Beam CPO on Why Our Toughest Societal Problems Need Product Thinkers


Sanket Karuri

Sanket Karuri speaks on how Product Thinkers can lead the way by combining curiosity and a skills-based approach to roles that may or may not include the word “product”.

How can product thinkers lead the way to positive change? We are at a national turning point. Finally, many of our greatest challenges are being met with public policy that invests large dollars — climate, infrastructure, and the social safety net. All the while, product management has taken off as a discipline, and product managers have been driving private sector outcomes with greater and greater efficacy. Their exact skills are the ones needed on more public problems as we learn to turn policy into outcomes. Sanket Karuri speaks on how Product Thinkers can lead the way by combining curiosity and a skills-based approach to roles that may or may not include the word “product”.

On PMs as public administration leaders

“There are a lot of gaps in having enough quality public administration leaders. Those administering climate programs, safety net programs, and programs across the board. It might be a C-level role, it might be a director role, there are various ways that you might contextualize it, but they’re often doing a lot of product management around their initiatives. It’s a different way to look at applying that skill set. When there are collective needs on using information for the benefit of citizens, and making sure that digital infrastructure is built on behalf of cities and states, there’s a lot of opportunity there.

“There are folks administering climate programs. They are making sure that the city of Boston is going to be up to snuff against climate goals. All of those projects and investments are going to meet the needs of a climate in 2030 and 2035, etc. There are infrastructure, capital efforts that need high-quality administrators with that product management skillset. 8 or 10 times as many capital investment managers were needed to make sure their projects were on time and on budget. Now we’ve really reduced that by relying on consultants and those outside, so there’s less emphasis there. There’s a real opportunity for public administration leaders to benefit from product management. And for product managers to think of themselves as chief innovation officers, chief data officers, and directors of climate programs.”

On product leaders in public sector positions

“There’s a lot of public sector PM jobs that are really cool. There are technology organizations that are run in states and localities that need product makers. States like Maryland and New York have technology groups. Cities like Baltimore and Boston are hiring PMS and data scientists. Working on these types of problems that really meet the moment has been very fulfilling to me for my organization. I hope that more folks are able to take advantage of that moment. There’s something about that problem, empathy, analytical thinking, and strategy. I think PMS don’t just have to join efforts that already exist, but they’re able to create change. This might take some rescaling or learning along the way. There are so many gaps in actually executing these bills and our climate goals.

“Our infrastructure goals, their information asymmetries. There are connections that need to be made, folks that need to be trained and hired. All of this will take massive investments. Not just funding these types of efforts, but working with impact investors. I think that PMs are just as they’re great at leading initiatives within an organization. However, they’re great at forming and funding organizations as well.”

On product thinkers as city or county officials

“Product thinkers are incredible at execution, analytical thinking, cross-functional excellence, and things like compliance, they love the details. They really make initiatives and large organizations work. And they can be the operators of impact startups in the space. They can run CDOs, and it’s a very similar skill set, certainly with technology components. There’s this actual dichotomy of the strong mayor and the weak. Along the way, I’ve learned that there are cities that actually channel more power through their city councils. They actually have CEOs for the city or the county.

“There’s no better time to start thinking about how a product management skillset may directly or indirectly impact the greatest challenges that society faces in climate and infrastructure along the safety net.”

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