5 Minutes with Syed Ahmed
Syed Ahmed is Head of Digital Products and Operations at Bupa Australia and New Zealand. He’s speaking at Leading the Product in Melbourne on 19th October and Sydney 24th October. In this short interview, he shares with us the key areas he focusses on to be successful at Product Management and books he’s found interesting reading this year.
1. Product Managers often have varied backgrounds before becoming a Product Manager. How did you get into Product Management?
Like a lot of people, I’ve been unintentionally involved in Product Management for a long time. I come from a software / technology delivery background, so have always had the opportunity to work closely with product-related disciplines and being part of product lifecycles end-to-end.
As I took on more senior delivery roles I became responsible for technology products, and that required learning a more structured and formalised approach to product management. My current role came about through a consolidation of Product and Delivery functions, which is fantastic because it gives me the opportunity to oversee the product portfolio while also being able to guide the delivery of those products to our customers.
Another path of my product management journey was through the start-up ecosystem. I spend a lot of time mentoring founders, advising start-ups, judging pitching competitions and participating in hackathons and workshops. There are some really smart people with great ideas and solutions in this space, and I find that applying even a little bit of product management discipline to the conversations helps drive a lot of clarity and focus.
2. People often help along the way, has there been somebody that really helped you and how?
I’ve had so many helping hands along the way I don’t think I can single out any one person. I’ve had the good fortune to work alongside many talented individuals and the privilege of leading some very skilled teams. A lot of my personal break-through learning moments have come from interacting with people and teams outside of my usual routines – observing how they apply certain problem-solving frameworks to a situation and then adapting to my own.
3. We love reading here at Brainmates and have quite the library of books. What book have you read lately that has really influenced you?
I started off the year by intending to complete the “200 Books a Year Challenge”, but a few weeks into it I realised that it became a bit of a chore rather than pleasure. Although I’ve slowed down a little, I generally end up reading two or three books in parallel, and usually a mix of different types to engage different parts of my brain. Some of the recent ones that I’ve found quite interesting were:
- Lovability – Brian de Haaff
- The 100 Year Life – Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton
- The Glass Cage – Nicholas Carr
- Competing Against Luck – Clayton Christensen, et al.
4. How do you do Product management? What’s your secret sauce? What we really want here are things that others can apply in their job.
The sauce isn’t actually that much of a secret. The reality is that you need to focus on and find the appropriate balance among a small number of key areas:
- Use the right tools in the right context. Enterprise product management is different to start-up product management, as is business vs. consumer product management. Methods and frameworks that work in one context don’t always apply everywhere else, so use the ones that fit.
- Be very clear about what your product isn’t – this is in many ways one of the key tenets of any strategy. There is so much distraction and hype in the market and it can be very appealing to be drawn towards it. Don’t (unless there’s a great fit with your product).
- Simplify. There’s huge pressure to add complexity to everything, including the product, the process and the environment. Your job is to reduce complexity so that the focus is on the important things.
- Be a team player. As more organisations figure out how to adopt some form of Agile ways of working, product managers need to increasingly integrate into a delivery team.
5.There’s a lot happening in the area of Product Management. What do you see as the most exciting development for Product Management?
I think that there are a couple of major areas of (inter-related) change in Product Management at the moment. First, the discipline itself is maturing. This can be seen by the growing number of intellectual and applied efforts to create and iterate over a set of robust tools and practices, as well as attempts to standardise training and recognition of skills and experience. Second, the exponential proliferation of software – both as enabling platforms as well as end products – and the associated changes in delivery methods (Agile) is bringing a real focus to Product Management within that sphere. I feel that the combination of these two factors will really propel the field forward, and it’s definitely an exciting time to be in it!