Tag Archives: Product Manager

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/

@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

5 takeaways from Nobel Laureate Md Yunis’ experience for Product Managers

One Young World 2010, Professor Muhammad Yunus shared his experience on how he created something that was so wrong by definitions but yet successful in creating positive impact on lives of thousands of his customers. He has beautifully summed up the thoughts that I believe every product manager must carry while he or she is working on conceptualizing new product or service. These are simple yet powerful points that can help you build a product with differentiation and having significant value proposition.

video courtesy: Youtube

While I am sure you will enjoy the video, I would like to sump-up some of the points;

  1. Think beyond Rules: Rules defined by conventional or well established business should mean nothing to you. Do not let your thoughts be caged within these boundaries. Treat them as mental blocks and just let them go.
  2. Think / aim Gigantic: Note what Professor suggested to CEO of ADIDAS on vision. Yes they are difficult but I always believe that having challenging vision helps you build a stronger character and better professional. So just go for it.
  3. Create your customer: Conventional banks have 97% male customer whereas grahmin bank went to women and close to 99% customers are female. Create your customer, identify who else can you sell your product or services to. If you are someone who works on Go-To-Market and target market you would appreciate the value that professor brings when he talks about his experience of having a branch in New York City.
  4. Possible vs impossible: Yes indeed the gap has narrowed down. It is equally important to unlearn as it is to learn. Some of the Don’ts of past have become Dos of present times. So maybe it’s time to rework on your basic assumptions you had while conceptualizing your product or service.
  5. It is never crowded for innovation / innovators: Well said, in fact I am of the opinion that a crowded place offers best opportunity to innovate.

@mathurabhay

Three questions to the Product Manager Shardul Mehta

Product Mantra is starting a new monthly Q & A series with Product Managers worldwide. We have decided to keep the format simple – just three questions. We start the series with the well known Product Manager Shardul Mehta of Product Canvas fame.

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Product Mantra: What do you think is the right personality for a Product Manager?
Shardul Mehta: Curiosity. Thirst for learning. Always wanting to know why. Great customer empathy. Technologist with customer experience chops and business sense. Always thinking about the future, but acts in the now. Get-things-done attitude. One of the best communicators in the organization. Leadership.

Product Mantra: When does Product Management get stressful? 
Shardul Mehta: Every job can be stressful when a lot is happening all at once. This is not unique to Product Management.

Product Mantra: Do you see the role of a Product Manager undergoing an evolutionary change in the next 10 years? If not why and if so how.
Shardul Mehta: Yes. It has to. PM missed the boat on Agile, Design Thinking, and Lean Startup. Product Managers spend too much time focusing on features, triaging engineering tasks, and managing releases. Instead, need to focus on the innovation process, customer development, and go-to-market strategies. That’s how it can add real, sustainable and measurable value to the business (and customers).

Thanks a lot Shardul – that was insightful – particularly on your opinion that PM missed the boat on Agile and Lean Startup. We will catchup – as a Product walks with the foot of the Product Manager and so we better catchup.

Shardul has a very useful blog here and a Twitter handle worth following here.

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))

Ladder to Product Management

Engineers largely get into the job without any exposure to sales, operations or financial aspects of the business. In contrast, the role of product manager has its roots in marketing function. The switch in role from engineer to product manager is more of a shift in mindset, something that looks easy on face value but is tremendously difficult to achieve. Given an opportunity, it is wise to get some field experience prior to getting into the routine activities of the product manager. Here are few steps that I suggest that will such aspirants become a better product manager or step into the role of a product manager.

Ladder to Product Management

Ladder to Product Management

Business model: First step is the purpose of existence of any business. What is that is making me money? why are they paying choosing us, buying from and paying us? This brings in a major change in an individuals mindset specifically when he / she is moving from technology to a product management role. Look at your product from a buyer’s point of view rather than an engineer’s point of view, trust me, square looks quite circular when you bring in this change in angle.

Standards: Compliance, rules and regulations are very important. They govern the way business work, products are developed and services are delivered. Feel lucky if you don’t have any such guidance but if you have better master them as they are most important while writing specs or negotiating with customers.

Operations: Knowing about operations is as important as knowing the various practices of the religion one follows. What is to be and how is it to be done and why is to be done. Products developed by software are tested in lab under controlled environment, whereas on most occasions these products are deployed and used in hostile environment with lots of unknowns. Learn about operations as it helps in knowing what can be committed and what not, what should be on road-map and what not, and lastly how to develop and how not to.

Competition: Who else is there and how different are they? What is that they do better and what is it that are not doing good. What could have been done better while developing the product and are pitfalls that should be avoided. Competition helps us understand a larger picture of the product / domain we are in. It helps us understand the taste of customers in various market segments.

Customer exposure: Success of a product is measured by the Customer adaptation of the product. It is very important for a product manager to understand what their prospects and existing customers are expecting out of their product. A first hand customer experience is always preferred as often customer requirements gets diluted as they traverse down to product owners. Learning customer behavior, preferences, challenges and ecosystem helps product owner’s in authoring customer friendly specification and in taking right decisions in the course of the product development.

@mathurabhay