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Interviews / Product Managers

Balancing the Grind With Mandar Karlekar, Product Management Consultant at Thiga

Mandar Karlekar is a Product Management Consultant at Thiga, an international consulting firm dedicated to product design and product management.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

Like most Product Managers I fell into Product Management without really knowing how. But as I look back at my career it seems obvious why I’ve ended up here.

Product Management requires wearing multiple hats, it’s an incredibly difficult role to master but this is exactly what adds to its appeal.

My career path has taken me from Service Desk to Development to Business Analysis and then through various roles in Product finally ending up with Product Management and I’m currently a Product Management Consultant at Thiga.

I’ve also tried to change industries with every career move. Deliberately putting myself out of the comfort zone in order to strengthen and prove to myself that I can work in any environment as long as I understand the pillars of my profession.

Since joining Thiga Australia – I’ve worked with incredible clients such as Amaysim, HCF, Secure Code Warrior and Zip Co. I’ve also had the opportunity to extend and launch the Thiga Academy Australia. We’ve trained and certified hundreds of Product professionals with our extensive and up to date Certified Product Manager training. You can view our upcoming training sessions here.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

There is no typical workday, and this is the truth. It depends on the client, the current assignment and the length of engagement. It also depends on the work we’re there to do. Product Management sits at the intersection of Product, Design and Tech.

Practically this could mean we’re called upon to work on a number of things such as Research and Design, Roadmaps, Prioritisation Frameworks, CX Journey Mapping, Agile Coaching, Vision and Strategy, Agility and Delivery, Market Strategy, Measures and Metrics Frameworks, CRO, I could go on for a while here.

Basically, there’s a lot we can do, but what we do really depends on what will bring the most value. We go through an initial assessment, this could be an informal chat or a comprehensive review. We find where and how we can help and our experienced Full-stack Product Managers deliver value from day one.

We don’t just do our core activities, of which there are many. But, we impart knowledge and learnings, empower teams, mentor and coach Product excellence, we guide with best practices, review existing processes and provide constructive feedback. Most importantly we listen to our customers, with intent.

Thiga is a world leader in Product Management and offers the discipline as a service. A consultancy built by two incredibly talented, hard working individuals that I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Their attitudes, their values and their desire to lead by example is inspiring. Through Thiga, Hugo and Alexandre have matured the Product community and provided a much needed service.

Even though my day is often demanding, the most important things in my life are my constants, my anchors. A call from my wife, seeing my daughter, relaxing on the couch, a hot shower, my purring cats. These are the moments that ground me and the moments that keep me going.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Absolutely it does, we’re trusted, empowered and independent. Each of our consultants are unique, highly skilled and passionate about doing what they do. As a consultancy we immerse ourselves within client teams but often go back to headquarters to discuss and validate with the collective product group.

How much time each person spends client-side and remote really depends on what they are tasked to do. But it’s a decision we empower our consultants to make based on their working relationship and agreement with the client.

The best part is that Thiga is international, we now operate from a number of major cities across the world including Madrid, Paris, Sydney and more to come! Consultants are often encouraged and provided with the opportunities to work in other cities. We truly believe in people first and ensure that through our culture we enable our consultants to enjoy doing what they do.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

Prioritisation is the key to managing for me. Often a lack of resources (time, people etc..) is blamed on poor prioritisation. Through a process of understanding and evaluating what I have to do to achieve my goals, I know and note exactly what I need to do first over everything else.

I know it’s a cliche, but working smart is always better than working hard. It’s sustainable, effective and the knowledge is easily transferable and adaptable. Always look for better ways to do things, efficiency and accuracy will allow you room for greater productivity.

I wouldn’t be a Product Manager if I didn’t enjoy Product Management. So obviously some of it spills over from work, into life. I’ve learnt to write things down and I learnt that from my wife. Whether it’s for work or not, I use a framework that allows me to do what matters first (value/effort), whilst staying on top of my workload.

At home I have a kanban fridge, everyone should turn their fridge into one. It works wonders!

5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

There’s only one override to all the workload and scheduling, where priority and order are perfectly okay to be ignored and that’s family. Always make time for family no matter what, literally everything else can be adjusted and/or replaced.

I’m not going to say that I don’t bring work home. I wouldn’t actually love to say that, because that’s not me. I never do what I don’t enjoy, and I always do more of what I do enjoy. Doing a couple of extra hours is my choice and it’s never expected and it’s never at the expense of family time.

This is key to a work life balance. I prioritise life in 3 themes: Live, work and play (in that order). Meaning family first, then Thiga, then my fun outlets which are my Xbox and photography.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Two things come to mind here: One is that I have to try everything myself and two would be that I measure everything.

I read 3-4 product articles a day, listen to podcasts, read books and consume product knowledge as much as possible. But the more I consume, the more eager I am to try it out. I use my website, social networks and work to practice anything that I learn, and once I’ve practiced it, I teach others.

I adapt the growth hacking mindset with everything I do, and everything I do I try to do better.

It’s commonly said that the path to mastering anything is through repetition. But, how can you master something you can’t measure? I will do everything with a purpose and I look to better myself always.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Growing up I used to read a lot. I was always found behind a book or a computer and rarely anywhere else. Somewhere along the road, I lost the love for reading and have only just recently rekindled my passion for it. Here’s some of the books I’ve read recently and in the past that I’d definitely recommend.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Coffee. It’s the single greatest contributor to getting the most out of my day. I would love to say sleep, but I just don’t give myself enough of it. Out of all seriousness though I go to my prioritised to-do list and aim for the top item. The rest is a bonus.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

There’s two sides to every coin and I’m a big advocate of certain mantras to live by. Two things I say all the time: “Work hard and be nice to people” and “You didn’t come this far, to only come this far”. These motivate me, remind me to work hard and strive for better. My favourite number is 108 (look it up) for it keeps me conscious of life, death and everything (infinity).

On the flip side. I’m aware of my limits and I’m okay with them. Just because I’m looking for a better pair of shoes doesn’t mean the ones I’m wearing are uncomfortable.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is simply “You do you.” Be comfortable in your own skin, it’s okay to hustle, it’s okay to not. Just be mindful.

If you found the above conversation helpful and inspiring, be sure to check out Balance the Grind’s guide to achieving a healthy work-life balance.

About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.