Category Archives: Management

Alicia Dixon @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Alicia Dixon

twitter at @Li_Li_D

Alicia Dixon is a Product Manager with a specialization in mobile software. Her expertise includes product development, product strategy, and market research. Throughout Miss Dixon’s career she has successfully produced enterprise and consumers products through positions held at leading companies including Hilton Worldwide, UPS, Dell, Blackboard, Fruit of the Loom, Nike & Toys R Us. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University along with an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY and an MS in Marketing from the University of Alabama. She is an active member of technology  community and sits on the planning committee for ProductCamp DC.

We thank Alicia for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series for product managers.

Product Mantra: What is the biggest challenge facing the discipline of Product Management?

Alicia Dixon: In the push for designers to learn to code, and developers to learn design, and everybody doing product, I feel that one of the biggest challenges for product management is staying relevant.  Lately there seems to be a trend that everybody feels that they can do product successfully.  My personal point of view is that this is because people assume that doing product is easy.  I attribute this to the fact that the core skills and talent needed to do product are so esoteric.

You learn product by doing it and you can’t really get it from a book or class.  And there’s no one-method-fits-all approach to building successful product.  Thus, there’s an assumption that since the skill set is so undefined that it’s an easy one to master.  Those of us doing the job know this couldn’t be further from the truth.  We know that creating product is an art form.  And like all good art, you know when it is good or bad, but you might not be able to define WHY it is good or bad.

Unfortunately, there is a growing trend to push product away from working with potential customers to formulate business strategy and into areas that should be handled by other disciplines.  In an effort to clearly define the product role, hard requirements for the job (such as being ScrumMasters, Design Thinking facilitators, and multivariate testing experts) have become commonplace.  These attempts to make the parameters of the role more concrete have actually had an adverse effect; making product roles irrelevant because there are already groups that do project management, design, and analytics.  As those groups claim the job functions that are rightfully theirs and there are no other defined components to the product role, I believe that the result is those disciplines start to question why product is needed.

Of course, product is needed!  Why, you ask?  My answer is to give direction as to what comes next.  Product is out canvassing the streets to uncover the customers’ problems and bring those back to the organization to say ‘here’s an unsolved problem that we have an opportunity to fix’. Understanding the challenges that target users are facing and why of those challenges have significance is the cornerstone of the product management function.  Achieving this requires listening and empathy — two soft skills that don’t translate well into a job description or RACI matrix.  All of this means that the onus is on Product Managers to prove their worth.  Doing that is really hard when we are off doing tasks that we shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

Product Mantra: How best can a product management professional leverage upon the growing virtual community of product professional for his/ her personal development. Would you share some insights on this with our readers?

Alicia Dixon: Social media and online networking have made it so that Product Managers now have a thriving virtual community.  Through my own experience I can say that everyone I have met virtually who works on product has been very welcoming and friendly.  While it is tempting to seek out a relationship with the most popularly recognized product folks, I encourage you to connect with people who work on similar products or within your local area.

My advice for anyone wanting to acclimate oneself with this community is to start by consuming the popular blogs and following thought leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter.  Then start commenting on any post or article that you find compelling.  Share these within your network as well.  As you get more comfortable, create your own posts based on your specific experiences. Finally, don’t stop with the virtual community.  Make connections that you take into the real world.  Meet other product people for coffee, take them for drinks, and attend local meetups or ProductCamps.

Getting involved in this way will not only expand and improve your product knowledge it might just lead to your next opportunity. For example, a good online friend of mine is now slotted to be the keynote speaker at an international conference based on a referral I made. I spoke at the event last year and recommended her to the organizers. I knew that they were recruiting speakers for this year and that she would be great at it, so I was happy to connect them. Most of the product people that I know are eager to help foster the community in this way.

Product Mantra: Which is your most memorable experience from a startup and what do we learn from it?

Alicia Dixon: A key learning that I took away from working in a startup environment was that what is appealing at any given moment can quickly change.  My startup experience was actually at an internal startup at a 90 year-old company.  When I first joined the business, the product that I was working on was deemed the next generation evolution for the company.  It was to be the new and significant revenue stream for the business.  All of the executives were very excited about the new growth opportunity and trade publications spoke highly of the upcoming industry change.  At that time, the product was the core focus. So it was heavily funded.

However, the industry had a hard time moving forward with the adoption of a disruptive technology.  The need to continuously make iterative product improvements was a new paradigm which was not embraced by the company nor clients.  The one-and-done mentality (i.e. build it once, then sell until sold out) was so ingrained in the business that they just couldn’t get past it.  Over time, funding was gradually pulled from the initiative.

So the takeaway from a product sense is that one must continuously scan the marketplace to be aware of the receptiveness to what you are creating.  When you notice it begin to wane, it is time to move on, either to another product within your current role, or to a new position entirely.

Thanks Alicia.

Alicia Dixon on Social Media

  1. Follow Alicia on twitter at @Li_Li_D
  2. Get connected with her on Linkedin @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/dixonalicia
  3. Read her blog http://just1morething.com/

@mathurabhay

Steven Haines @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Steven HainesSteven Haines has a passion for great products! This passion is evident in the three books he’s written. His energy serves as a catalyst for senior leaders so that they can adopt needed changes that improve organizational effectiveness and ultimately, contribute to the creation of the best products that deliver extraordinary value to customers, and undisputed competitive advantage.

We thank Steven for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series for product managers.

Product Mantra: How important is it for a product manager to have experience of project management?

Steven Haines: I have a good-news, bad-news response. The good news is that there’s recognition of a difference between the two. I can’t say how many times people confuse the two practices. The bad news is that, yes, product managers must know how to manage projects and the three main pillars: people, budgets, and schedules! To be precise, all business people should know how work gets done, by whom, and when. They must know who provides work product to others and who receives work product. Also, they must know how those hand-off’s impact the overall schedule of deliverables in order to produce a planned outcome. One of the most important projects that product managers are likely to find themselves in the heart of is a product launch. It’s an incredibly important process; it involves many people, and must result in an on-time launch. If people don’t do what’s required in the launch project plan, then the product will not achieve its objectives for sales, market share, or a positive customer experience.

Product Mantra: How often should a product manager conduct competitive analysis, what’s the frequency and any methods that you can share with us?

Steven Haines: Competitive profiling is a vital practice that should be carried out on an ongoing basis – not as a periodic exercise. For example, I get “alerts” every day on various companies to find out what they’re up to and I store them in my mind, or share information with my team members. I also motivate my cross-functional team members to be alert to goings-on in the market. If a sales person visits a customer and learns about a competitor proposal, that sales person should provide input to the product manager. Another method is for the development or engineering team to be able to reverse engineer competitor products if at all possible. This can provide valuable information on costs, composition, and the user experience. In many firms, a market intelligence department carries out research that can reveal useful insights. All these inputs should be stored on a shared repository so that, across the organization, people can be alerted to any competitive activities. These can be channeled into the strategic planning process, or in other dimensions of the product’s business.

Product Mantra: Tell us more about the philosophy of product manager as business manager?

Steven Haines: It’s not so much a philosophy, but the standard. A product is a business inside a business and a business must be managed. Every business starts with a vision, goals, and a strategy. That strategy is based on various inputs: market insights, business, and financial information. Strategic goals set the stage for what’s to be done – to create a new product, update an existing product, or even expand to another market. Once everyone in the organization is aligned, the product manager, like any good CEO or general manager ensures that everyone does their part to build, test, validate, and launch the product. Finally, performance metrics are monitored to steer the product’s business, keep things running, and to re-strategize as needed.

Thanks Steven.

Steven Haines on web:

  1. Steven Haines blog: http://sequentlearning.com/experts/author/sjhaines
  2. Twitter: @Steven_Haines
  3. Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stevenjhaines

@mathurabhay