The Lifelong Learner: an Interview with Walmart Lab’s Lalitha Ramani

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Lalitha Ramani is Walmart Lab’s Senior Director of Product Management and also a keynote speaker for the upcoming Product Management Festival Singapore 2018. Read on to learn more about Lalitha’s unique point of view, her approach to product management regardless of industry, and how she handles ecommerce for North America and UK successfully…. from thousands of kilometers away.

Could you tell us a bit about your professional journey?

If I were to summarize my professional aspiration or journey in a phrase, it would be “the pursuit of life-long learning”. I still remember the excitement with which I stepped into the Product Management (PM) domain post completion of my degree in computer science engineering and MBA. Initially, I worked for a few years in development, consulting and business development across India, South Africa and US but very soon I realized my passion was, and continues to be, in building customer empathy and using technology to solve big customer problems.

So, when I got an opportunity to get into a PM role, I grabbed it and for the last 15 years, I have loved being a part of this tribe from Bangalore every single day! It has been a beautifully empowering phase, focusing on customers, building talented teams and managing global products; the journey has been exciting, with its share of hits and misses.

I like to think of myself as a “student” of product management constantly upping my craft, learning all its variations – B2B vs. B2C, new product introduction vs. retiring mature products in a portfolio, large implementations vs. small off-the-shelf products, established vs. emerging markets and so on. It’s fascinating how the PM skills exercised change when the outcome you are solving for through the product changes.

Very consciously in my career, I have not been sticky with domains. I have worked on supply chain optimization at i2, supply chain execution with Sterling Commerce, business process management at Wipro, Accounting, payments and payroll products at Intuit and now eCommerce at Walmart.

I am also fortunate that my career has grown along with the maturity of product management in India and that many people have helped me immensely in my journey.

How has the progression been for you as a woman in product management?

I am passionate about product management and women in tech – so thank you for asking this question that is an intersection of both!

My experience as a woman in PM has been that there are no negatives for being a woman; there are no extra points either. Personally, I could not have asked for a better career and better fit to my interests.

I do recommend product management as a strong career option for women as it plays to many of their inherent strengths and even develops some of the prioritization skills absolutely required to manage a career and a family!

My PM teams have consistently been 50-50 men and women.

I believe that a diversity of background, gender, skills and thoughts leads to great products. I also believe that it is a great advantage if the product teams are set up to reflect the customer bases they serve.

Since a significant portion of accountants are women and many of the small business owners are women, my point of view is that Small Business Accounting products would benefit by having women in their product teams. Similarly, many of the customers shopping online across the world are women, so eCommerce teams would benefit with a good mix of women in product.

Any advice to other women in product management?

My advice to career women in general: strive for resilience by building confidence, enlisting support, prioritizing your time and energy and focusing on your well-being.

My advice to PMs in general: never stop working on improving your PM craft – go out of comfort zone, build new muscles. It is an endless, rapidly evolving field!

Did/do you have mentors? How have they helped you throughout your career?

I had the fortune of working with some very inspiring product leaders, both men and women, from whom I continue to learn tremendously.

Some have explicitly helped me by giving me breaks, taking chances on me with new domains, new products. Some others have gone out of their way to help me with impactful in-the-moment advice in specific situations, like, giving me “framing” feedback when I have totally messed up a presentation, sharing with me their “delegation” framework when they see me totally under water at work or revealing to me how they personally deal with too many asks on their time when I am uncertain about saying “No”. I have also been lucky to have had designated, formal mentors and coaches, who have been super helpful.

Could you share a couple things you love and/or find challenging about your job (and/or industry), especially as you work quite far from headquarters and your markets are not necessarily local?

At Walmart Labs, for Walmart International, I lead a talented team of product managers working on eCommerce for Mexico, UK, Canada and Cross Border Trade.

My job is an amazing mix of challenges and opportunities. I love the huge scale and complexity of customer problems to solve, the relentless, fast nature of retail industry across the world and the people I work with. The challenges would be working on upping cultural-quotient when dealing across diverse countries and managing a huge set of stakeholders.

I think many would consider a common challenge as “working far from HQ/markets/customers” but personally I do not find it so. Building remote customer empathy, staying connected and aligned to headquarters and strategy, working with super-distributed teams – all these are an essential part of the new-age PM toolkit as more and more products go global.

Want to hear more from Lalitha? She will be speaking at PMF on “Products without Borders.” View our schedule for more information on the topics that will be presented at this year’s conference. You can also hear more from Lalitha in this podcast interview with Ravi Kumar of Yours Productly (and a PMF Ambassador) where they discussed skills vital to a PM’s success, difficult product challenges, her product philosophy, and much more.

 


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