A Plethora of ProductCamps

The ProductCamp movement seems to be picking up steam. Last year there were 3 such camps in total, in Silicon Valley, Austin and Toronto.

So far this year, there have already been 4 (Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, Raleigh-Durham) ProductCamps,  and there are 4 more in the works:

ProductCamp Atlanta
Date:  June 6, 2009
Location: GTRI Conference Center, Atlanta
More details: click here.

ProductCamp  NYC
Date: Saturday July 18, 2009
Location: St. John’s University, 101 Murray St. New York
More details: click here.

ProductCamp Seattle
Date: Saturday October 19, 2009
Location: Amdocs, 2211 Elliott Ave, Seattle WA
More details: click here.

ProductCamp Boston
Date: November 7, 2009
Location: Microsoft New England R&D Center, Boston MA
More details: click here.

You can see a larger list of Product Management, Marketing and Development related events on our Events page.

If you know of a relevant event, leave a comment on the events page and we’ll add it to the page.



Product Management by Committee? – pt. 2

By Saeed Khan

committeeThere were some very interesting responses to my post “Product Management by Committee?”. I also posted a question in the LinkedIn Internet Product Management Group [LinkedIn login and group membership needed] on the same topic.

I asked the following specific questions about companies using committees instead of dedicated Product Managers:

  1. How common is this in your experience?
  2. How effective do you think this is?
  3. Finally, at what point do companies like this decide they need an experienced PM in place?

Here’s some key points of the feedback from the LinkedIn group:

Michael Schmier responded first indicating 2 scenarios for Product Management in early stage companies:

My experience is that it primarily depends on who is in the committee.

Situation 1 – The company is founded by those with business and marketing experience (MBA types).

Here I think “official” product management comes in later…the founders play the role of product management, in addition to the role of CEO, CFO, CMO, VP-Sales, etc. and work closely with engineering and development.

Model 2 – the company is founded by less experienced business types – e.g. technologists.

In this scenario, I’ve seen product management come in much earlier – usually before revenue is ensured but after the technology concept is somewhat proven and there is validation through a first round of funding (Series A).

Guillermo (Willie) Hernandez agreed with Michael’s comments and warned about CTOs who act as Product Mangers in early stage firms.

I believe that this is a big problem and it is hurting many good startup companies that, otherwise, will do great if they would let professional Product Manager teams lead the way. It is getting to the point that I believe it is necessary to start defining what the role of the CTO should be and where does the CTO office ends and Product Management starts.

Dan Leeds gave his view quite succinctly:

To me it’s simple: committee = consensus = average = bad product design.

The only effective model for product development is dictatorial, expert leadership informed by deep understanding of customer and market.

I tend to agree with Dan, though I wouldn’t use the word “dictatorial” myself. Product Management is about leadership and focus and a committee will embody neither leadership nor focus in decision making. I’ll write more on this in a subsequent post on the topic.

Steven Goldner makes a case for committees (if done correctly):

In the PM roles I have had, I have made myself the Chairman of a product committee bringing in all disciplines in the organization. So I DO think that product by committee is the way to go, BUT you need a strong leader in charge of the committee. So, even small companies need a product manager, product owner.

So while committees are good, Steven insists that the right leader be in charge. I agree to that. Someone with the right background must have authority to make the right decisions (and be held accountable as well).

Sameer Pirmohamed mentioned financial constraints as a reason for not having dedicated Product Management:

Founders of startups may play the product manager role out of financial necessity at the start.
Then they may hire a product manager because they don’t have the necessary skill/experience to play the role long term.

While the above is definitely true, my question is more focused on companies that have funding, typically series A or even Series B venture capital or other financing where the management team extends well beyond simply founders.

Victor Doundakov basically agreed with Dan Leeds with his view on committees:

Committee means shared responsibility. Shared responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. Avoid it like a plague, it can be lethal for the business if not treated early. … Instead of committees, early startups should use “take charge, communicate and execute” model.

And finally Pankaj Mhatre summed it up as follows:

I think we almost see a consensus that consensus is not a great way to fulfill this role 🙂 However, the attitude of listening is very important and yet, just listening to the market/customers has never given us great products, so one does need individual intuition to kick in. So, I think only one mind can fill the ‘Product Leadership’ role, even if you have multiple team members contributing.

It was very interesting to see the views of the various people participating in this discussion. Given it was from a Product Management group, I wouldn’t expect the answers to support a committee NOT including Product Management itself.

My view on this is that the role of Product Management goes far beyond simply identifying market needs and problems and helping the company address them. Product Management needs to be thinking about the market needs, the proposed solutions and (at minimum) how and when to take the solutions to market. This last part means that Product Management should be responsible for defining the Go-To-Market Strategy. Others may execute it, but Product Management needs to define it.

I’ve seen far too many companies build complex products that they thought could  be sold via a volume channel (and weren’t!), or take “enterprise” products to market that were far from being release ready. The companies thrashed and floundered, spending time and money on sales and marketing activities that they had no right engaging in. This not only burned cash, but delayed revenue and built skepticism amongst their prospects and partners.

Product Management needs to have a well defined and understood role in any technology company, especially ones that have raised millions of dollars in funding.  They can certainly afford Product Management. And I’ll say quite openly, I’m surprised that VCs and other investors don’t realize quite plainly that they can’t afford NOT to have it in the companies they invest in.


Product Management by Committee?

committeeI came across an interesting blog post entitled “Product management by committee. How sustainable is it?“.

The topic is a very good one as many early stage technology companies are founded and launched without a dedicated Product Management function. They’ll likely have R&D, Sales, Marketing, Finance and maybe HR at an early stage, but no dedicated Product Management headcount.

The blog post argues that:

…as companies approach and move through the $1.5M to $3.0M annual revenue milestone and/or the 20-25 employee threshold, they will see the breakdown of the product management by committee methodology. Most notably, committee members find it a challenge to attend meetings and to focus on the details of what needs to go into the product.

In very general terms, the above makes sense, but I don’t believe there is anything specific or magical about the $1.5M-$3.0M revenue range or the 20-25 employee range that necessitates dedicated Product Management.

The questions really should be:

  1. What are the goals of Product Management?
  2. When is the best time to bring  an experienced Product Management professional into the company?

Product Management Goals

The goals of Product Management, particularly in early stage companies is to bring a deep understanding of market problems and needs into the company and help direct internal efforts to optimally address those needs.

Notice that I didn’t simply say “define product requirements”, or “work with Development” or anything like that.

Product Management is a core BUSINESS function.

  1. It’s about ensuring that the limited resources of the fledgling company are focused on the right activities, problems, domains etc.
  2. It’s about maximizing the business opportunity by aligning product strategy with business objectives.
  3. It’s about minimizing the thrashing that goes on when products are brought to market that don’t truly address market needs in a clear, valuable and differentiated way.

How many times have you seen companies bring a new product to market, only to have to go and rework significant parts of it for Version 2 or even Version 3?

If Product Management has done it’s job, then V1 will have value for a specific target audience. Version 2 can build on that as can Version 3, but that’s a very different scenario than having to retool or rework product in later versions.

When is Product Management needed?

The best time to bring experienced Product Management in depends on the nature of the company, the market(s) the company is in, and the experience and background of the management team.

There is no right answer here, but when thinking about dedicated Product Management, the earlier the better. For an enterprise software company, given the amount of upfront investment that is usually required, as well as the types of long evaluation and sales cycles needed, Product Management should be there from day 1!

Why? Because the function is that important! Given the complexities of enterprise software, both from a technical and business perspective, who better to focus on minimizing time-to-revenue than experienced Product Management?

A misunderstood business function

It’s too bad that most people, even technology veterans place Product Management as a nice to have and something that others can do part-time as a committee.

Anyone who’s worked in a startup knows that there are always 100 things to do, and time to do only a fraction of them. So how focused will a committee of people be, who have full-time positions doing other things?

There are no absolutes here. Companies have succeeded without dedicated Product Management early on. Others have failed even with Product Management. But, from a macro level,  for any reasonably complex market domain — enterprise software being one example — someone — whether it’s the CEO or CTO or some other executive —  has to be focused on ensuring several things:

  • there is clear alignment throughout the company on the key business issues the company’s offerings will address
  • that a market segment sees (or will see)  the offering as valuable enough to pay for it
  • that the offering has a clear competitive advantage over other potential solutions
  • that the competitive advantage is sustainable for some reasonable period in the future
  • how the offering will evolve in the future to grow revenue and/or market share

These are not simple questions to answer, and certainly not in dynamic markets with complex market needs, buying cycles, technological evolution and many other variable factors. Given the critical nature of finding the best answers to these questions, does it make sense to split this up across several people who will do this “part-time”?


Gilbert and Sullivan present: The High-Tech Product Manager

I’ve always liked the Major General’s song from The Pirates of Penzance. If you are not familiar with the song, first watch the two videos at the bottom of this post and then “sing” the song below.

Here’s how Gilbert and Sullivan *may* have described high-tech Product Managers.

I am the very model of a high-tech product manager,
I’ve information customer, partner and competitor.
I know the product roadmap and I wrote the full requirements,
From  strategic to tactical, all detailed in my documents.

I’m very well acquainted, too with matters very technical,
I understand development, agile, lean and waterfall.
On MRDs and PRDs I’m really eager to create
All the information that will make our products really great.

I am very good with customers and early stage prospects;
I listen to them carefully and track all of their change requests.
I then prioritize them into releases point and major;
I am the very model of a high-tech product manager.

I will answer all questions that will save an opportunity;
I really wish the reps would use a real sales methodology.
I always ask the prospects about the problems they need to solve;
And then present the current roadmap and show how it can evolve.

I bring this insight to HQ and deliver it accordingly;
I need the engineers to implement it all whole heartedly.
Then I can move along and start helping product marketing,
To understand the new solution and create new positioning.

I define new offerings and also write the business case;
Competitively speaking, I’m not satisfied with second place.
In short, in matters customer, partner and competitor,
I am the very model of a high-tech product manager.

I  have worked in other jobs as a sales rep and a marketer;
I even spent two long years as a database developer.
But I would wonder constantly what kind of role  was best for me;
I thought and thought and talk to others,  then I found some clarity.
I really am a business person, with fondness for technology
I blend it all together to create great product strategy.

I think Product Management was the job that was meant for me.
Yet I wonder if others think I’m easy going or cranky?
I only hope  the role will grow real soon into maturity.
But still in matters customer, partner and competitor
I am the very model of a high-tech Product Manager.

And here are two versions of the song. The original, and  my favourite spoof of the original (other than my own!) :-).



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