Monthly Archives: February 2008

How much revenue for each PM in your company?

Someone asked me a question recently and I couldn’t find an answer on the Web, so I decided to ask all of you for help.

After reading my article, “You can never have too many Product Managers“, the person asked me whether I knew of any published numbers that provide guidelines for the number of product managers a company should have relative to it’s revenue.

The answer is, unfortunately: it depends.

It depends of the stage in the lifecycle of the product, the market, the kind of customers etc.

To get data, I need your help. In return for 30 seconds of your time — that’s all it will take I promise — I’ll collect the data and share it back with all of you in a future post.

Survey is closed. Click here for the results.

Thanks.

Saeed

Seth's Advice for Product Managers: Quit Now

Seth Godin gives some advice to real estate agents. Allow me to paraphrase his advice for Product Managers:

Here’s my best advice (everyone knows a product manager or two, so feel free to forward this along).

Plan A: You should quit being a Product Manager. I’m serious.

Quit being a PM. Get a job doing something else.

Some of you have been waiting to hear that. My pleasure.

The ones that are left, that’s you, can consider Plan B:

If you’re not going to be able to make a living by helping sales, by checking to see which bugs have been fixed, by using the never-ending ream of support calls to answer, then what are you going to do? Whining is not an option.

In fact, I think this is an extraordinary opportunity for you.

As [Seth] wrote in The Dip, you’re either the best in the world (where ‘world’ can be a tiny slice of the environment) or you’re invisible.

So become the best in the world at understanding your customers. This means being Draconian in your choices. No, you can’t also do a little of this or a little of that. Best in your world means burning your other bridges and obsessing.

You become the source of information, the watercooler, the person to turn to.

“I have no time!”

Of course you have that time available. Remember nine months ago when you were three times as busy with sales calls as you are now? Invest that time in building up your expertise and becoming the person people who don’t even like you turn to for insight.

The opportunity is to reinvent the way you interact with current users, with prospects, with the mildly interested and with your past clients. The opportunity, in other words, is to stop waiting around for the phone to ring and instead figure out how to do what you do best… connect users and developers in a way that makes them both confident.

Some of you will stick with the standard business card with the standard photo, the standard office and the standard feature request strategy and the standard approach to making the phone ring. It’s going to be a long haul if that’s your route.

I’m betting, though, that the best of you will end up with a product that will survive, thrive and prosper. Best time to start is right now.

Little features and a lesson for Product Management

Today, while working on a different blog posting (to be posted soon), my browser, Firefox, froze. I use FireFox almost exclusively these days, mostly because it works well, and I really like the tabbed browser-window interface. I do a lot of multi-tasking via the web browser, and the tabbed interface makes it very easy to jump back and forth between contexts as I multi-task. Try that with the other dominant browser.

Yes, I know there is some toolbar or something for IE 6 that will do this and that IE 7 has it built-in, but FireFox has had tabs for a lonnnnng time, so I prefer it. And while the tabbing feature is great, that’s not the only little feature I want to discuss.

Firefox has another new feature, not sure when they added it, that will restore the full prior state of Firefox on the next launch, if it had shutdown unexpectedly.

(click to see the whole dialog)

How awesome is that? Well, let me tell you…earlier this evening I was working on a blog posting, typing right inside the WordPress editor, when, as I often do, I switched to another tab to look for some info. I clicked a link on that other page, and then the browser froze. And I mean froze. After waiting a minute and still not having a responsive browser, I had to kill the process in the Task Manager.

Somewhat annoyed at not having saved my brilliant blog posting, I reminded myself that I needed to regularly save my work.

But, when I relaunched Firefox and clicked the Restore Session button, to my amazement, there was the entire post in the WordPress editor, exactly as I had left it. It was not saved in WordPress, but Firefox had brought it back. Awesome. Saved me a bunch of time and yet another reason to continue using Firefox.

So, what’s the lesson for Product Managers?

Keep the user’s experience front and center!

I’m sure the tabbed interface and the Restore Session features were fairly easy to implement relative to other tasks such as accurate rendering of markup, script execution, addressing security issues, dealing with plug-ins etc. And while those are important things to work on, they are expected “buying features” for users. But the unexpected, particularly the ruthless efficiency of something like Restore Session, is what will clinch the deal with many users.

Yet, these kinds of features are often traded off when negotiating with development.

Do you want the security problems fixed or do you want the restore? We can’t do both.

Granted, an open source product like Firefox doesn’t necessarily have to make those trade offs, but for business software, that is not the case. Get your engineers to understand the value of having the product outperform expectations, and task them to help identify little gems of functionality that can be implemented to make users rave about your products.

Saeed — Raving Firefox fan, starting today.

Marginal Utility

Marginal utility is a basic staple of undergrad economics courses. Typically the value of a good goes down as you consume more of it. As I discovered this afternoon, I get less enjoyment from my third cinnamon roll than I did from my first (note to self: try some self-control). But sometimes when goods get infinitely cheap the consumption curve goes completely awry. In his blog deal architect, Vinnie Mirchandani writes about what happens when people start getting unlimited cell phone minutes for a fixed price:

In the UK when they had a similar unlimited mobile minutes promotion a few years ago, a man told me he used his and his wife’s cell phones as a baby monitor – all night and every time the baby had a nap.

Awesome. A million dollar solution to a $50 dollar problem.

The inspiration for the post was that most of the major US mobile phone carriers have just introduced plans that give you unlimited calling for $99 monthly. Have you thought about uncapping usage of your product?

Product Management versus Marketing and Development

Some good comments on product management from former colleague Cadman Chui over at Red Canary. From some followup comments by Cadman:

I believe Product Management should reside neither in Marketing, or Development. If a product manager falls under marketing, they end up being biased into doing a lot of communications style work. If a product manager falls under development, many times they end up project managing release schedules at too much of a tactical level.

I think most readers of this blog would agree.

New Software, now with blue dots!

You know, sometimes I wonder why I’m not working in consumer products. Not consumer software, but consumer products.

I’ve joked about this with my software product management friends before. Life would be a lot easier it seems. Forget about all the detailed technical work, and all the efforts to keep pace or leap frog the competition, and all the tedium of ensuring compatibility with 3rd party products. Just make the packaging bigger, or smaller, or add a nice lemony scent, or blue dots or something else, and launch a big new campaign to get customers!

One recent consumer campaign, at least here in Canada, has just got me laughing. Ah, if life in the technology industry was only that easy. Take a look and tell me what you think? And if you have any ideas about how to achieve something similar (and meaningful) in the tech industry, please share.

While clearly these two videos are tongue in cheek, the campaign is quite real. Here’s a link to the home page.

Clearly this is a publicity campaign, and the fact that I’m actually writing about it shows it has some impact, but does it make me or want to go and buy Shreddies? Nope, I think I’ll stick with Muffets. :-)

Saeed

OnProductManagement plagarized!

Hi,

I’m sure this happens all the time on the web, but I just ran across 2 – likely related – blogs on Blogspot that have lifted my iPhone vs. IPod Touch article verbatim.

http://informationfun.blogspot.com/2007/10/iphone-vs-ipod-touch.html

http://hitechtech.blogspot.com/2008/02/iphone-vs-ipod-touch.html

Any suggestions for how to handle this? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, does plagarism imply something better?

Saeed

Product Managers need time to breathe…

I’m going to make an assertion here, and please correct me if I’m wrong.

I believe that the vast majority of software product managers are running full tilt in their jobs, caught between the short term tactical cross-functional activities (working with Dev, Sales, Marketing etc) that are thrust upon us, and the important long term market research, business and product planning activities that are fundamental to managing successful products.

Do you agree? Disagree?

Companies want Product Managers to innovate, take bold steps, define new products, enter new markets, yet at the same time deal with all the day to day operational issues that arise and need to be dealt with. I’m surprised more product managers don’t burn out after a few years. Or perhaps they do, and like the trees in the forest, we’re not there to witness them fall.

There’s an interesting post on Innovation at IdeaChampions.com. Entitled, INNOVATION is an INSIDE JOB, the article makes several good points, but the key one is:

Organizations do not innovate. People innovate. Inspired people. Fascinated people. Creative people. Committed people. That’s where innovation begins. On the inside. The organization’s role — just like the individual manager’s role — is to get out of the way.

I couldn’t agree more. A lot of companies want to be innovative, but unintentionally put barriers in front of those best suited for the job by never really getting out of the way. It’s difficult to be inspired, fascinated and creative, if you are constantly required to focus on the short term needs of other teams. How can one extricate themselves so they can get out and learn and think and postulate and research and conclude and innovate?

One solution which I wholeheartedly support is to create Product Management teams who are responsible for delivering the goods. The teams can be structured in different ways. You could combine business focussed PMs with technically focussed PMs or you could split the PM responsibilities across functional areas of larger products. There are likely other ways to split up the responsibilities.

But the goal is to get to a level where the teams can work in a pipeline or leapfrog manner. i.e. while one team (team A) is focussed on bringing a release X to market, another team (team B) is out researching release X+1. Once release X is GA, team A can focus on researching release X+2, and team B is working to get release X+1 developed and out the door.

Now, before you start thinking — hold on a minute, how many product managers are we talking about here? — ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • What impact does Product Management have on your company?
  • Could it have a higher impact on optimizing Development, Marketing and Sales with a small increase in headcount?
  • How well could your company execute if you had deep market knowledge, clear understanding of user AND buyer needs, through competitive information and requirements that were complete, accurate and timely?

If you answered, “Significant”, “Yes” and “Much better than we are now” to those questions respectively, then think about defining product management teams in your company. Give them the time and tools they need to do a first-rate job, and then hold them responsible for it.

Challenge the teams to leapfrog each other in functionality, performance, scalability etc. The teams should view each other in a competitive manner. Why? Because your competitors are looking at you this way. They are trying to leapfrog you. They are looking at your weaknesses and trying to exploit them. They are going to try to out market and out sell you. Why not look at yourself the way your competitors look at you and beat them at their own game?

This may sound a bit unconventional but it works. Intel did this for several generations of their microprocessor chips. They had parallel teams working on successive generations of chips. Each new generation of CPUs (e.g. 286, 386 etc.) was to eclipse the previous generation. Not only did Intel make significant performance gains from one generation to the next, they kept upstart competitors like AMD playing a constant game of catch up.

Both AMD and Intel are successful companies, but which would you rather be? Why not take a lesson from an industry giant like Intel and apply it to your company?

Saeed

Goodbye File menu, hello throbbing Orb

We recently upgraded from Microsoft Office 2003 to Microsoft Office 2007 at work. Clearly Microsoft has put a lot of effort into upgrading the UI in the various components of Office 2007. For those who have not seen Office 2007, this is a snippet from MS Word 2007.

So, gone are the various formatting, editing etc. toolbars that have been a mainstay in the UI for several releases. They have been replaced by “The Ribbon“, which in reality is just one big honkin’ set of toolbars accessed using the Home, Insert, Page Layout etc. menu titles.

Gone too is what has been probably the single most consistent interface element of GUIs, traceable back to the original Macintosh:

Original Macintosh interface

and the Apple Lisa:

Apple Lisa interface

So what was that interface element? It was the File/Edit menu structure. You can see it’s origins in the Lisa interface. Pretty much every general purpose GUI application since the advent of the Macintosh, and certainly from the time that Windows 1.0 came out, had that. That was over 20 years of UI consistency.

Windows 1.0 screenshot

In Office 2007, Microsoft decided to remove it. I have no issue with changing something like the File/Edit menu structure, IF they found a better paradigm or mechanism to replace it with. But the reality is that they’ve simply replaced the File Menu with the “Throbbing Orb”, or should I say the “Microsoft Office Button“.

I refer to it as throbbing, or perhaps pulsating may be a more appropriate adjective, because when I first launched Word 2007, that button was pulsating. I actually ignored it for several minutes, looking for the “File” menu. I wanted to open a document. How difficult should that be? I clicked on all the headers of the Ribbon — Home, Insert, Page Layout etc. — but couldn’t find the thing I needed most — File->Open.

Now I’ve been using software for a very long time. The first Word Processor I ever used was on a Wang 2200 computer. I’ve used WordStar (on CP/M and DOS), Multimate (I’m embarrassed to admit), Wordperfect on DOS (and unfortunately also on Windows — what a horrible product that was), as well as many versions of Word. So, when I sat there dumbfounded unable to find the equivalent of File->Open, I asked one of my coworkers for help. He came over and said, “Click that thing”, pointing at the Office button in the top left of the screen. This is what happens in Word when you click that button:

I immediately thought “What the *&@#?” Why would they do that?

It actually makes no sense to me to design something like this. Why not simply create a File title as part of the Ribbon and put the icons for all these things there? I have to guess there was some internal push by the marketing team to create the Office button for some sort of branding purposes, or perhaps there is some particular IP issue being addressed.

I don’t know, but I really wonder who made such a design decision and why? It’s completely inconsistent with the rest of the interface, confusing for new users, and yet so deliberate in it’s implementation that I’m sure there must have been heavy debates in the Office UI team when deciding to implement it.

There is evidence in the Word (and other Office tools) GUI that the toolbar/no toolbar debate happened within the UI team. After using the Office button, I noticed the little toolbar right at the top of Window with several of the “old” icons such as Save, Undo, Redo etc. Seems like a clear “hack” to appease the more traditionalist camp that insisted on toolbars, or perhaps a clear realization that users needed an easy way to perform basic tasks. I think the folks at Microsoft should remember one of the key axioms of Product Management:

Change is a process, not an event.

Anyone have any insights into the Office 2007 design process at Microsoft ? If so, please share.

Saeed

P.S. Apparently there is enough of a market opportunity for the “old” Office interface, that a 3rd party company has created a product to give that to users.

Forrester on Product Management

I’m quite happy to report that Forrester Research has started a blog covering Product Management:

 

http://blogs.forrester.com/product_management/

Here’s link to the bio of the analyst writing the blog: http://www.forrester.com/rb/analyst/tom_grant

IMHO, this is a very positive development. Research firms like Forrester, Gartner etc. are typically descriptive vs. prescriptive. i.e. when they start covering a space or a market, it is because it exists and is growing and deserves focus, vs. spending time covering something that has not yet reached a minimum critical mass and may grow in the future.

As an example, I worked for a number of years at Informatica in California. We were a recognized leader in the “ETL” (Extract-Transform-Load) market. But we really saw the market as having moved to what many called “Data Integration“. It wasn’t until several years later that the analyst firms created specific research practices related to Data Integration.

So with Forrester looking at Product Management, this probably means that firms selling products such as Requirements Management tools will be getting more analyst coverage, and perhaps Forrester will host events or conferences related to technology product management. It will be interesting to watch.

So,welcome Forrester, and let’s hope the other research firms see the light.

Saeed