Hi, I’m Arvind Dutta. Currently, I’m leading the global strategy for Microsoft Teams, integrations, media portfolio, and developer segment. I have over 15 years of experience leading product management teams, product marketing, business strategy, and other key areas for top tech companies.
Previous to my current role, I was leading Dynamics 365 cloud migration global strategy. I’ve also worked as a Senior Product Manager for software and services at Fluke Corporation, and as a Senior Product Manager for Growth at Corning Incorporated.
I have an MBA from Pennsylvania State University and a master's in Industrial Design from the National Institute of Design. I’m also active in mentoring early-career product managers and marketers.
From design to delivery: My journey into product management
I feel like my product management career has been many careers in one. I know a lot of people go through this. Sometimes people have things planned out, and sometimes it happens organically. In my case, I looked at things that looked challenging at that point in time, and I went along with them.
Very broadly, my career started out in the area of design. Then, I briefly moved into product marketing, and then I've been in product management.
Design is all about what the customer needs are and what the end product looks and feels like. How is the user going to use it? Marketing is, once that product’s ready, how do we package it up and sell it?
Product management is somewhere in the middle of these. Of course, there's engineering on the periphery of all this, where product management is right at the center of what we’re trying to build, why we’re trying to build it, and how we’re going to ship it.
The common thread in all of this is the customer because, from a design standpoint, a designer would put the customer completely in the center, understand their needs, and build a solution around them.
Likewise, a marketer needs to understand what the pain points are that a customer has and build a story that resonates. That’s really valuable to the customer.
Likewise, with product management, we live and breathe the customer story and the customer pain points, and make sure that the customers' lives improve with our products and solutions.
Why collaboration can be a paradox
If you ask anyone around you, like your friends or your colleagues, if you ask this question: “Are you collaborative?” Pretty much everyone is going to say yes.
But then you ask, “Do you think the team is collaborative?”
In most cases, they’ll say, “My team could be more collaborative. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a silo and there’s no clear communication.”
So that’s an interesting paradox to be aware of, especially if you’re a product manager.
You’ll see this tension happening inside your team, inside your product crew, with engineering, and with cross-functional teams like marketing, where individuals actually want to be collaborative, but the system pushes them into a silo sometimes.
The way to address that is through a common understanding of what the goals of the organization are, and aligning everyone using tools like OKRs and KPIs so that everyone is working towards a common goal, rather than having disparate objectives within their own siloes.
If you’ve ever been in a meeting where it didn’t go as you expected, there was confusion, there was probably some finger-pointing, a deadline that somebody missed, or the team couldn’t ship something in time, all these are symptoms that show there isn’t enough collaboration happening in the team.
The way to work around this is to find the sockets in your planning cycle where you can drive the organization-level collaboration.
For example, every company goes through some sort of planning process, and that’s the time when all the stakeholders come together to discuss where they want to invest in the next cycle.
And that's the opportunity to align everyone on where you want to go as a company. What are the common objectives and key results that we want to go after? Where do we see our product in three years? So that's one window of opportunity to align on.
And, of course, there are other collaboration tools on a tactical level. For example, for a product manager, if you think of collaboration, it’s not just about writing OKRs. It’s all the other things that you do on a day-to-day basis that can help you collaborate better.
For example, every product manager writes a product requirement document (PRD). This requires collaboration too. A PRD is nothing but a manifesto of what we’re going to do, and getting alignment from engineering on all the requirements. So that's how you collaborate using your day-to-day processes and your tools.
How do you collaborate with marketing? Your roadmap. A roadmap is something that communicates to your marketing team and your sales team that this is the time we’re going to ship a certain product or a certain feature. So getting that alignment leads to collaboration.
And finally, on a personal level, sometimes you’ll find that some individuals are easy to work with and some individuals are difficult to work with. So when you find that difficulty in working with a certain person, the best way to deal with that is to have a one-on-one chat with them and try to understand where they’re coming from.
Many times, these are well-intentioned individuals that just have different priorities, so understanding the problem from their lens will give more empathy to the situation, help you understand the problem from their perspective, and help you come to a common understanding of what you’re trying to solve and get to an agreement.
Beyond collaboration: The life-saving impact of Microsoft Teams
Currently, I'm the product manager for Microsoft Teams. For those who haven’t heard of Teams, it's a messaging application from Microsoft that has several capabilities, like chat channels and meetings.
This application became extremely critical during the pandemic. Teams originally went remote, and now there’s some sort of hybrid situation where employees are trying to come into the office on some days of the week and work remotely on the other days. So now there’s this requirement to collaborate virtually.
Microsoft Teams is one product that enables not just collaboration synchronously, but also asynchronously with chats and channels where I can send you a message and you can respond back when you're available.
Folks also collaborate through files, and that's another thing that neatly integrates with the whole Microsoft ecosystem and Teams. If I have a file that I upload, you have access to it, I can post my comments within that file, you can review it, and then reply back in the chat.
So, messaging is something that has grown tremendously in recent times. And in the foreseeable future, this is going to keep evolving; there'll be new forms of collaboration. We started out with text, then it went to video, and maybe in the future, there'll be ways to collaborate through the metaverse that’ll encompass how we collaborate.
When working on products, the journey is just as important as the destination. A lot of times as product managers, we get consumed in the process so much that we forget to enjoy the day-to-day things that happen around us.
Product management is everything from going to meetings, negotiating with stakeholders, writing the PRD, and stressing about not features not being shipped on time. All of this is part of product management. So do take the time to enjoy the day-to-day process.
Coming back to what happened during the pandemic, I still recall that when it first happened, we were all supposed to go back to work within two days. It was something that was supposed to be temporary when it started. And then it extended to months, and now it's been a couple of years.
During this time, there was a surge of virtual work. As teams were starting to work remotely, there was a need to continue to work and continue to collaborate, and that's where some of the areas of Microsoft Teams really took off, such as chat and meetings. And likewise, in the industry, we saw other products also come up. Zoom is a good example that really picked up during the pandemic.
So, at that time, most of it was keeping up with the demand, and month after month, the demand was exponential. So supporting those back-end services, keeping up with all the requirements, and shipping features along with it was something that was a really unique experience.
The role of product manager is redundant
Going 15 years down memory lane, I still recall my day one. Coming into a new job, I had this confidence that I could come in and change the trajectory of this company on that first day.
And then, I distinctly remember sitting in a meeting, and this was a high-stakes meeting where I had my senior leadership and a bunch of product managers and other stakeholders.
During the meeting, I kept asking questions that were really more disruptive in nature, rather than contributing. And you can imagine that coming in on day one, I didn't have the context of what certain things were and why some decisions had been taken a certain way.
Of course, asking questions is a good thing. But proposing ideas without having the context on day one was something that didn’t go well. In fact, I ended up disrupting the meeting rather than helping the outcome.
After that meeting, I had a chat with my then-manager, and they told me that I didn't come across as a team player.
So, starting from going into that meeting and thinking I knew everything, to coming out of that meeting thinking that I knew nothing was an emotional journey. The pendulum had swung from one direction to the other, where within a span of one hour I’d gone from feeling like an expert to feeling like a complete imposter.
Balancing this extreme emotion is something that’s stayed with me. Of course, I've learned to manage it much better over the years. But whenever I start a new job, it always happens; there are days when I feel like in complete imposter. How did I even get this job? I know nothing.
Then there are days when I’m completely crushing it and I can take over the world. I can make a difference.
This is actually a pretty normal emotional swing that happens. I've spoken to other product managers and this has resonated with them too.
The reason I want to call it out is because many times, product managers can over-index one way or the other, and that may negatively impact their productivity or outcomes. So keep in mind that it’s completely normal to feel that way, and don't over-index one way or the other. Try to stay somewhere in the middle and understand that this phase will pass.
And ultimately, when you feel like a complete expert, have the humility to know that you don't know everything. And then when the pendulum swings the other way and you feel like a complete impostor, know that you’re here because you know a lot of things, and that's why you’ve come this far.
When it comes to keeping other people in check on these extreme emotional states, some people are more sensitive, and some people may take more time to process things than others, but I usually just share personal things that I like to do when I'm in one of these states.
Talking about the expert phase, there are days when maybe a meeting has gone extremely well and you’ve received loads of praise. Or maybe you’ve posted something on LinkedIn and you’ve got 1,000 likes. So there are days like this where all of a sudden you feel like an expert.
Those days are when I try to remember that I don't know everything. The reason I'm here is because of the work that everyone else around me has done. Like when a feature ships, it's not just the product manager, it’s the hard work of every software engineer, researcher, data scientist, designer, marketer, sales, etc.
So remember that it always takes a village to ship something. It's not like you’re flying the plane necessarily, but more that you’re helping to navigate the plane. But if you think about it, a product manager's job is to influence and get things done. But in reality, what a product manager does never goes to the customer. So remember that.
One quote I remember from one of my earlier managers is that ‘a product manager's job is actually redundant.’ If you think about it, nothing that we do actually ships. A developer writes the code, a designer makes the UI, a marketer sells it, and a salesperson actually makes the deal.
As product managers, we’re influencing all these teams, but nothing that we do actually ships and is tangible to the end customer. So remember that it's important to be humble in this world.
On the other spectrum, when we talk about impostor syndrome, it's being talked about more openly than it used to be. And this is when you have self-doubt. This can be triggered by anything from a meeting that didn't go well, the feature didn’t ship, or you had an argument with somebody senior or someone on your team.
Any of this can trigger imposter syndrome. When that happens, I actually like to keep it in check through a few things.
Number one is, again, remember that you’re here because of everything that you’ve done so far. It's not like you don't know anything, you got the job for a reason, and you’ve done it so well for such a long time. So remember and reflect on that.
Secondly, I also like to have a work-life balance. I've seen a lot of professionals who are so deeply engrossed in their work that their entire identity becomes their job. And when that happens, there’s a risk of going in either direction and your self-identity is so deeply tied to your job.
If you identify only as a product manager, then you're at risk of going through these extreme emotions even more versus if you have a more balanced perspective in life. For example, do you have hobbies? Do you identify yourself as a friend, a father, or a son? Nurturing those personal relations alongside your work is very important.
The statement that a product manager's role is redundant is meant to be provocative. Of course, product management is super important, and we’ve seen companies identify how important and strategic this role is.
But the point here is that in an ideal world, if there are no communication gaps, and if there’s no need to align groups, then in that world, the engineering team can build something.
Of course, they can work with the researcher, get the requirements, and they can still build a product, and sales and marketing can still take that product and sell it. So in an ideal world, if there’s no need to align these teams and tell the company where to go, then this role is sort of redundant.
So again, it's meant to be provocative. I don't necessarily mean that the product management role isn’t needed. It is, of course, very strategic in nature, and where it really excels is getting people, processes, and product requirements together.
AI is just another bicycle for the mind
If I look back on my career, there are certain inflection points that I see. Sometimes these inflection points turn out to be a bubble that bursts, and sometimes they truly impact the product outcomes and the overall industry trends.
I actually think we’re currently in one of those important inflection points.
With AI tools like ChatGPThorsecart, what we’ve seen is a large language model that has created a use case that’s really easy to use. I saw that within a week, ChatGPT hit a million users, and that’s an exponential use. The reason for that was there was finally a true use case for AI that was practical and good in terms of its response quality, so it was widely adopted.
At the same time, I’ve also seen news about AI where it may not be completely ready for all scenarios. What we’re seeing is large language models helping in some scenarios where there’s summarization. So there's a large database, and as a human, reading all of that is going to take days, months, or years. But AI can read it very quickly and summarize it for you. So that's one scenario.
Of course, there’s also search and improving the search quality. That's another area. A lot of it is where there’s some data set, and the model has been trained to respond and give you some insights from the data set. There are many other scenarios where the AI may still be in the early stages.
So the reflection that I have on this particular scenario is to be nimble and experiment with what you're trying to do. I know that every company right now is trying to think about doing something with AI or is already doing it, which is great. But at the same time, I think what's important here is staying nimble and approaching this with an experimentation mindset. Take small jumps before taking that big leap.
I think there are use cases for AI across all functions, whether it's engineering, marketing, or product management. I think all of the fields are going to be impacted by AI in some way or another. Well, the jury's still out on what type of impact it’ll have.
One thing we’ve seen is the generative nature of AI. It can help you create content and even code, which is the case for GitHub Copilot.
I think of this as more of a tool. It’s not like AI is ultimately going to write the code from scratch. What it’s essentially doing is amplifying your ability to get things done faster.
This is the same as when cars first came about. The horsecart industry was very scared that they’d lose jobs. But this is just the nature of transportation, it changes. The ultimate outcome is still the same, which is that I have to go from point A to point B, but now there’s a new tool.
The same trend happened with the emergence of electricity. People were scared that jobs were going to be lost. But ultimately, all these things are tools.
The way I look at this transition phase is that in every discipline if you can think about some early use cases where we can experiment and see some results before we go all in and try to change everything bottoms-up, that approach might be more reasonable in the short term.
One of the analogies I remember from Steve Jobs is that when he was talking about what a PC is, he described it as a bicycle for the mind. This means that it's a tool, but a human ultimately has to decide where the bicycle needs to go.
The importance of customizing frameworks
I'm not necessarily opposed to frameworks. Frameworks are great. In school, we were taught through frameworks. And the reason frameworks are so powerful in communication is because they're easy to digest and understand.
But at the same time, that's also the shortcoming of a framework. Sometimes the context might be lost because it’s so simplified. And that's the reason we see on social media, particularly LinkedIn, that there are a lot of frameworks that sometimes look canned.
Sometimes they can be effective, but I think what’s important is as you think of these frameworks and you start applying them, remember the context and remember the problem you're trying to solve. It's a means to an end. A framework is a tool.
No framework is perfect. It has to be customized to your scenario, your situation, and your customer needs. A lot of times, we see frameworks being sold by consulting companies because it's easy to package up, put a bow on it, and then say, “This can be scaled.”
But again, remember that every context is different and that framework will have to be customized by you as a product manager as you apply it in your day-to-day workflow.
The critical role of storytelling in product management
I'm a huge fan of storytelling. I actually think it's one of the core skills that a PM should have.
There have been leaders in my previous companies that I've looked up to for storytelling. And I actually think product management is a high-level story. It's a fictional story.
When you imagine a feature, the feature doesn’t exist. You try to write a story around it, and then you add characters and try to convince others that the story can be real.
You show it to an engineering team so that they can build it. You show it to your design team so they can design it. You show it to your marketing team to get validation. Ultimately, the story needs to be sold to the end customer so that they pay money to the company and buy the product.
But until the product is really there, it's all fiction. So I think storytelling is so important in every aspect of product management, whether it's the planning cycle where you're trying to come up with your big bets and pinpoint your big investment areas, all of that is a fictional story.
If you think about all the forecasting that happens, again, it’s a story. Finance is telling the story that we’re going to land at this number.
So I feel like this is a very critical skill, even at the execution level. As a product manager, you’re trying to convince somebody to prioritize a certain task over something else because there’s a story about why it’s important.
So, as I think about people who have really influenced me in my career, they have this ability to tell a powerful story and make it very personal. Always remember that when you tell a story - tell it from the perspective of the listener. It's not something that you want to tell, but it's about what the other person cares about. So if you come at it from that lens, then it can be more relatable and more powerful.
If you're describing a customer pain point, instead of saying, “The user isn’t productive,” which sounds very abstract, you can say:
“When the user, Tiama, is beginning her day, she has a challenge, which is to catch up with all her messages, whether it's email or chat. This causes frustration every morning because she's trying to scramble to get ready and begin her day, but all these messages delay everything else and prevent her from getting the actual work done. This causes stress and anxiety for Tiama, and overall, it's not productive.”
Telling that story and making it more real from that lens is very powerful.
So those are some tips I've seen that have worked really well. Think of it from the listeners’ point of view and make it really, really personal.