Understanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi as..PM (Product Manager)

There is one slide in my product management course which every participant smiles at:


Great product managers are never ignored – they are often at the center of all conversations, driving decisions and taking things forward. On the other hand, average products managers are often seen as ‘mere PRD (requirement document) writers‘ – and are easily ignored by engineering / marketing teams.

It is the same phenomena with Mr. Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister.

Mitron: You can hate him or love him, but you cannot ignore Narendra Modi. After all, no other political figure has been meme-ified so many times, and nobody else has done rock shows like him either.

PM Modi in US
PM Modi in US

As somebody who is curious about why some things work and why some things don’t, here is my understanding of Mr. Modi as a PM – not as a Prime Minister, but a Product Manager.

[Updated March 19th]

It’s a lot about mobilizing people and putting your reputation at stake.

PM Modi just announced #JuntaCurfew, i.e. urging people to stay at home and stop spreading of #CoronaVirus in the country (Sunday, March 22nd / 7 AM – 9PM – stay at home).

There are 2 important things at play here:

Modiji knows how to mobilize people. And junta in general, will listen to him with the same intensity as they would to SRK or Big B.

Why would people even listen to him? That’s because he has maintained a very consistent communication channel (for e.g. mann ki baat) and talks in a relatable tone.

Doesn’t matter whether you hate him or like him, you definitely looked forward to listening to what he had to say today.

He is willing to put his reputation at stake. Think about it – what if nobody heeds into his advice/request for #JuntaCurfew?

What if they say: Sorry boss. To hell with you. We have a life to live. We don’t care.

As a business/product / team leader, we all have/will face this situation. That is, whether you should put your reputation at stake vs. play it safe.

Like any other PM (Prime minister), he could have just ran newspaper/radio ads asking people to stay at home – but by leading from the front, he is also mobilizing the ground-team and in the process, creating more champions of the cause.

Which increases the probability of success.

And mind you, BJP lost a few key elections – so his opposition might get a bit more ammunition to take him on if #juntacurfew initiative fails.

This is a dilemma many product leaders face. Stay safe vs. risk-it-all. Most, unfortunately go for safer bets – but great leaders stand for a cause. And go all-in.

It’s all about the audience

Great product managers know the color of audience’s hair, their choices, their deep fear ! They understand their audience very very well, they have a strong grip on the pulse of their audience.

PM Modi understood his audience like no one else. Which explains BJP’s massive win in the last election and his ability to create narratives. He has different styles and stories for different audience – in short, he is ‘relatable’.

D for Discipline and D for Distribution

Great products don’t necessarily win (really!). But the product with max distribution definitely stands a better chance.

PM Modi’s ability to wear multiple hats is immensely inspiring – his speech (MITRON!) is a great hit among the audience. But then, he focuses on distribution a LOT.

Right from NAMO app to weekly mann ki baat (fyi: All India Radio generated Rs 10 crores ($1.5mn) in revenue just because of Mann ki baat programme), newsletter, social media handles – they are all a function of Modi & team’s focus on distribution.

He is where the audience is.

And that’s quite a focused way of engagemement

A lot in life is about predictability. Tell me 1 podcast you know of whose broadcast timing is fixed.

Mann ki baat: every Sunday, 11:00 AM.

PM Modi’s Mann ki baat is a game of pure discipline and dedication.

I don’t know of many professionals who would match up to him when it comes to discipline and the sheer energy.

Short. Marketable Content

Great product managers carry sticky notes (or notion notes, these days). They have to keep iterating the product benefits, keep marketing / evangelizing the product internally as well as externally – and most do by creating short/marketable content (MBAs love abbreviations anyways).

PM Modi & his team have done a phenomenal job creating short and easy-to-understand bite-sized marketable content for the audience. This helps in spreading the message, without any major confusion or loss of context in most cases.

Khelo India
Khelo India

Right from Swachh Bharat, Khelo India to Beti Bachao, Beta Padhao and many other initiatives (including BJP’s Chowkidar campaign during elections) – the biggest common element is relatability.

The fact that all these marketing taglines are done in a lingo which the common Indian can understand and propagate – and the result shows up in how such lingos are often used by the common man (how many times have you used ‘chalo chai pe charcha karte hain’).

I do agree that some of these schemes could be repackaged from the earlier governments – but they have been renamed to create a more marketable product – which highlights clarity of thinking and the power of articulation (for the scope of discussion, I am not going into how effective these schemes are).

Influence the Influencer

Who was the brand ambassador of Beti bachao, Beti padhao campaign when it launched? Sakshi Malik (Olympics 2016 Bronze medalist). She had a strong appeal among aspiring Olympians, the youth.

Similarly, Mr Modi has roped in all the Bollywood biggies for his campaigns and has maximized on celebrity’s reach.

Narendra Modi with Bollywood Fellas (PTI IndianExpress)
Narendra Modi with Bollywood Fellas (PTI IndianExpress)

The biggest thing a PM (Product manager, in this case) needs to do in any large organization is to align the influencers to the common cause. This is half the battle won!

Mr Modi has this figured out quite well. Damn well, actually!

Right from Bollywood celebrities taking selfies with the PM Modi to Virat Kohli / Anushka Sharma meeting him after their wedding to several big names endorsing his campaigns, Mr Modi has it all sorted out.

You can say – hey! These are all paid campaigns by the party / these celebrities get special favor etc etc. The truth is that whatever is the case, the common man who *worships* these celebrities is being influenced. And that’s half the battle won.

This is influencer marketing at scale and if you are a PM (product manager), you gotta learn how to do all of this (with a limited budget).

Some of the smartest product managers I know build relationships with the power-centers in the company and align them to the cause before they start the show.

This is part of the game and the earlier you get it, the better it is.

Stakeholder Management is…chaotic

A product manager’s biggest nightmare is when his team (rather colleagues as she/he never manages a team) has a totally different communication stance and this just adds to the confusion.

In case of Modiji, clearly Amit Shah is that engineering manager who has a very different view of the product. Take NRC – Both Modiji and Shahji have made contradicting statements which has left the audience super confused.

These confusions eventually show up and hurt the core product (maybe this explains Jharkhand defeat).

There have been many such instances where his ministers have made conflicting statements, did the opposite of what Mr. Modi said – leading to a lot more chaos and confusion.

Ditto for product managers who have a certain ‘view’ of the product, while marketing take a totally different stance – and engineering? they create the third frontier!

Relate to this?

Stakeholder management is an ongoing process for any PM (= Product Manager and Prime Minister) and one can improve only if one acknowledges that there is a problem.

That legacy product mindset…

*This is how it is done*.

*This is how it is*

Every PM (product manager in this case) who has worked for multiple companies/industries ends up building biases based on one’s experience, organizational style, historical data etc. Biases typically are about the market / users / behavior etc. and are mostly harmful for a new-age product.

PM (prime minister in this case) Modiji is no different – he has shown a bit (?) of bias on religion et al and is still being influenced by a certain organizations that he was part of.

It is very difficult to come out of this and needs a complete reboot.

Carrying Technical Debt

Technical debt (also known as tech debt or code debt) describes what results when development teams take actions to expedite the delivery of a piece of functionality or a project which later needs to be refactored. In other words, it’s the result of prioritizing speedy delivery over perfect code (via).

They say, every shortcut engineering decision has a long-term consequence. Ask any Engineering or product manager and they will not even agree to this, but will also hug you tightly (as you look like the person who feels their pain).

Think of what happened with Demonetization / GST etc. – these could be long-term decisions, but they were executed in a jiffy resulting in chaos. Some of these were decisions which had great intent (GST for sure is), but the lack of deep thinking, stakeholder agreement has impacted the common man badly.

PM: I want ‘shiny new object’

Some product managers / teams I know love to move from one product to another. They are always in a launch mode and never in growth mode.

The moment a feature launch is done, they move to another one and the loop goes on and on..

There is a lot of fascination for that shiny new object. All the time !

Have observed a similar pattern with the government. In the last few years, India has seen new *launches* (that is, issues) ranging from Demonetization to GST to Kashmir to Babri Masjid to NRC/CAA et al.

But the core, i.e. economy is still not being addressed!

Without going into the merits/demerits of this, I believe it is time to execute on few important areas for a longer amount of time, bring them to a logical conclusion and then start another feature planning.

Last, but not the least – a great PM (product manager) has to have great vision – which is sometimes laughable and seem impossible by peers.

A great product leader brings innovators together and inspires them to work towards a common cause.

PM Narendra Modi happens to be one such product manager with great tech vision. His biggest contribution, in my opinion is bringing together some of the best fintech mind to launch UPI.

UPI couldn’t have happened without his vision – and mind you, UPI is the single biggest product from India which speaks of scale, product thinking and has even inspired Google to recommend a similar system to US govt.

Modi, The Product Manager [Conclusion]

To conclude, every product manager struggles with understanding users and like it or not, users / audience often is way ahead in the journey and the product team has to strive hard to match their needs, keep a tab on the market pulse.

We hope Mr Modi and his team is equally enthusiastic about the audience and solving for their needs in the long-run!

Here is wishing all the product leaders, a great 2020 !


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