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
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.
What keeps you awake at night? what is one thing that keeps you on your toes?. The answer to this question is probably the core tenet of your profile and also your organization’s expectation from you. It is good to know the answer to this question since it also helps in prioritizing your tasks at work. Here are some replies that I often to get to listen.
too many bugs towards the tail end of the release
long backlog list, I have too many features to add to the product
competition, losing too many orders to them
over demanding stake holders
Unreasonable customer demands
opportunities in market place
too much interference from top management
product road map
The answer to this question is important for you. Should this concern be your top focus? Is this concern taking away crucial hours from your planned strategic work, if so you are prone to spend significant amount of your time in coming days doing firefighting. Spend sometime, to begin with may be every week to get answer to this question. List down your top concerns and be sure you have strategic plan for concerns that are your priorities and permanent alternate solutions for concerns that are not part on top of your to-do / KRA list.
On Dec 9, 1914, Thomas Alva Edison‘s manufacturing unit was razed by a major fire destroying much of his work. When asked, he said “I am 67, but I am not too old to make a fresh start”. Not as serious as Edison’s situation, but I feel that the “Fresh Start” situation is very evident when a Product Manager moves to a new company / new domain, or when a person moves to a new city or country in search of a job.
The people are new, the environment feels hostile and cultural practices are different. The previous good will and clout that you held no longer apply here. The best part is that your mistakes from the previous place are not there too. It is a reboot of sorts. You can start afresh. It is the perfect time to shrug off some old practices that you were not happy with earlier. Since you do not have much of a reputation or a baggage, you have enough liberty to experiment with yourself. Continue reading →
“You are Unique” is the Mantra of motivation, confidence building and getting convinced that “Yes, I can do this”
Let me start with a confession. This product mantra “You are unique” is borrowed from / influenced by the title of a book authored by the most popular president of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. This book hit the stands a few weeks backs and is already one of the most sought after books in the Indian Market. This book is already in its second print and for sure several more will follow.
You have got approvals from key stakeholder, the senior management is bought in, and you have been allotted resources to build the product you dreamt of all these years. A little further along the line, you walk into this meeting with Sales people to review your launch plan. The initial discussion on concept overview, cost-benefit analysis and value proposition goes smoother than you thought. Everyone in the room loves you. But the moment you pull out the next slide on the launch timeline, there is an awkward silence in the room. Followed by some throat clearing, the head of sales looks up to you and says – “So…if I get this right – you want us to go ahead and start selling the product right now, when the product wouldn’t be client-ready for another 6 months? How do you possibly want us to sell the future?” Continue reading →
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 →
I often see product managers getting carried away by the width of the portfolio they own, or by the geographical reach of the products they design, the number of releases they manage each year or by the technology they work on. This is all good, and a definite pre-requisite for a product manager to get identified as a potential candidate for his next promotion or for awarding greater responsibility or even for a better job. However what they probably miss out most on, is to exhibit the character and maturity that they developed while handling complex business & technology challenges. Continue reading →