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. Continue reading
Matt broke into product management as a SME in library software, but has branched out into broader software categories. As a product manager, Matt has recent experience with B2B and B2G products, browser-based and mobile applications, and US and Canadian workforce regulations at several small companies in Salt Lake City. While working from Utah, Matt has worked extensively with offshore teams in India and Eastern Europe. Matt’s product management influences include Alicia Dixon, Rich Mironov, Roger Cauvin, Nils Davis, and the PM Dude. In his spare time, Matt tweets about product management best practices and broad technological trends.
We thank Matt for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series for product managers.
Product Mantra: How do you see the role of product manager evolving in the world of Mobile Apps?
Matt Anderson: Mobile applications are often a new-ish product offering for companies that have established core products. In this sort of scenario, the mobile applications are often the most exciting area of development for the organization, while the core products are constantly focusing on the same things over the long-term: performance improvements, features, bug fixes, etc. Mobile products often have a shorter development cycle, a shorter testing process, and a smaller training and documentation effort. For someone who has been working as a product manager or engineer for non-mobile applications, it’s often a relief to move onto a mobile app project.
The learning curve, however, can be steep when you begin to work on mobile applications. Product managers working with mobile should look at and use applications regularly. They should look at mobile design patterns across the software industry. I’ve found it beneficial to carry multiple devices, with multiple brands, sizes, carriers, operating systems, etc. I’ve carried devices that were cheap or old when I thought the users may not use the latest and greatest. A product manager will have trouble balancing all of these conflicting concerns, so I’ve found it is good to rely on short release cycles, consistent beta releases, and constant feedback loops with users to release successful mobile products.
If I were to hire a product manager to work on a mobile application, I would look for a high-performer who was actively trying to understand (1) industry standards of UX design, (2) best practices for customer interviews, and (3) best practices for Agile. I’ve found that a solid background in product management and UX is a primary qualification for a mobile product management role, while experience in the mobile application space is a secondary qualification.
Product Mantra: How often do you conduct competitive analysis, and are there any methods that you can share with us?
Matt Anderson: I crawl the web daily for competitive insight in my industry by using Paper.li and Talkwalker Alerts. I think that establishing a constant flow of competitive data by using these tools is a great way to keep a constant dialog with your product management, marketing, and development teams. If I hear that my competitor’s Mobile App X is integrating with an API Y, I want to share that info with my team right away. That’s a daily competitive analysis, which may not be for everyone, but daily crawling is definitely my style. And if you use this strategy, don’t forget to pay attention also to your competitors’ major customers, because they drive your competitors’ strategy.
While I gather far more competitive insight from the web than from other means, the most valuable data is not always available on the web. I received one of the best pieces of competitive data in my career by attending an industry event and hearing that a government agency had worked with my competitors A, B, and C to draft legislation for my industry. Not all information is published to websites, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You need to be where your industry influences are, be where your customer base is, and be where your partners are. Visit your customers regularly, attend industry events, and you’ll work your way to the center of your industry.
I always find that the data that you gather from the competition over time needs to work its way into a higher-level analysis that compares your product offering with the competition. It could be a spreadsheet that shows feature quality for you and four competitors, or a spreadsheet with predictions of what each competitor’s feature offering will be in 2 years, or a pricing analysis in a spreadsheet that recommends dropping your price by 10% to improve your win-loss ratio. Take your competitive analysis and make it consumable by your executive team.
Product Mantra: What would be your suggestion for 3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts for Product Managers?
Don’t just tell people what they want to hear; tell them what is going to happen. Don’t just say “yes” or “that’s a great idea” if you aren’t going to do it now. Tell them the real plan, and you’ll promote openness and trust.
Do work for your organization; not your department. As much as you can, be the best value to your organization. That means breaking down unnecessary interdepartmental silos and establishing a cooperative environment.
Don’t be the primary tester for your product. Sure, there are reasons why it can be a good thing. First and foremost, it is a great way for a product manager to understand the product and how it is used. However, a few of the consequences that arise from having product managers as the primary testers are impacts on the development process, conflicts of interest, and impacts on the performance of the product manager.
Do put your executive hat on. It’s not only the dev team and the user that matters…make sure that your product strategy is in line with your executive team’s expectations. Do it on a monthly basis, if possible.
Don’t gather the stakeholders and let them duke it out over what the priorities for the product are. You are being paid to make decisions about the product, not facilitate others to do so.
Do participate in the #prodmgmt community. I’ve learned so much from my colleagues in the product management community. I’ve met dozens of product management folks through my use of Twitter who have made my career and my life more fulfilling.
Matt Anderson on web:
- Matt Anderson blog www.mattanderson.org/blog
- Twitter http://twitter.com/MattAndersonUT
- Linkedin http://www.linkedin.com/pub/matt-anderson/23/888/879
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?
- 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.
Jeff Lash on Social Media
- Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.
- Blog about product management at How To Be A Good Product Manager
- Official blog post on the SiriusDecisions blog,
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.
From time immemorial there have been products (discourses, books, tools – whatever) simply devoted to tackle these seemingly simple blockers embedded in human lifestyle:
- Expense Management
The problem with most of the products is that they put the guilt of not being able to be perfect in the first few hours or days on you. You get an impression that the things you are trying to achieve are Utopian in nature or you do not have it in you to address these needs and you drop-off within no time. I found three products, which empathized with the users and their problems, taking the guilt away from the users.
Any.Do for Procrastination: Things we procrastinate are things which we would want to do it in near term future but like the proverbial golden deer, we never seem to catch-up. Perhaps you want to take a dental checkup in the near future and want to take a trek to the Himalayas some day. What I found really good about AnyDo is it allows you to categorize tasks you want to do into “Someday” and “Upcoming” apart from the usual “Today” and “Tomorrow”. That’s a nice shift from “To-do” list to “any do” list.
Spendee to manage expenses: Most often, although we spend, we have serious problems managing expenses because we struggle to do things seemingly simple – like categorizing an expense and recording the expense as it happens. Perhaps we need an AnyDo to ask us to fill Spendee. Also, most people have 95% of the transactions which are expenses, so most transactions can be categorized as expenses by default. Spendee does most of the things right – makes recording of expenses a pain-free process interaction-wise by not asking you too many things to fill in – it is so easy that you can fill-in a transaction in the same time the cashier swipes your credit card.
Stress management by Headspace: The stress management programs usually are elaborate time-wise and most often repeat ad-nauseam to get your mind under your control. Most of us cannot start bringing the mind that has been wandering off for years now to control and assume that it is beyond control. The mobile app Headspace has taken a “Lean” approach to the whole idea of meditation. The first course is just for 10 days and for just 10 minutes each day. The beauty of the course is that, the initial days at the end of the day’s 10-minute session the instructor makes it clear that if your mind has wandered off, it is fine and normal – so much reassuring to hear. The step-up from one day to the next is very smooth.
These three services/apps have done something that takes them to the next level: taking the guilt out of the user.
- Old problems need complete solutions even if people have tried since ages to solve and perhaps only partially achieved them
- There is emotion beyond the design and function of any product; sometimes it could be that new technologies enables you to satisfy that emotional need quicker – but there is always an unmet need. One idea is “take the guilt away from the users” – don’t make them feel like they are dumb.
This one is a old story. This happened somewhere, sometime in late 1950s.
AB Corporation is among the leading manufacturer of Umbrellas. They manufacture a range of umbrellas that protect users from rain and blazing sunlight. Competition is heating up as there are many new entrants in the industry and AB corp is facing stiff competition ahead of the monsoon season. The Product Manager of monsoon umbrella proposes new range of attractive umbrellas to increase market share and profitability. Idea is to shred away old type dull looking umbrellas and introduce colorful and stylish umbrellas that just don’t protect from rain but also becomes a style quotient in this monsoon.
So the Product Manager calls for a brainstorming session with research and development team and puts forward the proposal of launching a new range of designer umbrellas for this monsoon. He shares following specification with the team;
Key attributes of the umbrella were envisage as:
- Weight: 30% lighter than the existing umbrella series.
- Cloth color: 6 colors, blue, yellow, white, black, red and green.
- Cloth material: 40% Transparent
- Tube: silver color, non-corrosive coating
- Rib: fiber
- Top end: lesser than 2 inch with protected ferrule
- Handle: straight (not like hockey stick) with soft leather cover
….other attributes remains as they are today.
Research team found the idea worthwhile and started working on new assignment with various ideas and one fine day invited Product Manager to have look at their new offering. On the day of first demo, Product Manager took this invention in his hand for the first time, it was lighter than what he had planned for and it was looking stunning in those bright colors. A dream come true indeed. That evening Product Manager decides to take one umbrella back home, use it for few days and even show to shppowners in nearby locality to seek their opinion.
Next day morning on his way to office, Product Manager gets first opportunity to use his new umbrella. It started drizzling and our man opened his umbrella and started walking with pride. In no time rain was at its peak and he felt like hero, but only for few minutes. Soon, water started seeping, water cracked through the cloth and starting falling on product manager. No this definitely was not kool. He ran through his way all the way till office, straight into the R&D office. Wet and upset, he started talking to team in an assertive manner, sharing his morning experience. “What a crap have you developed? this could not withstand a normal rain for more than few minutes. How do I sell this?”. The team though was puzzled, they were surprise to see our man in such a mood. “Oh well, we thought you liked the Umbrella. But this one is not a waterproof umbrella. Why did you use this in rain?”. Now that took product manager by surprise, “What do you mean, an Umbrella is supposed to be used when it rains.” The argument continued till Product Manager realized what had happened.
Research team’s understanding was that the new umbrella would be used for protection / shielding against sun light. That’s how it has been traditionally. They had never designed anything other than black umbrellas for rain. To make the matter worse, product manager in his specs never mentioned that the cloth used should be waterproof, specs just mentioned about color and transparency.
Today, at fag end of 2013 we still end up meeting such “Out of Context engineers” who would go on developing anything without learning about domain and market. While a Product Manager may try and detail as much as he can but the question is more about engineers with very low level of involvement in their work. They are brilliant and once specifications are delivered they would deliver what is asked as mentioned in the document. Now why would an engineer limit his thinking or design to what is mentioned in a document? Why do they miss on something that is so obvious and expected? The out of context engineers often end-up creating such horror stories. Escape route is always very easy: it was not covered in the specifications.
While the engineers would work as they work, what best a Product Manager can do to avoid unplanned bath on road is to set the expectations clearly. Be sure of what you have communicated and be sure that you do routine checks and verification with research team as they work and not at the fag end. There is always too much detailing to do but they are necessary, do not take things for granted, mention all expectations and specifications. A little extra effort may save the day for you, and of-course a pair of clothes as well.
All over the world, Agile methodologies are changing the ways of working and are leading to faster value realization for both the businesses and customers. The value that Agile methodologies are bringing is evident from the fast paced and the high volume of companies and organizations adopting Agile.
However, the angle that we are looking at here are the personality improvements that individuals get from being in an Agile team. These are traits that team members get from working in a self organized Scrum team and will be an asset for life. These traits are visible across most flavours of Agile, but we shall stick to Scrum for the moment.
Small steps with feedback: Scrum advocates frequent small releases to market with valuable content rather than one big release at the end of the project. This way, each time a small release is made, feedback is obtained and is ploughed back into the product to make it better. Scrum teaches you to take small steps towards the goal, not relying on one big jump at a later point of time. Scrum understands that planning is important, but it is more important to get moving. Similarly, with each personal goal, it is good to identify the goal, break it down into smaller parts, implement them one at a time, observe the results and fine tune or change the goal as needed. Many times, the personal goals and resolutions need constant reminding and by making frequent small changes, you are not only keeping the goal alive, you are also taking steady steps towards the final goal. As Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory”
Effective Improved Communication: Scrum puts power into your hands as a team member. To exercise this power, you have to talk and express yourself in planning and estimation sessions, make your voice heard in daily stand-up meetings and voice your opinions in Retrospectives. Scrum’s rituals are all about being heard without being dominant. Initially, it might be hard for some team members to lose their inhibition, but Scrum’s daily stand-ups, planning meetings and retrospectives urge each one to open up and participate. In a positive way, team members are forced to open up in a trusted team environment and over time, this gives confidence to individuals to be more expressive in bigger groups and forums. Voila, Scrum has made you a better public speaker.
See the other person’s perspective: A team composition in Scrum consists of subject matter experts (SMEs) in Development, Testing, etc. As they plan together and work together Sprint after Sprint, they orient themselves towards the Sprint goal each time. With this, once a person is done with his/her task, he/she is now looking to pick up and contribute towards any other task that needs to be completed to meet the Sprint goal. The team member is picking up new cross functional skills and looking at things in a new perspective along with contributing towards the Sprint goal. Development and testing silos are broken and the team becomes self organized. Each person is able to understand and appreciate the other’s views and experience.
This experience teaches us to think more broadly when we face a situation in life where instead of criticizing a person who holds a different perspective, we try to put ourselves in his/her shoes and think from their perspective. Though this is no rocket science, the experience from working in an Agile cross functional team allows us to pause and listen to a perspective that could be valid and totally different.
Do let us know how your personality has gained by working in an Agile environment.
I had to drop a cheque to credit to my account; these days regardless of the value of the cheque you can drop them into the cheque drop box and usually the money gets credited to your account in a few days. The problem is when you have a high value cheque and the palpitations are high until the money gets credited – just because you are paranoid about not handing over the cheque to a teller at the bank counter. I headed to ICICI Bank to deposit my cheque and see this drop box