The No. 1 Trait for Aspiring PMs? According to This SVP of Product, ‘Storytelling’

Janey Zitomer
July 31, 2020

Twenty years ago, Raji Bedi taught himself how to use Dreamweaver and Photoshop to start a virtual community called Khalsa Pride. The pre-Facebook era site enabled Sikhs like himself to share photos of themselves in turbans with other Sikhs across the world. 

The SVP of Product at project44, a supply chain visibility platform, describes the experience as one of the most formative of his life.

Bedi now leads product management at project44, where his team develops supply chain technology that delivers real-time visibility and actionable insights. While his previous experience at both Salesforce and other startups has informed his Agile approach to product management, Bedi prioritizes storytelling and being able to connect people to one another above all else. After all, that’s where his passion originated. 

“We’ve been passing stories down for generations,” Bedi said. “So, rather than describe features and functions, I prefer to share stories about people and value.”

 

project44
project44

Tell me a little bit about your background. 

I’m from Detroit originally. I’m a first-generation American from a family that immigrated from the Punjab region of Northern India. I’m a Sikh, which is the reason I wear a turban and beard. My story is rooted in my passion for the city of Detroit and my identity. 

Most recently, I worked at a Bay Area startup that was acquired by Salesforce. I’m excited to be back at a startup and back in the Midwest.

 

What got you interested in the world of product, and what brought you to project44? 

When I was very young, I started a website where young Sikhs could send me their pictures. The purpose of the site was to enable people to see other Sikhs surviving and thriving around the world. You don’t often see Sikhs when you go to the grocery store or at school, but the internet made the world a lot smaller. It helped diasporic communities like mine connect in meaningful ways. 

The fact that people in Kenya and throughout Europe and Canada were able to send me their pictures and share their stories blew my mind. That was my first dose of product management. I knew I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.

I joined project44 because of the team, technology and business. Companies around the world want to increase agility and reduce the risk of their inbound and outbound logistics. More than 300 global retailers, manufactures, distributors and logistics service providers use project44 to manage 21 million shipments in 120 countries. It’s exciting that my family moved across the country to be a part of it.

 

You have experience in larger organizations and smaller startups. What lessons have you taken from both types of workplaces to inform the work you do at project44?

Salesforce is unique. In many ways, it’s a massive startup. We were focused on continuous innovation in service of our “trailblazers.” Whether you work at a large or small organization, the companies that get it right are dead-set focused on listening to the customer. 

I have learned how important it is to be fluent in the customer use case and ROI. When my team is planning a sprint or a release, I ask them to prioritize according to customer value first and foremost. And in order to tie it to value, it’s incumbent on you to know your customer.

 

How can PMs successfully align goals across product and engineering teams?

Both product and engineering teams should have an acute understanding of the customer and share accountability for driving key business metrics. We treat our P&E organization as one team. Our leaders are responsible for constructing the roadmap together to ensure we are completely aligned on focus areas and velocity requirements at a macro level. On a micro level, our teams work together to ensure the work in the backlog meets the Definition of Ready.

We treat our P&E organization as one team.’’

What’s one aspect of people, leadership and management that has surprised you most throughout your career? 

I get excited when I hear a PM tell a good story. I value PMs who can leverage storytelling as a way to validate the roadmap and influence people. Humans have been passing stories down for generations. They stick with us. They can motivate us. They can excite us. So, rather than describe features and functions, aspiring PMs should practice telling stories about people and value.

Describe your leadership style. 

I like to coach the team and help them do the best work of their careers. I enjoy working with a team that pushes me to grow as well.

My job is to ensure my team is adept at the product management fundamentals and that there’s an established playbook for common scenarios we will come across in our enterprise software environment. 

I coach my teams to “let the game slow down” and study the big picture before making key decisions about how to spend their time and what work to prioritize. For example, it can be an interesting exercise to use the Eisenhower Matrix to evaluate whether the team spends more time on urgent work or important work. If you have too many things in the “urgent” box, then something may be wrong. As a result, the team is reacting more than predicting what customers want.  

 

How do you use Agile to iterate quickly at project44?

At project44, we ship a lot of product. We can’t release code fast enough, which is every product manager’s dream. Our business needs can change quickly, so we take full advantage of sprint planning to evaluate whether we need to pivot quickly. To keep up with the velocity of the market, acceptance criteria has to thread the needle to ensure that products meet a current need. And they need to do so as quickly as possible, leaving room for iteration. The challenge is to designate capacity for maintenance and iteration before moving too quickly to deliver a different use case.

I look for storytellers who have empathy for customers and a technical underpinning.’’ 

What types of roles are you looking to fill this year and beyond? What traits do you look for in candidates?

Project44 is growing very quickly. We’re hiring product managers and product designers both in North America and Europe. I look for storytellers who have empathy for customers, visual thinkers, high emotional intelligence, a “can do” attitude and technical underpinning. Our candidates are up for a challenge.

Our job postings do not always reflect the future needs of our business. I would love to build a relationship with product talent in Chicago and beyond to learn and share stories but to also open the door to working together in the future.

 

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