Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Software Product Management Blues

First off….apologies to Bob Dylan and any Dylan fans out there.

This should be sung to the music and tune of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

And scroll down to the bottom to see his original video.

Software Product Management Blues

Developers in the office
Fixing up the code base
Marketing is wondering
How to deal with branding
A buyer with the budget
won’t sign the PO
Salesrep far from quota
Can’t give out a discount

Hey PM
You created this beast
God knows why
It’s not the first time
You stuck your neck out once before
Aiming for a big score
The man in the big room
Who gave you the role
Wants to see a hockey stick
But sales look like a fishing pole

Consultant talks real slick
He’s got the quick fix
Relaunch the product
Soon as you can but
No budget for the job
Consultant say that’s no prob
Cut the dev team down today
Software’s busted anyway

Hey PM
Exec team wants to know
Why sales are so low
Sales claims product woes
Dev says they released on time
Marketing says leads are fine
But management isn’t aligned
You don’t need some hack
To tell you to cover your back

Relaunch, restart
Hang in, do your part
Meet goals, hard to tell
If anything is gonna sell
Jump in, work the deals
No matter how you feel
No club, no commission
Rescue deals, that’s your mission
If you fail, then transition

Hey PM
You’re gonna get bought
By a market giant
New battles to be fought
New people running the show
Don’t know which way to go
One thing’s certain, you ain’t no fool
You can’t play by their rules
Must swim to another pool

Stay the course, play the game
Sit tight, dance the dance
Get packaged out, first chance
Try to look real engaged
Do the job on the stage
Prep the CV, plan the transition
Call the recruiter real soon now,
It’s not when but how

Hey PM
You had a good run
Three releases, it’s been fun
Big plans laid to rest
But you know you did your best
Next time you’ll know better
How to handle the stormy weather
Leave on good terms,
Don’t cut and run
Because you’re two degrees from everyone

And the one word for Product Management is….

A few days ago, I asked people to share one word which they thought best described Product Management. There were quite few responses. So, if you participated, thanks for the input. If not, feel free to add your own words in the comments to this posting.

Given the open-ended question, there is really no way to quantify the results. What I tried to do was create groups of related words to see if any patterns or clusters emerged. Where two (or more) submitted words were very similar (e.g. Communicate, Communication), I picked one as the best example.

The words in bold are my own words that I believe best summarize those following words submitted by you. So, in no particular order, here are the results:

Deliver Insight: Clarity, Focus, Organizer, Communication

Plan the Future: Visionary, Strategist, Roadmap, Direction, Innovation

Coordinate the Team: Facilitation, Translation, Bridge, Junction, Middleman, Pillar, Catalyst

Lead the Effort: Owner, CEO, Leader

Identify Needs: Problems, Requirement, Definition, Customer, Listen, User

Show Dedication: Flexible, Quality, Passion

Another set of words described some of the negatives of the role:

  • Busy, Sleepless, Multi-Tasking, Chaotic

There was one submission that didn’t adhere to the “one word” requirement. There’s always at least one in the crowd isn’t there. That submission was:

  • “Mothering a Product”

And we did have a few responses from skeptics. :-) I’ve included them here for completeness. I’m actually pleased I got a few answers like this. It verifies that a diverse crowd reads the blog, including at least one Douglas Adams fan.

  • Bullshit, Unnecessary, 42

What’s interesting is that none of the words I use to describe Product Management were in the list of submissions.

Those words are: Balance, Optimization, Repeatable

Saeed

Musical Chairs

Today I received an email regarding a new and possibly explosive program at work. I won’t say which company this is, but you’ve been their website. Here’s the money quote:

Most of the product managers have CS degrees, and our engineers have strong opinions on the future directions of our products.

Can you guess where this is going? That’s right – the head of Product Management and the head of Engineering are starting a rotation program among developers and product managers. Genius? Insanity? I’ll check in twelve months from now and tell you how it turns out.

Bad design on a UPS

Just had to post this. Would like to hear the reaction of others…

Last year, I got my hands on a pretty good UPS for my home computer network. It’s from APC. The model # is the XS1200. And while it is a slightly different model than the one shown, it looks almost exactly like the image on the right.

It’s a good UPS. It’s can take 8 devices plugged into it. Six are managed, two are surge protected only. I’ve got all my critical devices plugged into it including my desktop computer, monitor, cable modem, router, some kind of phone/cable switching device (I get my home phone service through my cable provider), and a couple of other things.

Now, this is a great device except for one fatal flaw. The round circle on the front is the on/off switch for the UPS. It’s also a very sensitive switch. It doesn’t take more than the soft fingers of a 2 year old child to turn it off. Yes, to turn the whole darn UPS and all 8 devices connected to it off!!!!!

I’m sure you can picture what has happened more than once.

Here’s Dad in his home office working away. And 2 year old mini-me is playing innocently nearby. But then mini-me gets bored playing with his toys and sees this nice round circle just under some neat lights. And so, before I can turn my head from the screen and see what he’s up to, he presses it. And virtually instantly, EVERYTHING on my desk shuts down abruptly.

No chance to save my work, nothing. The device doesn’t wait a few seconds before shutting down. It doesn’t beep to give a warning. It doesn’t require a second push of the button to confirm that the person wants to SHUT DOWN THE UPS. Nope. Nothing.

My laptop, my desktop speakers, even my monitor have power buttons on them that require A LOT MORE PRESSURE to make electrical contact. But for some reason, the folks at APC decided to put a power button on a mission-critical device that can be turned off by the index-finger of a curious 2 year old. [Actually he's technically 1. He will be two later this summer!]

From their website, APC talks about their mission: [emphasis is mine]

APC is working diligently to achieve its corporate mission of creating delighted customers by improving the manageability, availability and performance of information and communication systems through the rapid delivery of innovative solutions to real customer problems.

Hey boys and girls at APC, here’s a rather undelighted customer and a real customer problem. Curious toddlers can turn off your devices in the blink of an eye! Your home/office solutions team needs to take that into account in their next generation product.

OK, enough with the rant, but I’m just wondering here: Why is there such a prominent on/off button on this device? How often would I want to turn it off/on? I want it ON all the time. Otherwise, what’s the point of it?

I guess the guys at APC need to take a lesson from Intuit and conduct a “Follow me home” project with customers to understand what happens in the home environment.

Saeed

Read the next part of this saga:
How NOT to communicate with  customers

Forget research, let's build something! – Redux

I’m somewhat surprised that I didn’t receive even one comment — for or against — on my post entitled Forget research, let’s build something!.

As Product Managers, we regularly talk about understanding the market, the market problems, user requirements, needs etc. And then creating solutions that best address those needs. But, as I said in my post:

in the software world, …given the very low barrier to entry, a “good idea” can be quickly iterated on and developed and become a successful endeavour without a lot of research, and market segmentation, and problem identification, and persona development etc.

What do you think? When is research needed, and when can you just “go for it”?

Saeed

What one word best describes Product Management?

One question I like to ask prospective PMs in interviews is:

What one word do you think best describes Product Management?

It’s interesting seeing the reaction of the candidates and hearing their responses.

There is no single best answer, though there are some that are better than others.

I’d like to hear your response(s) to this question.

Survey is closed.

Click here to see the results.

I’ll post the results in a few days once the answers stop rolling in.

Saeed

We've been nominated for…

Hi,

Some days you get a surprise. Today, I found out that our little blog has been nominated in the Project Management category of the ComputerWeekly.com IT Blog Awards 08.

Now, while it’s nice to be nominated for an award, Project Management is not Product Management. Initially I did find it odd to be nominated. But then, reading some of what Tom Grant has been writing about the transition from information technology (IT) to business technology (BT), it makes sense (to me).

The judges are short listing the full list (which includes CrankyPM), and voting will commence in July.

Now that I know we’re nominated, if we make the short list, I’ll let all of you know and solicit your votes.

And to whomever out there who nominated us, let me personally thank you.

Saeed

Happy (belated) birthday to us!

I just realized that we’ve been writing this blog for a year now. We started June 1 last year with our first entry. Wow, how time flies.

So, in that time we’ve had about 140 posts — not bad — which is roughly one every 2.3 days.

It feels like about 1/2 of Alan’s posts have had something or other to do with the iPhone! I’m surprised he hasn’t blogged about the new iPhone 3G. Maybe cuz he’s smarting at having paid full price for the original. :-)

And speaking of iPhones, Ethan’s iPhone vs. Blackberry Fight! post was the most popular post on the blog for quite some time. Looking at our referrer stats, the search phrase “iPhone vs. Blackberry” or various derivatives of that must have been very common search terms last summer and fall.

For some reason, one of the first articles I wrote, “Why is Dyson doing so well?” is by far the most visited post on our blog. Odd IMHO. It outstrips the next most popular article – Product Manager vs. Product Management (part 3) — by more than 2:1 in terms of hits. People who read the latter seem to click on the Product Management Deliverables chart in the article quite a bit. And just behind in third place is the “How to be a GREAT PM” consolidation page. It links to the 6 individual articles that make up that series.

My article on whether Product Managers need domain knowledge drew a lot of comments. I had used Delrina’s attempt to launch a Macintosh fax product (Winfax Mac anyone?) as an example of lack of domain knowledge. A number of ex-Delrina staff, some of whom worked on that project joined the discussion. Very interesting.

I wrote a number of articles starting with the phrase “What’s the deal with“. One article: “What’s the deal with Software Product Management?” generated a lot of comments from readers. I think there is a lot more to write on this topic. What’s the deal with Personas? also received a lot of comments. Some very passionate views on personas for sure.

Not all the articles were serioius. More Haiku Madness was inspired by some other haiku postings on other PM blogs. My favourite haiku from that article:

Customer input
Never enough time for it
Let’s build something now

Wny? Well, because it’s so true of course.

But, it’s a happy occasion, so In light of the occasion, here’s a little rendition of Happy Birthday delivered by some adorable aliens.

Why a good PM will never be Employee of the Quarter

Many companies have some kind of recognition awards that they give to employees on a quarterly basis. I’ve seen these in most companies I worked at. At one company, the winners were called “Stars”, and at another they were called “Wizards”. Regardless of the title, one thing I noticed at these companies was that the majority of the awards went to people who went to extraordinary lengths to handle burning fires.

For example: at one company, a developer flew to a customer site on the Friday before Thanksgiving weekend, and spent the weekend there, debugging product problems and fixing then (he took a full build environment with him), and left on Thanksgiving Sunday having addressed all the problems and leaving the customer with a working build of the product.

Here’s another example: the finance clerk, who stayed until almost midnight on New Year’s Eve, to ensure that all year end orders that came in were complete and could be properly processed so that revenue could be recognized that quarter.

Or how about the example of the Technical Support Engineer who spent days and many nights (of his own time) working with a key customer to pinpoint a very nasty bug in the software. The customer was 3 hours ahead of the time zone of the support engineer, so the engineer would get up early in the morning to be available when the customer came into work. Then he would stay up late and work with the offshore dev team in India to try to reproduce and diagnose the issue.

All of these people won awards for their work. And on one level rightly so…they went to extraordinary lengths to deal with extraordinary situations. Companies tend to reward those who “go the extra mile”, “above and beyond”, or who “exceed expectations.” But these words are usually reserved for those who take a nasty operational situation, and help alleviate the problem through significant personal sacrifice.

First question: What about the people who dropped the ball and let these fires begin in the first place? Are they penalized for that? Sometimes, but often not.

Second, what about the people who prevent these fires from starting in the first place and do their jobs WITHOUT having to get others to go through extraordinary efforts? Do they get rewarded for this? Have you ever heard this speech at a quarterly award ceremony?

The next award goes to Javier, who has been with us for 2 years. In those 2 years, Javier has never had to travel out of the office to deal with a customer issue. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing any critical customer issues from Javier’s territory. Javier consistently comes into work between 9:00 and 9:15, focuses on his work and doesn’t chit chat too much. He does his job efficiently and effectively, and is out of the office, pretty much by 5:15 everyday.

I’ve never heard anything like this. The “Javiers” of the world usually don’t get recognized for the work that they do. If someone does their job well, they may get a bonus or something once in a while, but they are not seen as extraordinary — “going the extra mile” etc. When is anyone who doesn’t stay late, seen as going “above and beyond” anything.

So what does this have to do with Product Management? A lot.

A good Product Manager shouldn’t be a fire fighter. They are more like Smokey the Bear. The work they do should prevent fires from starting and keep things moving forward smoothly. Once in a while PMs get involved in fires, due to specific tactics by competitors or sales and customers problems, but to be honest, if a PM spends a lot of their time fighting fires, then they are not spending much time being a Product Manager.

And thus, like the example of Javier, a good product manager will not get recognized for heroic activities that have disrupted their lives, simply because, they probably aren’t being called on, or needed to stop the fire from spreading.

What do you think? Have you received recognition for your efforts? If so, what was it for?

Saeed