Category Archives: Product roadmap

Product Managers are neither Astrologers nor Gamblers

Product Managers early into their career might get a bit frustrated when their product 300946273_d0b6f28186_mfeatures do not sometimes make an impact in the market with the users. Usually, they get questioned on why an investment was made in a feature which has made little or no impact. Does it mean good Product Managers have to be good astrologers? Not at all. If only Product Managers knew what the future is – so perfectly – they could have chosen a profession which is a lot more lucrative – professing the future for world leaders and business conglomerates – who struggle to make the right decisions. Product Managers work on features or products – small and big – some make big impact in the market – some don’t. Does it mean Product Managers are gamblers and work on something at random. Not at all.

Product Managers should have their ears on the ground. They should know the pulse of their users. Essentially a product walks with the foot of the Product Manager. Based on hours of interaction with users, analysis of vast data and knowledge of the market – a Product Manager comes up with what would be the next thing that would solve a (burning) 6155148915_7199307653_zuser/customer problem or improve user engagement. It might appear to others as mere intuition – but it is not; Product Management is not Astrology. However, such carefully acquired intuitions can go wrong and make a Product Manager appear more as a Gambler. Again – where the Product Manager’s skill comes into effect is to define what one will measure when the new feature is rolled out and what would be the minimal viable product to extract maximum learning. Essentially – “fail fast” – determine that something is not working and warrants no further investment or needs a pivot based on the learning. There is no gambling involved here.

A corollary of this argument would be when products/features are successful; the same Product Managers are termed visionaries.

Photo credits: Gil and William Cho

Product Management by Committee

One of the key issues that plagues a delivery team is having no Product Manager to guide the team. However, something that is more troublesome is having multiple Product Managers for a single product. This is what is sometimes referred to as “Product Management by Committee”. I am reminded of a scenario where a boat in a race had 5 people managing it and 4 people actually rowing.

Did you say “Oh, Come on..!! it can’t be that bad” ?

I personally feel that if you want to set a team up for failure, this is one of the things that you could definitely do.

Let us take a closer look at what the problems could be, with having multiple product managers.

Same goal, different priorities: Each PM tries to push his Agenda. Many times, each PM might have the same overall goal, but different priorities. They don’t want to contradict / confront each other. Often, they end up talking to some key resources in the team and pushing their items / enhancements without letting the other PMs know.

Collective knowledge or Collective confusion? There is a possibility that each PM has a different understanding to a scenario in the Product domain. For example, 2 PMs might have varying understanding of how an Insurance claim is to be handled when a car being driven by a person less than 25 years of age gets into an accident at a roundabout with a car driven by a drunk person. In such a scenario, the team would be chasing a moving target if they have to listen to both PMs.

Personality clash: PMs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more technically oriented than others, some more forceful, some more knowledgeable and some more articulative. When you have a mix of such people providing directions, the team would be torn apart and staring straight at failure.

remix-monkeys-dance-clan-by-same-cc-by-sa-3-0

When Ted, my colleague took up the role of the Scrum Master for one such Agile team, this was one of the things that he identified as a failure factor. He set up a meeting with all 4 Product Managers and told them that henceforth the team would be happy to take inputs from all of them, however, all decisions and directions only from one of them. The PM committee now had to decide who that would be. They nominated Dave ( one of the key stakeholders within the PM committee) to be that person for the duration of the current release. This meant that

  • Dave would set priorities for the team and define the Acceptance criteria for each story.
  • Dave would resolve any conflict of ideas within the PM committee and provide direction to the Delivery team.
  • The Delivery team is not faced with various personalities with different agendas providing conflicting requirements. The team and PM have an opportunity to understand each other well and compliment each other for a successful delivery.

The team is now slowly increasing their iteration velocity, meeting most iteration commitments, gaining the trust of senior management and is able to enjoy their work. I believe this change has been the major factor in causing this turnaround.

Let us know what you think…

@SampathPrahalad

(Pic: Thanks to Remix Monkeys (A new creative look and Style on Urban Dance))