Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Sneha Narahalli, Vice President, Head of Product at Sephora
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series, I interviewed Sneha Narahalli, Vice President, Head of Product at Sephora. To read the entire series on Women in Product Management make sure to sign up for our newsletter.
How did you get into Product Management?
I was a developer originally but soon realized that it didn’t excite me when I woke up every morning. It was too structured with no room for playing with ambiguity, which I love. I was exposed to Product Management when I was at Sears as part of a rotational program called Technology Leadership Program which gave me an opportunity to rotate among different job functions. Product Management was a better fit for me because I like problem-solving, creativity, and building simple solutions that inherently make life easier. I like thinking big and then narrowing it down. Apart from getting the opportunity, I had good mentors who made me realize why Product Management was important, why this role was going to help shape the strategy of the company, how this was personally going to help me, and how I could use it to add value.
Any lessons learned along the way?
The foremost thing I realized is that I need to understand myself before I understand customer problems—how I operate, what ticks me off, and what makes me most productive. I need to figure out myself along with how the organization is structured, then find value in combining the two. Secondly, I learned that Product Management is not an industry-wide defined role. What Product Management means varies based on industry, maturity level, and how the organization defines the role. At the end of the day, Product Management is problem-solving in the simplest, best way. Both frontend, customer-facing Product Management, and backend Product Management are equally important and complex. Any problem that we need to solve is equally glamorous and can be intellectually stimulating. The third thing I learned is how to figure out when to go deep versus broad. You can’t solve everything 100%. Is it better to solve two problems at 75% or one problem at 100%? Figuring out time management for which problems to solve and how is a big lesson to learn. Is it solving the problem? Yes. Is it solving it perfectly? Maybe not; but often you don’t need perfection.
What do you like the most about Product Management?
My parents are writers, and creativity is in my genes. I love open, blue-sky puzzles that need investigative skills to make progress. I like the challenge that the path is not set; you get to carve your own path. There is no right or wrong way, no yes, or no. You figure out how to make progress given your overarching goal. You can hit that goal in myriad ways, and every step we make is celebrated. Maybe we are taking path A and determine that it’s leading to a dead end. That’s ok, it’s still progress. We just need to figure out something else. How we unpack grey areas to make them more black and white is what excites me.
What do you find the most challenging?
People don’t understand the value of Product Management. It is not simply hearing what the business team wants and relaying that message to the engineering teams. If it were that simple, then I could go on vacation and tell the business teams to talk to the engineering teams directly — and I’d still get paid. I need to make sure people realize what Product Management is and how it adds value. We need to educate teams on how Product Management converts the business strategy to a product strategy, how we think about leverage and reuse, and how we think about the future of the product. It’s difficult to educate the whole industry outside of product management on what Product Management is, and not everyone is open to listening. Still, it’s clear we need to do a better job of explaining what we do.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring Product Managers for your team?
I’m looking for logical thinking and basic problem-solving. There are four key questions: What are you trying to solve? Why are you solving this? Why are you solving this now, not tomorrow or yesterday? How do you know it’s solved? If you can answer those questions without jargon but in realistic, honest language, then you can solve any problem. I look at potential more than credibility or whether you have prior experience in the space. Maybe you never had the opportunity — that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the opportunity. I’m looking for someone who is genuinely a nice person and respects others because Product Management is a cross-functional role. You need to influence without authority. You cannot afford to rub people the wrong way. You need to build strong authentic relationships. Overall, I need to know the strengths and weaknesses on my team to bring in champions who we can learn from. I don’t need someone to be great at everything; I need someone who compliments my team.
What advice would you give women going into Product Management?
You don’t have to have the title to do the job. Everyone solves problems. In your personal life, you are figuring things out and prioritizing tasks. How can you extend that skill to your professional life? Whatever space you’re in, you can partner with Product Managers and analysts, and learn what it’s about without technically being in the role. You can shadow somebody in your own organization to learn more. You can start at a lower level in another organization. The academic route of training or certification will give you the overall framework, which helps.
Any guiding motto?
I believe we are all constantly evolving, learning, and growing. If you ask me what my leadership style is, my answer is that it is never set. If it were set, it means I’m not giving myself an opportunity to change. I don’t get hung up on a certain style. I keep an open mind. Maybe I used to be good at something. That doesn’t mean I always will be. I have to recognize that, be aware of it, and address it as I am figuring out how to be a better version of myself.
View the full list of this blog interview series to learn the stories of more women product leaders.
Download the Trailblazing Women in Product Management E-Book
About the Author
Nicole Tieche is a Client Relations Specialist at 280 Group.
Nicole was born and raised in Michigan; she received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan in French and Creative Writing. After Nicole spent time studying and traveling through Europe, she moved out to California and discovered advertising was a great way to use her creative skills. Not as a writer, but as an Account Executive. Nicole is most creative in how she works with people: building relationships with clients and teammates, learning about them, and supporting them – even in ways they didn’t know they needed.