Interrupting our thread in progress…

One thing that’s definitely interruptible is a comment thread on the blog.

Andrew, an APC Product Manager, has kindly and professionally taken the time to respond to everyone’s comments about the Big Red Button. He says:

As a product manager, I can tell you that every feature we include on our UPSs represents a trade off, a compromise between user needs and ease of use, between cost and functionality, complexity vs aesthetics. In order to be as competitive as possible in this marketplace, we strive to please the maximum amount of people with the minimum number of products. This probably holds true for most of the companies people reading this post work for.

It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic. Often what we dyed-in-the-wool technologists see as a “simple fix” can make a product hard to use for many people. However…

Please keep in mind that any changes critical to user interface, like this one, have to be reviewed and pass a series of “hurdles”, any of which having the potential to guide us towards (or away from) keeping this switch just as it is now. (Incidentally, testing new ideas like this is one of the best parts of my job).

The ugly truth comes out. Review process which exist to make sure that bad ideas don’t get to market have a tendancy to simply reduce the number of new ideas in general, leading to situations where changes that actually are quite simple never make it out the door because no one is willing or able to fight for them. Many companies like to pay lip service to testing new ideas, but the hard truth is that if you’re serious about testing you’re going to “waste” a lot of money testing ideas that will never get out the door. And since companies don’t like to waste money, you only test ideas that have a good chance of passing. And that happens via a very subtle kind of social pressure that prevent employees from putting forward weak or controversial ideas.

I think you need to take a few more risks Andrew. I agree completely that adding a molly guard has tradeoffs but they might just be worth it. And don’t take it personally – you are not alone! I have seen this kind of logic squash a lot of good product and feature ideas. Very few companies have a process that isn’t a mixture of help and hindrance.

(And a note for readers: although Saeed writes 99% of this blog, this is the other 1%)

The Big Red Button

OK, so I know I said the post “How to LOSE customers!” would be the final one related to the APC UPS saga, but someone forwarded this link to me today and I had to share it with you.

Perhaps Kevin and APC and other UPS manufacturers should read this, along with the 241 comments. Altogether, they paint a clear picture of what looks like an endemic problem.

Also, the following comment on the article has a very interesting story related to a certain model of APC UPS.

OK…I promise, no more APC or UPS posts for a while…at least not unless something funnier comes along. 🙂


P.S. If you like pressing red buttons, try this link.

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How to LOSE customers!

One final installment in the APC UPS saga.

Read these two posts if you want to get caught up.

In short, Bad Design on a UPS describes a problem with my UPS. There is a prominent power button on the front of the device that my 2 year-old son likes to depress. Depressing that button INSTANTLY turns off power to the UPS and thus all device connected to it. Not a good thing.

A reader of this blog posted a link to that post on the APC discussion forums.

How NOT to talk to customers looks at the initial response given by an APC forum admin named Kevin. Kevin’s response ignored the core issue of the UPS becoming a single point of failure and relied on faulty logic, irrelevant examples and odd solutions — duct tape! — to address the problem.

A link in the same APC forum was posted by a reader to my How NOT to talk to customers post, suggesting a response was needed.

Kevin responded with the following:

My responsibility is as a forum admin on this board. Therefore, no further comments will be made based off of what was replied to in the other forum.

I suggest he take it up with other UPS manufacturers as well, who’re going to tell him almost the exact same thing.

[NOTE: Kevin has since edited his response on the APC forum with a much more contrite statement and passing the word up to an APC PM. Here’s a screenshot of the original comment. See the PM’s comment here]

I agree with the first sentence. His job is to focus on the discussion board, so I don’t blame him for not wanting to reply to my blog post. Doing that for every similar post on the Web could be an incredible time sink.

But the second sentence is amazing. I will absolutely take this up with other UPS manufacturers. I doubt they’ll tell me to address the problem using “duct tape”. I doubt they’ll insult my child as Kevin did. I doubt they’ll use faulty logic and irrelevant examples.

Thanks for the advice Kevin. Tell your bosses you’ve not only lost a customer, but also that hundreds of people now know why.


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What's in a name? A PM by any other name…

The Cranky PM has gotten herself into a big snit over a Business Week article about a day in the life of a “Product Manager” at Microsoft. Among other things, the PM, Scott Buchanan, a recent grad of the Kellogg MBA Program, says that he’s “not technical“, and that it took him “30 minutes just to find the latch” to open his laptop. He also describes his role as “all about unlocking the value” in MS products, specifically Office which is his area of responsibility. He states:

My job is to develop strategies and tools that make the job of deploying and adopting our software as clear, simple, and inexpensive as possible.

Cranky takes this poor soul to task, decrying at the end of her post “They call this guy a Product Manager?“:

The Cranky Product Manager calls bullshit. This guy is in post-sales, not PM. What, do they give out Product Manager titles like they are soy sauce packets in Redmond? To fist-pumping morons who can’t even open their laptops? Something tells me he wouldn’t make it through the Google interview process…

So a couple of things. While the CPM has the right (in fact an obligation given her persona) to be Cranky — she once wrote on this very blog — “the CPM’s blog is ‘The CRANKY Product Manager’, not the ‘I-Love-Everyone-And-Everything Product Manager.’ — this time, it’s not really warranted.

As some of the comments by readers of her post have stated, Product Management at Microsoft is really more outbound and marketing focussed. In fact, Microsoft defines Product Management on their website:

As a Product Manager, you have the freedom to run your own business and the resources to make a global impact. The ideal candidate possesses excellent marketing and business analysis skills, well-developed strategic thinking, and the ability to communicate and coordinate with a variety of product development, marketing, sales, and business development teams.

Note the complete lack of any need for “technical” skills.

Now contrast this to Program Management at Microsoft, which is probably more like what Cranky views a Product Manager should be:

Program managers are customer focused, working to ensure that the products Microsoft produces will delight users and enable them to do their best. Program management is also an opportunity to flex technical muscles: your technical decisions and direction are what drive products and features through to completion.

Note that they are “customer focused”, and their work and products should “delight customers”. Seems more like the traditional Product Management role, though more technically focused than in some companies. I think that MS’s Program Managers are really Technical Product Managers, and their Product Managers are more like Product Marketing Managers (in my view of what TPMs and PMMs do).

Regardless of the names, Microsoft has defined and used these roles for many years in their organization. Google, as another example, has a different view of the PM role.

In the end, unlike in the movie Highlander, there can never “be only one” definition of a product manager in a technology company. Some will be more business focused, some more technical. The objective for the larger PM community is to ensure that the business community understands the role and value of the Product Management function and for us to continue to define and hone our profession.

On that note, take a look at this series of articles that I wrote on the subject, and Adam Bullied’s post entitled “The Product Management Manifesto“.


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What Project Managers don’t want to hear

So, a little shout out to the Cranky PM for dominating an article on ZDNet blogs entitled 10 things your IT project manager never wants to hear.

Oh yeah, I was quoted as well… 🙂


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