Rasmus Skjoldan @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Rasmus_webRasmus Skjoldan is the lead product manager of Magnolia, the CMS behind sites for the likes of Virgin America, Airbus, Al Arabiya and Atlassian. Before joining Magnolia, he was
the user experience lead of the open source content application framework,
Neos—a challenge that originated from his many years in the TYPO3 community. Besides his CMS work, he co-founded Cope, the first purely content strategy focused consultancy in Denmark.

We thank Rasmus for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions for Product Manager ‘ series.

Product Mantra: Reading you, it seems that user experience is always at the core of your thought process. From your experience, what are the critical aspects that a product manager must consider while defining user experience for a mobile application?

Rasmus Skjoldan: The best advice I can give is to largely disregard the device type and first return to the core of what user experience planning can give. The type of glass doesn’t matter much before you start thinking about the interaction design.

Before you get to that point of exploring possible user experiences within the application, I generally lean strongly on the practice of master planning from architecture. It tells you to strive for inclusiveness of unforeseen human behaviour. What that means is that I strive to enable as many use cases as possible rather than being obsessed with getting just one nailed—which is otherwise the typical idea when building mobile applications.

I’m skeptical when it comes to a narrow focus on key user goals as I prefer to think of mobile as just one piece in a larger holistic picture. Think about how many mobile applications there are out there—that have absolutely killer user experiences but completely fail in just being a valuable product. Focussing too strongly on key user goals can be a trap that limits the use of your application so much that it essentially excludes the user’s creativity. Urban planning teaches you to build an environment that leaves room for imagination.

As a product manager of a mobile application, you need to position yourself in the middle of the application’s larger purpose and it’s UX. Again, that’s where architectural master planning ideas come in handy because they force you to formulate the larger picture than the user’s journey within the app, what buttons to force-touch or the desired performance stats. Without that larger scope being set right, you can waste endless time coming up with wonderful user experience patterns that no one really cares about.

Product Mantra: We often get to hear from early startups that they struggle to make people use their product. Could you please share any insights which will help such early stage startups get people hooked to their product?

Rasmus Skjoldan: Most of the time, the problem lies not in the onboarding—but rather with the core product/market fit. I see so many products that are fundamentally screwed on such a grand level that not even the best marketing, community management or onboarding exercises will help.

Design thinking teaches us to quickly build a prototype and then go out into the world and place that prototype in front of the target audience, watch their reactions and change your prototype fast. Focus on such validation of your idea early on. If the idea is good enough, you will have an easier time getting past the noise.

I’m also a firm believer in reaching out to established experts in the early stages of product innovation. I have even paid experts to have coffee with me—just to ask them to try to kill my idea. It wasn’t about pitching my idea to them—but about tapping into their experience and their ability to see through all of my love for my own idea. It’s such a waste when startups spend life and money on creating a product that just plainly has no real product/market fit.

Product Mantra: What traits should one look for in a candidate while hiring for Product Manager Position for a CMS solution?

Rasmus Skjoldan: The CMS market is very mature. That automatically calls for disruption—which we’re seeing plenty of attempts at these years. If I were to set up product management for a new CMS, I would insist on having two product managers; one with domain experience and one being all about disruption and with zero domain experience.

Market maturity calls for the product manager with strong domain experience—because you will gain from their experience of having fallen down all those many pits, having painfully explored the dead-ends—and crawled up again to find the effective approaches that most CMS’s ultimately arrive at. A trait of such a person is the ability to bridge business with engineering. That product manager knows the dilemmas and challenges of content publishing inside-out, understand the technical complexity well and knows how to map business needs to what is technically viable.

At the same time, the potential for disruption in the very developed and optimized market of content management calls for another type of product manager; one that is blissfully ignorant of the content management learnings that only time and hard thinking brings. Such a product manager must be intelligent and ignorant at the same time. She should have no domain experience in the CMS field—but come with traits such as massive curiosity, a heartfelt desire to change the world of digital publishing and a knack for looking into other industries to uncover methods and ideas that are transportable to the content management scene.

If I were insane enough to start building a completely new CMS today, I would choose one of each product manager type and hope to gain from the dialogue they would enter when trying to discover a product/market fit in a saturated market.

Thanks Rasmus, it was great reading your thoughts. I am sure the community of product champions will like it as well.

Rasmus on web:

  1. Linkedin: https://dk.linkedin.com/in/rasmusskjoldan
  2. Twitter: https://twitter.com/rasmusskjoldan
  3. Blog: http://rasmusskjoldan.com/


How can Product Managers extract value from Data Scientists


Product Managers are supposed to be metrics driven and are used to extracting and analysing data to understand how the product has been performing – for the customers/users and for the business. This is usually done as an operational exercise on a day to day basis or sometimes to figure out the cause of something unusual happening on the product. This is a typical usage of dash-boarding and business intelligence; perfectly fine if you do not (or cannot) collect data beyond a few key metrics.

Today, most enterprise and consumer products collect and store  enormous amount of data on the usage of the products. The usefulness of this data goes much beyond dashboards and business intelligence visualisations. Product Managers – who are serious about their products should take the help of Data Scientists – specialists who know to combine statistics, data mining, analytics to extract knowledge out of data. Usually some Product Managers find it difficult to find out when and how to collaborate with a Data Scientist. My experience with a few products which collect “huge” amount of data has been that Data Scientist can help in two situations:

a) When you know what you want out of your data  and b) When you want to explore about what to do with your data

When you know what you want out of your data: This is a part of product development or operations. Products need slicing and dicing of data to understand user behaviour. Without a Data Scientist one would end-up looking at the major metrics and struggle to understand several underlying behaviours. You need a data scientist to figure out reasons for the symptoms and institutionalise a framework such that it is visualised and understood. There are also cases where products need to separate the wheat from the chaff and the accuracy of achieving that measures the success of the product;Data Scientists help you in working with the development team to ensure that it is done at scale with minimum errors. In hypothesis based experiments, the expert helps you to make sure that you reject or accept the hypothesis with data that is statistically significant.

An example of this type of project would be when you want to extract FAQs from mailing lists – where you need to device a model to efficiently generate the FAQs from a pile of user generated content.

When you want to explore about what to do with your data: Customer or user interviews usually bring back a truck load of anecdotes, ideas, issues and requests. Similarly market and competition throws at you plenty of data points. They say, anecdotes are plural of data, but such things are easier to say. A Data Scientist can help you find the hidden meaning in the data which can help you create a product roadmap. This is more of an exploratory exercise where you need to work more closely with the Data Scientist than in the previous case.

An example of this type of project would be when anecdotal evidence suggests that high bounce rate of users for your web application is due to bad first time user experience; before you embark on improving the experience, data might be able to tell you if such a pattern really exists in at least some form.

Finally, do not forget that Product Manager is the custodian of the product. Data Scientists are specialists who can help you achieving the product goals just like how a Software Engineer or an Architect would.

Picture courtesy: Bragg

Product Manager: you are what you measure

Product Managers don various avatars; that is the nature of the work. However, the product metrics that you measure defines what you really do.



What you measure

Product Manager type

  •  Rate at which features are churned out or feature backlog is consumed/burnt
  • Complexity of the features added to the product
  • This role is essentially that of a Program Manager and a Project Manager as you are getting things done and helping ship products/features
  • Number of new users of the product (for consumer products) and number of businesses signed-up for trial or some sort of an initial engagement (for enterprise products)
  • Effectiveness of the new-users of the product – cost incurred to attract a new user/business
  • A Product Marketing role – where you promote your product to the right target segment and get the best prospective customers/consumers to use the product
  • User engagement (say bounce rate, time spent, click-throughs etc) for consumer products and value addition for businesses (cost saved, increased productivity) for enterprise products
  • Experiments run with clear hypothesis and product discoveries made
  • The heart of this role is that of a Product Manager – who is responsible for engaging the users of the product in every manner possible and extracting the maximum value. Also, one who runs selected experiments to discover ‘what next?’

In small organizations (mostly startups) – all these roles are packed into one and in large organizations – these roles are watertight compartments. A Product Manager who dons multiple hats should make sure that he/she does not spend disproportionate time on only one activity lest you run the risk of not really being a Product Manager in practice.

Essentially, you are what you measure.

Photo Credit

3 Questions to Product Manager Tyler Strand


DSCN0265We start the interview series of Product Mantra in 2016 with a young technologist and product leader Tyler Strand, who is very clear in his thoughts about various aspects of product management. Product Mantra asked Tyler three questions.

Product Mantra: Do you see the role of a Product Manager undergoing an evolutionary change, say in the next 5 years?

Strand: We’re at the beginning of a transition towards corporations viewing technology as a first class citizen and an ongoing investment. I see a lot of (older, bigger, less-technical) companies hiring what I’d call project managers and asking them to liaise between, say, an offshore development firm and a design consultant to get an app built. As digital products become more central to traditional businesses, I think we’ll see the requirements for a PM role shift more towards what you’d read in a Facebook or Google PM job description. More technical, more opinionated, more holistic. The position will become more widely about defining and executing on a product strategy and less about coordinating between parties and keeping a project on schedule, which is how it’s often seen today.

Product Mantra: Is there merit in saying Product Managers should be master of at least one skill – say data analytics or UX or software development or something else?

Strand: One of the things I like about having PMs be masters of at least one skill is that it makes them flexible. When a PM’s daily todo list is slow, they can jump into a specific project and help move things forward that way. I also think seeing a PM in the weeds is huge for building credibility with the team. When a PM is only “managing”, they are at risk of being criticized for doing nothing. That said, there are plenty of products and teams, particularly larger ones, that necessitate full time product management from at least one person. So there’s definitely a time and a place for a PM who doesn’t have mastery over a more “concrete” skill.

Product Mantra:  At what stage should a startup hire a Product Manager and why?

Strand: In early stage startups, a founder will usually play the role of a PM while getting the product off the ground. The founders are the ones guiding the product, staffing the team, and ultimately deciding what gets built and what doesn’t. As the company grows, founders have to think about more than just the product itself. Recruiting, business development, marketing, sales, new product development, fundraising, and legal become more time consuming, making the need for a dedicated PM critical. Exactly when this happens will depend on what the company does and the skill set of its founders. In general, I’d say once the team is about 20 people is when a company should start thinking about making a formal PM hire.

Thanks a lot for your time Tyler.

Tyler is a Computer Science graduate from Stanford University and co-founded hostess.fm, while he was still a student. In his present avatar he is a technologist and product manager. His post on Medium “What Do You Do, Exactly?”  is a great read for anyone who wants to know what product managers do or for even product managers who are finding it a challenge to articulate what they really do. Follow Tyler’s tweets here.

What do people search about “Product Management”?

Curiosity to find what people search for about product management, led me to dig a bit into what people searched online in the last one year. I split the the search queries into these categories:

  • Job Search like “product management interview questions”
  • Software tools like “product lifecycle management tools”
  • Skill upgrade like “product management certification”
  • Informational like “what does a product manager do?”

Share of different categories of search queries



Cost of search engine advertising for different categories

Not surprisingly enough, the average cost for search advertising is the highest for software tools, but a bit surprising was that the least was for jobs. The normalised data is shown below:

image (1).png

Top queries that saw the maximum increase in the last year

Queries Increase over previous year
digital product management +50%
agile product management +40%
product management internship +40%
Product manager salary +40%

Top four queries in different categories

Top search queries in Informational category
product lifecycle management
what is product management
product portfolio management
associate product manager
Top search queries in Job Search category
product manager salary
product manager jobs
product manager interview questions
product manager resume
Top search queries in Skill Upgrade category
product management certification
product management training
product management courses
product management books
Top search queries in Software Tools category
product lifecycle management software
product data management software
free product management software
product portfolio management software

Looking at the data above as a whole, I have a few observations:

  • Product Management seems to be getting matured. I was able to categorise 90% of the 500+ unique queries into the above categories unambiguously
  • Jobs are being searched heavily but advertisement costs are the lowest – perhaps head hunters and companies are a bit weary of getting way too many unsuitable candidates?
  • “Associate Product Manager” – makes it to the top 4 in the category – shows great interest in the stream and to make it while you are young
  • I expected “lean” to be as popular as “agile” as far as product management is concerned, but “agile” beats “lean” by a very wide margin

Perhaps a similar exercise every six months might reveal how product management has been evolving over time.


Michelle L. Harper @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Michelle L. Harper

Michelle is a Senior product management and product marketing leader with a proven record of accomplishments in leading and implementing product management programs in diverse organizations to create, develop and position successful award winning products.

Michelle has successfully led efforts to implement standard product management processes across teams, train product managers and product owners and coordinate product roadmapping for strategic planning.

She is widely recognized for analyzing market trends, devising innovative new product ideas, adding life to existing products, and recommending creative approaches to meet market demands to ensure profitability. Extensive experience with agile methodology.

We thank Michelle for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions for Product Manager ‘ series. Michelle picked up some of the most trending and interesting questions. I am confident that you will enjoy reading Michelle’s views.

Product Mantra: How do you see the role of product manager evolve in the world of Mobile Apps?

Michelle L. Harper: Product Manager or Product Marketer or Both? Product managers need to realize that apps are not just extensions of product but channels for growth and marketing.  In many ways I see the role of product manager and product marketer beginning to converge with the rise of mobile apps.   Developing a great mobile app requires increasing awareness of consumer marketing, how to best communicate to customers, and most importantly measure and increase customer adoption.

Greater Understanding of User Behavior and Beautiful Design

Apps require a much greater understanding of user behavior, not just in the user’s workplace but 24/7.  Become an expert in usability is often the key to success for mobile product managers.

Beautiful design is key.  People are much less forgiving when dealing with navigation challenges on their smartphones or tablets.  Expectations are high for ease of use.  Good story boarding depends on an intimate knowledge of your devices.  The best mobile product managers I know live with their devices on a daily basis and know them inside and out.

Linked Roadmaps

Your app’s roadmap will also be linked to the iOS or Android roadmap.  This is an adjustment and often an unpleasant surprise for new mobile product managers.  However, you need to ensure that you follow Apple or Google’s rules or your apps may not be approved for app stores.  You must know your device inside or out or  your app may be incompatible with device features.   It’s critical to take advantage of new APIs, features and developer tools in order to provide ongoing value to your customers.

Increased Focus on Metrics

Mobile product managers face increasing pressure to measure app success and to track metrics.  For example, the number of installs, number of quality of reviews and ratings, user retention, and session length etc.  It’s really worth digging into how you may measure the success of your app so that you can build a story around it. .  Conversely, you will also need to understand app marketing principles.  How can you market new features through your app?  Through the Google or Apple stores?  Again, this is one the ways that the product manager and product marketing roles converge in mobile app development.

Product Mantra: Is “data driven decision-making” killing the innovative thinking among product owners?

Michelle L. Harper: Absolutely not.  In fact, I think it leads to greater creativity with more certainty that you will add value with your product decisions. Data from a number of sources, especially from web analytics or other user metrics, can help prioritize customer needs, reveal trends and can inspire creative ideas that are offer a  return on investment.

In one of the most painful moments of my career, I recall a conversation with a CEO who gleefully quoted Steve Jobs while pooh pooing the need to do further market testing:  “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”   I’ve come to loathe that quote.  Often this quote is used as an excuse to avoid the hard work of truly evaluating a business solution in favor of being “innovative” because the organization/CEO is already in love with the idea.   Unfortunately, not everyone is Steve Jobs.  This type of thinking can lead to a dangerous course of action.

Product Mantra: You have actively been the VOC in your organization. Would you like to share, some of the techniques and methods by which you ensured that these customer inputs do not dilute on their way to leadership or decision making team?

Michelle L. Harper: There is nothing like the real voices of customers captured in their entirety to share with the leadership team and/or creating opportunities for the leadership team to interact with customers directly.  I am a huge believer in the value of customer site visits.

Site visits are best done without the company of a sales person because the feedback you receive as a product manager can be entirely different.   The customer has a relationship with the sales person and can be reticent in expressing their true opinions for fear of either getting the sales person into trouble and/or hurting their feelings.   They are more likely to express frustrations to you as owner of the product.

The key to VOC is establishing a regular practice of soliciting customer feedback and setting quantifiable goals.  For example, 1 customer site visit every quarter or 5 customer engagements (via phone interview, in person) every quarter.  It’s systematic practice.   Most importantly, make sure that these insights are circulated widely and regularly across stakeholders in the organization, including the leadership team.   I have also never been reticent in inviting a member of the leadership team to travel with me so they can hear the voice of the customer for themselves.

Thanks Michelle.

Michelle L. Harper on Social Media

  1. Follow Michelle on twitter @mlharper
  2. Get connected with Michelle on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelleharper
  3. Read her blogs http://mlharper.com/



Shadow Product Manager – salvaging out of the situation

There are scores of situations where a Product Manager might find herself/himself getting entangled completely in tactical aspects of product management because the situation demands it or there are simply too much chaos in the organ223670395_7ca0c7a061_zization due to a disorganised way of working. There are also situations when one is with an off-shore development team, “far away” from the customers and key decision makers. It is easy to get completely disoriented and frustrated at the situation. There are ways to salvage out of the “situation” of being a “Shadow Product Manager”:

  1. In-depth data analysis: They say, data is the plural of anecdotes. I have found that in chaos, people miss out in-depth data analysis; there is always some signal hidden in the pile of data for you to figure out a feature for your road map – at least a clear hypothesis. Once, I remember that analysis of support tickets over a period of time told me that users were not rebooting the machine after installing our application as most users postponed doing that. We worked to build something that required no restart and made life much simpler for the user.
  2. Collect anecdotal evidences via social media: There are always keen users of your product who are upset when something does not work and make their displeasure known through social media – but are more than happy to help if you collaborate with them. Do not react to each such signals, but pick and choose whom you want to respond to.
  3. Get into the good books of one or two sales folks: Sales personnel meet the customers all the while but lack of product makes them either succumb to pressure or to overcommit and harass the product manager. However, once you befriend them  by helping them understand the product better, you can get involved in sales calls – a lot of them are remote and get connected to the buyer (a typical case of B2B product).

Where most often I as a Product Manager have flawed is to assume that product folks who are geographically near the customer would have spoken to the customer and gathered anecdotal evidences. I have seen instances where not even a decent email was exchanged and the customer was happy when I spoke to them over phone.  There is really nothing like a ‘shadow product manager’ – there are only ‘self motivated product managers’ and ‘complaining product managers”.

Photo Credit: Hamid Saber