Category Archives: Leadership

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/

@mathurabhay

 

Mike Lehr @ ‘The Three Questions’

Since 2003, as President and Founder of Omega Z Advisors, LLC, Mike Lehr has worked as a change management specialist prepping and moving people through change. He accomplished this either as a contractor or as an organizer and leader of project teams. Mike has been
speaking publicly for over 40 years. He has trained Mike Lehrand coached for over 25 years.

Since 2007, Mike has had an intense focus on helping firms implement new IT infrastructures and applications as well as developing IT talent. Mike spends much time raising IT to the human level.

Mike has blogged since 2010, writing over 500 original posts of over 150,000 words. It is an extensive reference tool. Mike is also the author of The Feminine Influence in Business a comprehensive book about integrating more intuitive approaches with classical ones to develop talent, influence and solve problems. < Read more about Mike Lehr >

We thank Mike for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series. With Mike we will focus on  managing self and how do we become better professional. I am sure you will enjoy reading Mike.

Product Mantra: Mike you have been in the business for over 20 years now, what makes
you believe that ‘influencing’ and ‘problem solving’ are key to achieve change as desired.

Mike Lehr: Very simply Abhay, we cannot do anything without being able to influence or solve problems. Influencing comes into play from leadership to IT introductions. Problem solving comes into play from talent assessment to product roll-outs. Change is no different.

How do we achieve change? That is a problem. It needs a solution. That requires problem solving skills.

Yes, we might know the solution immediately. It might not seem like a problem. Yet, it is. The problem could be that we are just going through the motions. We are thinking inside the box. Experience is a side of that box. That’s why laypersons often have innovative ideas outside of their experience. The man who solved the measuring of longitude was a watch maker, not an astronomer as were all the other experts of that time.

How do we bring about change? We need to influence people. We need to influence ourselves. Both require motivation. Even if others are solving the problem for you, you must motivate them even if it’s simply by paying them. That’s influence. Money is influence.

I challenge anyone to find a way to achieve change without influencing and problem solving.

Product Mantra: Investing in self is really important, what would be your advice to mid-level executives in this regard. What kind of learning, certification or training will help them prepare better for later part of their career?

Mike Lehr: Abhay, I have run training that people have found very valuable even though they learned nothing new. That is because I presented the same material in a way that motivated them to use it.

I often claim that people could be successful without learning one new thing if, and this is a big if, they would just apply 10% of what they learned but had never implemented.

Trainers make big bucks teaching people the same things that they learned but never implemented. Some people collect knowledge like they do tools, kitchen utensils or exercise equipment. It’s simple. Use what you already know. That’s the lesson.

Beyond that learn to be confident. Learn to believe in what you do know and can do. Confidence influences people even when nothing else might be there. Confidence is a tool. It is not a state of being.

People like confident people. Studies show this is true even if people do not know where that person is going. Confidence triggers the emotional need for security in all of us.

Product Mantra: Tell us something about your work on integrating more intuitive approaches with classical ones to develop talent, influence and solve problems.

Mike Lehr: In general, Abhay, integrating more intuitive approaches is about tapping people’s emotions to influence and solve problems. It is about changing how they see things, not changing the things they see.

For example, consider customer service. The classic approach sees the problem objectively. That means to improve customer service we teach ways to improve service. The focus is on service. We change the thing. That thing is service.

Now, I trained people to improve customer service without teaching them one thing to improve that service. Initially, when I say that I stump many people. That is because we do not consider people’s emotions, thoughts or behaviors regarding that service. The focus is on things (service) not people.

Even if we provide good service, there is no guarantee that people will notice it. My training focused on showing people how to ensure that customers noticed it. I didn’t have them change the service. I just taught them ways to change how customers saw the service.

For instance, studies show that when customers see a busy staff their assessment of service goes up even though none of that activity is about them. Conversely, when they see staff hanging around talking to one another, their assessment of service goes down even if nothing changed about the service they received.

In some ways, this is very similar to the way a branding, marketing or advertising campaigns change people’s impressions of products and services. The difference is that we apply these principles on an interpersonal level.

This can save tons of money. We don’t have to change things. We just change how people see things. In problem solving, this means we don’t solve the problem. We just change how we think, feel and react to it. That might mean we find that the problem isn’t really a problem.

When we integrate the two, we change things and change how people see things. This is even more powerful than either approach alone.

Thanks Mike.

Mike Lehr on web:

  1. Follow Mike on twitter @ MikeLehrOZA
  2. Connect with Mike on Linkedin 
  3. Omega Z Advisors
  4. Mike Lehr’s blog

@mathurabhay

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

Jeff Lash @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Jeff-Lash

Twitter: @jefflash

Jeff Lash is a product management adviser, researcher and a blogger. He is the Service Director of the Product Management advisory service at SiriusDecisions, the leading global b-to-b research and advisory firm. Jeff plays vibraphone along with several other instruments. We thank Jeff for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series for product managers.

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

Jeff Lash: Quite the contrary – at SiriusDecisions, we still encounter product management teams that base a lot of their decision-making on anecdotes and gut instinct rather than objective data. Innovation and evidence-based decision-making aren’t in conflict – in fact, they work well together and in many cases you need them both.

For example, it’s okay to think about innovative ideas for new products or product enhancements. However, instead of just running off and building them, product managers should look to conduct concept testing to see whether these ideas have merit and, if they do, to help iterate and improve upon them. Similarly, data can be extremely helpful in identifying opportunities to innovate. Quantitative data – from a variety of sources, including everything from market overviews to web analytics – can help identify needs, pain points and trends, and that can inspire innovative ideas that wouldn’t have been identified otherwise.

It feels as though people take a position on either end of the spectrum. On the one side, there are people who quote (or, more likely, misquote) Steve Jobs or Henry Ford and believe that customers don’t know what they want and you should just come up with innovative ideas and try and move the market. On the other side, there are people who believe every question in life can be answered through an A/B test. The reality is that there is a happy medium in the middle.

Product Mantra: What are three things that you don’t want a product manager to spend his or her time on?

Jeff Lash:

  • User experience design. This is a topic that is coming up more often, especially for SaaS products, as the lines between product management and user experience are sometimes unclear. Product managers certainly should care about user experience and work closely with UX practitioners. However, if they’re getting into the details of design, that’s a problem, since often they don’t have the skills or experience to do good UX work, and it means that’s taking time away from other important activities they should be doing. I wrote more about this in my blog post Product Management is Not User Experience.
  • Detailed specifications. It’s very easy for product managers to slip into specifying the details of how a capability can be implemented. For those product managers who were former developers or engineers especially, they often know the product or the underlying technology so well they could specify how it should be built. That’s not the job of the product manager, though. And in Agile, even though functional specifications aren’t produced as a formal deliverable, the same sort of detail is being created for each story – often in the form of detailed acceptance criteria. There are plenty of other roles that can handle the specifications – and often do a much better job – but there’s only one product manager. When product managers can provide guidance and context to those doing the detailed work, not only are they themselves not spending time on those sort of tactical elements, but the end result will also likely be much better as well.
  • Anything for just one customer. One fundamental difference between product management and bespoke product development is that product management is focused on creating a product that can sell to multiple customers in a market or segment. Especially in startups, situations where one customer represents a large percentage of the revenue, or even when one customer represents a large percentage of the total addressable market, product managers can get drawn in to focusing on just fulfilling requests from specific customers. Product managers should listen to customers and understand what they want and why, but rather than simply following orders, they need to evaluate whether the feature or capability or change would be valuable to the target market as a whole.

Product Mantra: What traits should one look for in a candidate while hiring for a product manager position in a b-to-b market?

Jeff Lash: I like that you specifically asked about traits rather than skills or experience. Clearly, having a certain set of experience is important, but things like competencies can be developed in an individual, while traits are harder to learn or adapt. There are a number of traits that I think are important, but here are four I’d suggest looking for:

  • Passion. Product managers need to be passionate about the role and the subject matter in which he or she is working. You need passion to build great products, and you need passion to inspire others to build great products. Ask candidates what gets them out of bed in the morning and try to determine their level of passion for the role and the industry/customers/product.
  • Empathy. Product managers need to be able to empathize with buyers and customers and users in order to fulfill their needs and empathize with colleagues to create effective and high-performing teams. Ask candidates to tell an example of when they empathized with a customer or colleague and what they learned from it.
  • Humility. Humility will help product managers empathize with customers and enable them to relate better to your internal colleagues. It also enforces the idea of being part of a team – arrogance is a difficult trait to make work in a collaborative environment. Ask about successes and listen to whether the candidate only talks about his or her own role or gives credit to the others who contributed.
  • Tenacity. There will be challenges along the way, whether it’s trying to get management to fund a new product, resolving some technical issues or taking on a major competitor. People who have a low tolerance for overcoming challenges will struggle in the role. Ask about a time when the candidate faced an obstacle that seemed insurmountable and how he or she overcame it.

Thanks Jeff.

Jeff Lash on Social Media

  1. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.
  2. Blog about product management at How To Be A Good Product Manager 
  3. Official blog post on the SiriusDecisions blog,

About SiriusDecisions
SiriusDecisions, the leading global b-to-b research and advisory firm. SiriusDecisions empowers the world’s leading marketing, product and sales leaders to make better decisions, execute with precision and accelerate growth.

@mathurabhay

Rich Mironov @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Rich RichMironovMironov needs no introduction. He is veteran in product management and has provided full-time and short-term product management consulting to more than 75 tech companies. We thank Rich for taking out time from his busy schedule to be part of ‘Three Question’ series for product managers.

Product Mantra: Which experience is more valuable for a product manager, sales, marketing or engineering? This considering that most professionals make their way into product management from one of these three functional roles.

Rich Mironov: Product managers need a balance of experience. For PMs who were previously developers/technologists, their engineering backgrounds are already solid. But They typically have little marketing/sales experience. They need to shore that up by sitting in on sales calls, digging into lead gen statistics, scouting competitor products, working out customer ROI models, trying (and failing) as a copywriter, listening in on tech support calls, etc. An ex-developer’s most likely failure mode is to assume that customers care about the finer details of features and interface, and that the buying process is rational.

Likewise, ex-marketers already understand messaging and channels, but will need a lot of technical street cred to work successfully with development teams. They should learn about software architecture, code-and-test processes, technical debt, and how much harder it to BUILD stuff than TALK ABOUT building stuff. An ex-marketer’s likely failure mode is wildly underestimating the effort to add (even small!) features, and to make customer commitments without agreement from development.

Etc. None of us comes to product management with a balanced experience base. We have to get out of our individual comfort zones to fill in the gaps.

Product Mantra: Thousands of products are being developed worldwide every year. Unfortunately most of them fail in their purpose. What are three most common blunders committed by product managers in early stage of the product development?

Rich Mironov: IMO, most products fail because their target buyers aren’t sufficiently interesting in the new product. We talk ourselves into believing that prospects are much more excited than our objective evidence indicates. Three common forms of this overall blunder:

  • Willingness to build just what we’re told to build, as described by executives or salespeople or developers. Over and over, I see products in development that “our CEO said that people wanted,” or that make sense on paper, or that only one customer demanded. Every product manager should gather first-hand input from a few dozen potential buyers in the actual target segment – and confirm that the specific product has a paying audience. (As Steve Blank says, “Get the heck out of the building.”) Our job is to validate other people’s seemingly good ideas.
  • Not having a back-of-napkin revenue model: vaguely how many units do we need to sell in the first couple of years, at what price, to justify our expensive development team? Does Sales or Marketing agree that these projections are reasonable? Has any player in this market ever achieved similar sales results? Too often, I see companies spend $M’s in development without running the basic financials.
  • Assuming that product management is the best source of good ideas. Our job is to make sure that good products are build and good decisions are made, not to be the smartest folks in the room. Some terrific ideas (and a lot of bone-headed ones) come from developers, from channel partners, from customer suggestion boxes, from executives, from competitors, from analysts. We need to filter the incoming stream, discard the obviously useless 95%, and have the best thinkers in our organization give the interesting 5% a thoughtful review. And then validate-validate-validate the proposed mix of features/fixes/new products. We leave our egos at the door.

I see fewer products fail because development is hard (which it is) or because most releases are late (which they are). No matter how great our engineering teams are, they can’t save us from mediocre or stupid product plans. So the most wasteful thing we can do is excellently build a market-failing product.

Product Mantra: How soon should a start-up hire a product manager or for how long a founder(s) should continue playing the role of a product manager.

Rich Mironov: I usually recommend that a start-up hire its first professional full-time product manager when it hits 12-20 people.   That’s when the informal communication overhead of a 6-person company (everyone sitting around one table) breaks down, and everyone is suddenly having trouble staying current on customer commitments, priority priorities and development capacity. Someone (a product manager) has to provide just enough process so that the development team can stay productive. See a recent 45-minute talk of mine on this: http://www.mironov.com/startuppm/ .

This can be a very touchy discussion, since founders SAY they want to give up day-to-day control over product details, but rarely ACT that way.   They’ve been making every single feature/UI/architecture decision early on, as the company sailed past a series of potential disasters, and that worked well when things were small. Changing their management style and operating model is VERY difficult. Newly arrived product managers at small start-ups have to earn the trust of the founders by handling increasingly important decisions in full view – so that founders can slowly relax their grip on every button placement and color choice.

About Rich Mironov: Rich coaches product executives, product management teams and agile development organizations. He is a seasoned tech executive and serial entrepreneur: the “product guy” at six start-ups including as CEO and VP Products/Marketing. Read more.

@mathurabhay

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))