Category Archives: Release Management

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

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))

Interviewing Agile Product Manager

elephantTrust me, this has been most crazy of all interview rounds that I have been doing for quite some time now. Objective is to hire a product manager who has experience of delivering successful product release via agile methodology. Initially I felt that I am lucky to get so many CVs (candidates) with agile experience but as I started talking to these so called experts in agile, I started banging my head on the wall, and here is answer to WHY I did so.
Continue reading

Documentation updates in Agile Projects

Scrum and other flavors of Agile expect a potentially shippable product at the end of each Iteration or Sprint. This typically means that each user story within the Sprint has to be developed, integrated, tested, documented and made deployable to production. While this is not new, I have seen many variations to this in my experience with Agile teams. I am going to deal now only with the Release documentation part here. Everything else is out of scope for now.

Consider the scenario below.
In a reasonably small organization, we have the Product Marketing manager Laura who doubles up as Product manager of a desktop application GoldSpot that back-ends with a database server. Laura is responsible for pretty much everything on GoldSpot. She is always seen juggling and shuffling between business case evaluation, wire-framing, product backlog creation and constant prioritization, user acceptance testing, creation and updates to user and admin documentation, customer demos, marketing communication, etc. The product development team consists of 3 developers, 2 test engineers and a Scrum master. The team and Laura meet over Skype for the Sprint planning meeting, the daily standups, Sprint review and retrospectives. The team is in their third Sprint, have just created a prototype worth showing to customers and have 3 more Sprints to go in this Release.
Wanting to adhere to the practices of Scrum, the Scrum master asks Laura to update the User and Admin guides as part of each user story and each Sprint. However, Laura who is severely short of time, finds this to be an overhead to her. Here is her stance. “The product GoldSpot is atleast 3 Sprints away from the Beta Release and has a good amount of functionality and UI changes going in between now and then. If I make updates to the Beta documentation (User guide, Admin guide) in each Sprint, I will definitely have to revisit it in the coming Sprints and over write them when the UI or functionality changes. Also, I am the person who is providing demos to customers and know each feature well. I am showing GoldSpot to customers but not distributing it to them right now. In my backlog of tasks to do, I definitely feel that updating the guides is low priority and something that will move to the top of the list in the final Sprint or the one before that. This is like the customer communication or the training that we do when we get close to the Beta Release.”
I definitely feel that Laura has a point and while Scrum advocates a potentially shippable product at the end of each Sprint, it does not really go into the specifics of what makes the product potentially shippable. I have seen this model work well for Scrum teams where the Release documentation is written by the Product Manager or by a Technical Writer who is spread thin across different products.

Is it then time to take the “Release documentation update” activity out of the Sprint’s Definition of done? Or should we persist on getting it done in each Sprint?

Let me know what you think.

Inspect and Adapt for Agile Product Managers

As organizations make their movement from Waterfall to Agile software development, a shift in culture takes place. One discipline that is most affected in this whole change is Product Management. They have to cope up with the demand for more releases within the same time and each release has to have meaningful content.

I have tried to list the traits needed for a successful Agile Product Manager here. Continue reading

Case Study: Buyer is not the end-user – challenges for the Product Manager

Amol, the product manager of a Set Top Box (STB), was responding to a RFP (Request For Proposal) from a DTH (Direct To Home) operator; the contract if secured would mean significant revenue boost for 2 years, to start with. The STBs would be purchased by the operator in bulk and distributed to their customers (end-users). The RFP had a series of detailed questions on securing the digital content transfered, tamper proof ability, over the air firmware upgrades, recording capabilities – among others. Amol was as usual irritated. Continue reading

Product Manager – Are you going feature crazy?

I love discovering features in products, features are what define a product, right? As a product manager, one has the important responsibility to shape a product by carefully filtering through the thousands of feature requests from various stakeholders.

However sometimes there is way too much focus on building a feature rich product, especially in the enterprise space. It becomes very easy to end up feature chasing instead of focussing on producing a valuable and usable product.

It is useful to think about the following when adding new features: Continue reading