that. You also mentioned experiments, you know in both the points about you know, how does experimentation really fit into this broader approach of product management and decision-making?”

Gagan Mahajan: “ One of the most important aspects of being a product management professional is that you need to accelerate decision-making and they that can come from two ways one knowing the market pretty well knowing your users really well so that you can quickly make a decision, but more often than not cases are usually you feel yourself as at Crossroads on choosing one thing over the other and you try to validate those things. So one of the key expertise as I mentioned earlier has to be experimentation here. There will be a / b / n things to reach out to a particular objective. Product managers need to figure out the best and best and the most effective way to creatively validate the hypothesis. The results of experiments inform the decision on the entire product strategy. This is our product management is going currently and the experiments you run give you the validation of your assumptions to quote Marty Kagan validate user value usability, feasibility, and viability of a product before you start building it for real. So it takes real good experimentation to validate these things once tasted it becomes easy to make objective decisions. So I would put experimentation at the center of decision-making whenever there is a doubt.” 

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “Got it, and anyone or two experiments that you like to share, you know that you’ve done at Grofers or Shiros which could probably catch great insight for our audience.”

Gagan Mahajan: “All right, let me try out the different experiments that we did at Grofers on the home screen experiment on the home screen for first-time users. So we tried out two different ways, so there were two opinions on how to incentivize new users to convert one was basically giving them a coupon code that would give them a cashback. The other was giving them a free product of a similar value that would convert them and then there were multiple discussions. So what we did was we formed a hypothesis that a free product would work better than an existing coupon code while we had some understanding of a user’s which made us believe that a free program getting a product for free creates more excitement for the customers than a coupon with cashback. Then we tried out AB testing between the two models and clearly, the free product won because of the hypothesis. So this enabled us to clear that doubt and extract that particular insight that a free product creates more excitement than a coupon code which we, later on, went on to use in multiple constructs. There was a social commerce construct where we use the same insight and then our core referral where use the incentive for the user is now a free product. So we ended up giving up using that one insight at multiple places. That’s what we leverage out of one experiment.”

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “Got it, got it, sounds correct. I think every new release that you have, you know, also some of these experiments also kind of help you validate a lot of those releases that you plan and I think you know that that kind of fits into very clearly how product manager should go about their feature releases. Excellent point Gagan there just to understand a little bit more. You know, what are those key OKRs that you track on a daily basis as a product manager, and what are those actions that you take to kind of achieve those normally.” 

Gagan Mahajan: “So the matrix, as well as the key OKRs, usually vary depending on what domain you are looking at. For example, when you’re working on growing the KR becomes absolute users or the first-time user conversion for someone who’s joining knew, it could be activation rate, it could be retention rate depending on what particular part of the funnel you are working with on from a growth perspective. From an overall experience perspective, the KRs could be active to engage user conversion or engagement rate, times spent views per session for a video app, etc. So and then comes the engagement of user retention which could be a month over month or new user to second-month attention. So usually it varies. What I personally do. I look at two key numbers: the absolute number of users being converted on the platform the first time user experience conversion and from a check metric point of view, I also make sure that users who are coming to the platform are billed. So I also look at the next retention for the new users. OKRs need to be planned very well. They need to plan in detail. OKRs are usually informed by-product strategy, which would give you goals, discovery, key users values, and then a minimum viable product. The predicar sites you have you need to have to build these OKRs to follow these OKRs or to achieve these OKRs would be you need to monetize your number on a daily basis to build an intuitive sense of the impact of your initiatives. Build a user understanding by doing thorough user research. I think one of the keys skills that I never cease to emphasize is that the better your understanding of the user the better you are in a position to achieve your OKRs and then simple brainstorming with the team to maximize the impact in the direction of OKRs and then prioritizing them on the basis of impact is something we do almost on a weekly basis to make sure that we are usually hitting the right direction. Evaluating  the initiatives in direction of the OKRs and scaling the ones that really give you success.”

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “Got it, got it and normally it’s also said you know prioritization is one of the most important skill sets, you know for a product person. You know, what are your thoughts on any models or frameworks that you followed that kind of prioritize?

Gagan Mahajan: “Ya for sure, when you talk about a focus area, focus areas are usually prioritized from the company strategy level, but when it comes to features/initiative privatization I think product managers really should have that skill for sure to make sure that they are prioritizing things that create maximum impact. So here’s what we usually do: our product backlog usually has two streams of work, one is a key product and the second is continuous Improvement, which we leverage as an 80/20 rule. So where 80% of the time goes to key products which will be your initiative that you have to bet big on a broader product to achieve your KR Matrix. And then 20% of the time is basically devoted to things such as on-call bugs or continuous improvement that you need to do so that business as usual continues. So prioritization for key products happens in this way, we initially do brainstorming, we pick up five to ten ideas on the basis of team confidence that’s objective, and then use a RICE model over it. When I say RICE it has four components reach, impact, confidence, and Edward.  Reach is pretty straightforward to calculate. The number of users will be exposed to this and then for impact calculation, we create data models for the funnel of the product. If an initiative impact is a step of that funnel, we intuitively assume an impact on the step and calculate the impact on the overall fun. And hence on the key impact, so that’s how we calculate the impact part of it confidence is something that we have that is usually subjective but we have given it steps, we give confidence in ratings in values of 1 to 5 one is usually team hunch where there are no market / other validations then two is usually a similar product in a similar market would have worked, three would be qualitative user validation by our own users, four would be a survey on experiment and five where we are saying, we have the maximum confidence, then we would have launched the MVP as which rarely happens. So prioritization usually has reach, impact, confidence, and then the effort is something that we work with the engineers. So there’s a priority score that gets calculated to impact conflicts  divided by effort which tells you that these are the initiatives that can be prioritized.”

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “Got it, I think that was quite insightful Gagan, I think and I’m sure it will help a lot of others who are budding product managers. That brings me to my last question on how do you see product management shaping up in the next couple of years and what are those things product managers should gear up for or get ready for the coming years?”

Gagan Mahajan: “ There’s just a lot coming up and we can’t even anticipate most of it. Thanks to covid. But I’ll try to anticipate whatever I can. So I believe that digital transformation is definitely accelerated and thanks to forward again and we need experts with a broad range to understand the change and act upon it. There will be a change in the market, there will be a change in consumer behavior. So I see product management as a role gaining more importance in the strategy domain.  Companies will win on how well they understand the user and anticipate changes in the future, who better than your own in-house user evangelist who are product managers who take the lead here. Product management particularly in India will need some skill of practices in the professionals to understand the market condition in consumer behavior better is a whole different India beyond the currently active internet users. It will be a big challenge to understand these users and the problem let alone build products for them. It is a tough challenge but a really interesting one. We can use tools like machine learning, AI to better serve these customers, but we still don’t know, what are the best tools to do that? I’m hoping that a PM who wants to drive innovations like Tesla, Google, or Facebook will want to overcome that chasm of user understanding and market understanding and will go out to create brilliant products for Indians.” 

Avadhoot Revankar(Host): “Got it, thanks a lot Gagan for sharing your thoughts and insights with our audience. And as always it was a pleasure talking to you.”

Gagan Mahajan: “ Thanks Avadhoot, it’s been a pleasure.


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