Being the Voice of the Customer

Two current Master of Engineering Management (MEM) students look back on their product management internships and the lessons they learned from the experience.

As a product management intern at Dell Technologies, Azharuddin Mohammed spent his summer assessing the current Dell Commercial notebook line of business and performing competitive research to come up with recommendations to improve the current Dell portfolio against its competitors.

In that role, the current Master of Engineering Management (MEM) student saw the power and impact of product management.

"The best part of this role is being able to build and deliver products that change the lives of the customers in a positive manner," Mohammed said. "Being able to be the voice of the customer makes the product management role more exciting."

Neha Golani had a similar experience in her product internship at Aruba-Global Services Organization, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). In her role, Golani was able to set product roadmaps, gather customer requirements, determine key metrics and work with cross-functional teams to help move the company forward.  

"Being able to evangelize an idea until it goes out in the market is gratifying," Golani said. "Building and owning the processes from end-to-end and seeing millions of people using what you built is exceptionally rewarding."

Golani and Mohammed recently spent time reflecting on their internships, what they discovered about product management and how the opportunity enhanced their overall MEM experience.

What were you hoping to learn from your internship experience, and in what ways were you able to get the experience you hoped for?

NEHA GOLANI: In one of the projects I worked on, I helped design a business plan for a small and medium business in the wireless space, which was a completely untapped market for HPE. I was able to do that by understanding the customer’s pain points, leading the initiatives, and ultimately making the product-related decisions. I was able to experience the cross-functional teamwork that I hoped for while coordinating with sales and marketing to improve lead generation, as well as with the engineering team to improve the technical solution. I also was able to own a piece of the support services and direct/supervise the alignment of multiple marketing strategies and internal/external organizations to drive awareness, consideration, purchase intent and purchase for company offerings.

AZHARUDDIN MOHAMMED: I wanted to get the experience in the B2B industry, along with valuable product management experience. The experience was exceptional. It was overwhelming at first, but then everything mapped out perfectly. 

What were some of the most important lessons you learned from your internship?

NEHA GOLANI: I learned how to prioritize features for implementation based on customer demand and company goals, as well as how important the alignment of multiple marketing strategies is with internal/external organizations and the purchase intent of customers. Actively listening to customers and building their feedback into the product was also very important.

AZHARUDDIN MOHAMMED: Three of the most important lessons were understanding the customer focus, studying the competitive landscape, and developing strong team communication skills.

What is it about product management that you enjoy?

NEHA GOLANI: Being able to evangelize an idea until it goes out in the market is gratifying. Building and owning the processes from end-to-end and seeing millions of people using what you built is exceptionally rewarding. I also like orchestrating high-impact projects while coordinating with several experts on the team.

AZHARUDDIN MOHAMMED: The best part of this role is being able to build and deliver products that change the lives of the customers in a positive manner. Being able to be the voice of the customer makes the product management role more exciting.

How did this internship help you better understand product management or better prepare you for a career in product management?

NEHA GOLANI: It prepared me to take constructive criticism well, taught me the importance of knowing the product and the industry inside-out, and it showed me the value of the company's relationship with the customer.

AZHARUDDIN MOHAMMED: This was truly a phenomenal experience and I hope to build on it in order to grow further in a product management role.

What's one thing about product management that would surprise someone who has no knowledge about the industry?

NEHA GOLANI: One of the most common myths about the role is that product managers are the CEOs of the product. In reality, PMs equal CEOs without the decision-making authority and business-level objective ownership.

AZHARUDDIN MOHAMMED: I think people might be surprised that this role can be able to drive the whole product team together towards a common goal.

How important do you think this type of internship is to your overall MEM experience?

NEHA GOLANI: It sets the tone for a great professional experience. The leadership and structured thinking that the role entails has a lasting impact. If new business challenges excite you and you're fascinated by human behavior and product design, Northwestern's MEM program is the right place for you.

AZHARUDDIN MOHAMMED: This is by far the best part of the MEM program. It allows you to have such an invaluable internship experience, and having the MEM490: Product Management course in the curriculum adds to the beauty of the whole MEM program.