During ProductCamp Toronto in October I was interviewed by Donna Popacosta on Business-Driven Product Management. She turned this into a podcast which is now available on the ProductCamp Toronto website. Thanks to Donna for putting all this together.
At this month’s OCRI Zone5ive meeting I delivered a presentation entitled Product Marketing for an Ever-changing World. [The Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) is Ottawa’s leading member-based economic development corporation for fostering the advancement of the region’s globally competitive knowledge-based institutions and industries.] The goal of this presentation was to educate the Zone5ive membership on how they can become more effective as the development team shifts to Agile development. This transition does not just impact the development team, it also impacts Product Marketing, Product Management and Marketing.
The net result is that product marketing (and product management) teams will have the ability to engage customers early and often throughout the project which will increase the chances of a successful product (or release) launch. In other words, by engaging customers during the project, they will feel like they helped shape the release (or capability or feature) and so will be in a better position to talk to the press and industry analysts. They will also help you with your messaging, i.e. they will provide with real value statements.
Marketing and Operations together to leverage social networks to conduct business – that’s what social business is. This includes Product Management, Product Marketing, Product Development, Sales, Service and Customer Support. All of these groups within a company need to leverage social networks in an organized fashion to conduct business – i.e. generate revenue, improve customer satisfaction, etc.
As with any earth-changing technology, social networks are changing the way business needs to be conducted – companies need to get involved in the conversation as an integral part of they way they do business – Product Managers especially. Testing new ideas, improving existing capabilities, watching your competitors, etc. are all activities that the Product Manager needs to do on social networks – Twittter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. The first step is to identify your community – in other words the people and companies in your target market. Find out where these people have their conversations? All / some networks? This includes customers, prospects, competitors, influencers, users, etc. Product Managers must be part of the conversation to help achieve your company’s business objectives.
Are you ready? You had better be.
#OPMA #ProdMgmt – The first meeting of the Ottawa Product Management Association will be a “meet ‘n greet” gathering at a pub (tentatively Tuesday October 6th, starting at 6:30pm). In order to attempt to make the location as convenient as possible (closer to work or closer to home or whatever suits), please complete the following poll.
Thank-you very much … look forward to seeing everyone in October!
Too many companies view #ProdMgmt as a set of product managers who’s primary role is to manage the product requirements / backlog. They believe that as soon as they have hired one or more people to fill the role, product management is covered. That’s it; done … on to the next issue.
They can’t be further from the truth. Product management is about managing the product portfolio from initial concept through to end-of-life (EOL); maximizing the revenue their product(s) generate. This is the life-line of product companies … the entire company needs to realize that messing this up could be disastrous. Hence, product management is a philosophy that everyone needs to understand and determine what their role is in it.
This philosophy is about understanding that every decision anyone in the company makes has implications on the management of the product. Decisions by executives about where to invest or which markets to target are the obvious ones. But decisions by the finance group regarding contracts and/or licenses impact pricing and packaging or agreements with 3rd party suppliers impact the content or profitability model of the product are examples of those that are not so obvious. I challenge everyone to think of every department in their company and write down the decisions and actions by each department that potentially could impact the product(s) … you will soon see that there are many that impact the management of the product(s).
So as an executive, impart this philosophy on all of your employees … mandate that decisions and actions by everyone are fed into the product management process ensuring that fact-based product decisions are being made. As a product manager be proactive and set up your internal network so that you meet face-to-face monthly or quarterly to review the latest news to find out what will potentially have an impact on your product(s) … don’t be blind-sided.
#ProdMgmt This is where I reveal my age! Ok, sort of. I remember the challenges of Product Managers 10 years or so ago. The major challenge back then for me was the activity of gathering information. Yes you would hear from your customers, but mostly when they wanted something or when something was not working – it was up to you to pick up the phone and call them. Another avenue for information was from analysts; an expensive option that returned slightly skewed information which was not really worth the money. Tradeshows were a great source of information – competition, customers, thought leaders, etc.; but incredibly expensive. Bottom-line – it was just plain tough and especially time-consuming to get solid, reliable information with which you made product decisions. The act of getting the information occupied a large percentage of the Product Manager’s time. Add to that, requirements writing and teaching / helping sales and well, there was no time left for anything strategic, let alone to try and stay ahead. Even after your release went GA and you distributed it to your customers, it took some time to get feedback … Beta programs occasionally worked, but not always.
Putting this into a Lean context, taking the time to gather information does not add direct value to the customer and therefore should be eliminated. In other words it is Muda.
Many Product Managers still operate this way today, but I’m seeing a growing trend of companies where Product Managers are spending their time responding to information rather than gathering it. In other words, instead of spending the time gathering information, they are doing something with it to add value to the product. Communication and the ease with which we can get information has the ability to significantly reduce the need to spend the time gathering information. Tools such as Twitter provide almost instant feedback from users. SF.com’s Ideas portal allows customers to post and vote on enhancement requests. The ability to intertwine your product and web-oriented feedback mechanisms makes it easy for customers to send you their feedback. From a Product Manager’s perspective the information freely flows in through these new mechanisms and they can now focus on what to add to the product to give the greatest value. The one new addition to the PM role is to monitor these new feedback mechanisms.
Two companies I know of push a new release up to their site on a Friday and start monitoring the uptake and users behavior on Saturday. By Monday morning the Product Manager can assess and prioritize what needs to be done during the week. Another company uses their blog page for feedback. The link to the blog page is right there in the product to make it easy for customers to give feedback. Trends like these will continue far into the future.
Why is this happening? I see two reasons – and they are linked. First is that the rate and amount of change has increased. It is very difficult to maintain a steady course for more than 3 – 4 months. I remember not having to deal with change for a year. The other is the speed and breadth of communication. The web and the tools to mine data or the tools to send you data automatically has dramatically increased. They are linked because the more information available the more need to change what was decided.
It is very clear that our world has become and will continue to be agile – the roles of Product Manager, Product Owner, Business Analyst are in for a very exciting change. I look forward to this evolution!
Is your Organization Chart getting in the way of creating great products that delight your customers? Is it getting in the way of capturing more marketshare? Let’s face it, the basic structure of org charts has not changed. There’s the President along with Vice Presidents heading up the Finance, Marketing, R&D and Sales departments. But why are many companies so dysfunctional when it comes to defining, building and delivering products? Maybe it’s the structure of the organization. We’ve seen it / lived it over and over – marketing and R&D sometimes just do not play nicely together. Fiefdoms, egos, mistrust – whatever the reason, it can be a real toxic atmosphere. And when times are tough (as they are now) the departments hunker down protecting their turf. And Product Managers who straddle both sides bear the brunt of all this as they try to get products and releases out the door. It’s no wonder that defining, building and delivering products and releases can be sometimes so hard. But it doesn’t have to be.
If you are in a product-driven company – i.e. the business model for generating revenue is by defining, building and selling products – or transitioning into a product-driven company, then this blog post is for you. If you are a services-driven company and have no intentions of becoming a product-driven company, then maybe this post is not for you.
Generally speaking there are 3 major buckets of activities within a product-driven company. Finance and Corporate Services look after the internal workings of the company – making sure that everything is in place and operating properly (including adhering to GAAP so that the president stays out of jail, but I digress). Next is Sales and Services (if Services is a component of your product offering) who are responsible for extracting as much money out of new and existing customers as possible; whether it is direct, indirect, online, telesales, etc. And last (but not least) are the activities around finding markets, defining and building solutions to address market needs and supporting customers. The latter certainly sounds like Product Management. So why do we split this between Marketing and R&D? Why do we have separate fiefdoms to support this essential set of activities? Isn’t managing the product portfolio one of the most important activities in a product-driven company?
So we need to view the org chart from that perspective. I propose an org chart that views the activities of defining, building and delivering products as paramount.
As you can see I propose keeping the VP Finance and Corporate Services and VP Sales and Services roles intact. However the Marketing and R&D roles become the VP Product Management role. This group is chartered with finding markets and their problems, defining solutions to address those problems, building the product, launching the product, communicating its goodness and supporting the customer base. As you can see everything related to the product is in one group. You’ll notice that product development reports into Product Management and that the Technical Product Manager role is absent – it’s part of Product Development. Lastly we have the CTO role. This role is about future technology – embracing new technologies, searching for / inventing technology that will improve the product in the future.
The biggest benefit? The management of the product portfolio, which is the lifeline of a product-driven company, is now the priority … not marketing it, not building it.
Is your transition plan in place? Are you thinking ahead to that inevitable moment? Summer holidays are starting to happen. I can, with almost 100% certainty, state that a product manager in some company will return from holidays to hear that familiar refrain – ” we have switched to agile … oh by the way where’s the backlog”.
So before that happens when you, Mr. Product Manager, return from your fabulously relaxing holiday and you get even further behind, here are some important ideas to ponder and some key items to have at the ready before you head out on your holidays.
- Make sure that you have a system and process in place to easily and quickly manage your list of enhancements (the requests from customers and what you need to do to your product to help increase sales in current and potential markets). In the old methodology you were able to assemble and debate the features on the list early in the project and that’s what development agreed to build over an agreed upon timeframe. Now however the cadence of your development team (e.g. the sprint or iteration length) is short and so you need to be able to re-prioritize your list very quickly; you need to add and prioritize new items easily and quickly; and you need to be able to handle changes in business priorities very quickly. Before every sprint your list needs to be up-to-date.
- Make sure you reset the expectations of your executive team. In the old methodology the executive either fully participated in creating the list of features or they were peripheral to the process but kept their finger on the status of the meetings. In any event, the result was a list of features that development agreed to build within the agreed timeframe. Now with an agile methodology your executive has visibility at the sprint level. In other words, the horizon of agreement is far shorter with this new methodology; they do not have the full list of features that will be in the release – it is revealed sprint by sprint. The upside for your executive team is that the ability to embrace and react to change is far easier than with the old methodology.
- Make sure that you have a system in place that gives as much visibility of the project status as possible to as many stakeholders as possible. Your system should be easy to update from one sprint to the next. Executives like the high level picture – what enhancements are done, which ones are underway and which ones are ‘on deck’. Make this information available to them in real-time and make sure that the status is updated as soon as the state changes.
- Make sure that you have the ability and a process to assess when you have developed enough value for the release. Early in the project define the objectives of the release. Then later in the project, evaluate what has been completed against the objectives at the end of every sprint. At some point you will need to decide that you have enough value to go to market with. Everyone needs to be in agreement as to how this will be evaluated.
- Make sure that you gain an understanding with development on the product manager vs. product owner roles. Understand the product owner role and the differences / similarities with your role as a product manager. If you take on the product owner role then make sure that development understands that you still need to leave the office and visit customers – maybe at the most inopportune time.
If you think through these points and come up with an action plan, your transition will be relatively smooth.
Agile has certainly changed the way Product Managers are perceived. In fact it raises the question within organizations that are moving to an Agile environment about what Product Management does. It raises the role of the product manager and the need for product management to the executive ranks – if it was not there already. But even though product managers have that title, are they really performing this role in an Agile environment. There are many blogs and tweets about this topic; my goal is to determine how many product managers in companies that use an Agile methodology actually perform the tasks of a product manager or do they in fact perform the tasks of a product owner.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s look at some of the key activities for a product manager and for a product owner.
Product Managers own the product roadmap and the release strategy – they worry about the big picture. They work with all the stakeholders to maintain the roadmap and thus each of the releases and the vision for those releases are part of their responsibility. To do this effectively they need to get out and visit customers and be “plugged-in” to their target markets and the problems these markets have. They define the priority of the enhancements needed for the product based on meeting business objectives. To them the success of the product is paramount. They look for new markets for the product or ways to expand the reach of the product in existing markets.
Product Owners are responsible for delivering to the release plan – they are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. Their focus is iteration by iteration. They write/elaborate user stories and prioritize them for each iteration so that iteration deadlines can be met. They virtually “live” with the development team(s), attending all stand-up meetings through each of the iterations. They understand the user stories extremely well and deep.
So now onto the poll.
If you picked that you are a Product Manager and primarily perform product owner activities, please answer the following.
Both roles are key to delivering products. Smaller companies in most cases cannot staff both positions. But it’s imperative that all companies understand the difference in the roles and make sure that both are adequately covered and that clear lines of delineation are drawn between the roles.
Thanks for participating.
Honestly – I’m probably the last person on earth to have figured out how to use Twitter. Ok, since I don’t know everybody there’s no guarantee that I’m the last. I’ve had a Twiter account for a year or so and it was not until a couple of days ago I figured out how to use it for business. I’ve tweeted on my half-marathon training, the weather, news and other personal topics, but never on business. So for those that have figured this out, no point continuing on. But for the others read on.
I wanted to get my early thoughts down while they are fresh – so here goes. I was stumped for months on figuring out who to follow, when I had no clue as to who was using Twitter. I managed to find some interesting people and began following them, but it was a stream of conversations that I couldn’t follow and frankly missed most of them as they scrolled by everyday. Over coffee with a local social media expert he put me on to Tweetdeck. So between Tweetdeck and the concept of #hashtags, my Twitter experience improved dramatically. Honestly!
With Tweetdeck you can view tweets that fall into categories that you define. For example, I’m interested in product management. So I set up a Tweetdeck search on all tweets that contain the #prodmgmt hashtag. Every time a tweet occurs with the #prodmgmt embedded in it, the tweet appears in my #prodmgmt search pane. Employees of companies, especially those involved with the core business have interests in the subject matter of their business as well as the role they play in the company. For example, if you are a product manager with a company that sells to the supply chain management space, you could set up a search pane for product management (#prodmgmt) and one for supply chain management (#scm). If you deliver your software as a service, set up a search pane with #saas as the search keyword, or #agile if you develop software using agile methods … you get the picture. On the subject matter end, if you’re in the DRM space use #drm as your keyword or if you’re in the FOIA space use #foia and so on. The #hashtags site allows you to search for registered tags – make sure that you pick ones that are active (i.e. there are posts at least hourly) for you to get any value.
Good luck! See you on Twitter!