Monthly Archives: November 2009

Guest Post: Measuring Product Management (part 1)

This is part 1 of a series of guest posts by Don Vendetti. Don is the founder of Product Arts, a product management consulting company in Seattle.

NOTE: If you’d like to write a guest post, contact us and let us know about your idea.

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Measuring Product Management – The Executive Viewpoint

There have been plenty of discussions about how to measure and demonstrate the value of Product Management within companies.    From posts on this site:

and from a recent roundtable at the October Seattle ProductCamp, there’s an obvious challenge for the profession.

I decided to follow the prescribed Product Management protocol – I went out and talked to my customers.

Here’s the feedback from some senior executives running technology companies.

My list of execs is comprised of 12 individuals from my contact list, most of whom I’ve worked with at some point and are now scattered around in varying roles.   All have been on the senior executive staff of at least one company.

Most are in the Seattle area, some are CEO/COOs, some are technical heads, some are marketing heads and several have worn multiple hats – business development, engineering, marketing, general manager, program management.   Some have been product managers at some point or managed it as a function.

Company size varied from multi-billion dollar enterprises to startups still trying to get off the ground.

I contacted them through email initially with 3 questions:

  1. What is the value that product management brings to your company or to your department?
  2. How would you measure success for the group and individuals, i.e. on what metrics would you reward them?
  3. (Bonus question) Have you found product management to be effective in meeting the goals, in your experience.

On some of the responses, I probed further through email or met with them in person to discuss.   Some responses were intriguing.

Question 1.  What is product management’s overall value to your company?

There was a strong agreement of the strategic value expected from product management, and that fell into a few categories:

  • Bringing an understanding of the customer and the market into the company
  • Creating a vision, direction, and focus for the product internally and externally
  • Defining product/business plans to meet company strategy and objectives
  • Evangelizing the market needs and product solutions internally

At a tactical level, the front-runners were:

  • Managing product features, product requirements, competitive analysis, prioritization and roadmaps
  • Working with and supporting other functional groups – development, sales, support, marketing

Some comments included:

(VP Eng) “Product Management needs to be the voice of the customer AND the business and they need to advocate for both.”

(VP Biz Dev/PM) “Product management provides a key linkage between our end customers, the field sales and support organizations that support them, our engineering and QA teams responsible for product innovation and delivery, and our executive team from an overall company and product strategy perspective.”

(COO) “Overall product direction and roadmap, clearinghouse for requirements, driver of product delivery.”

(VP Eng) “Right brain, big picture, strategy, positioning, how to win in the market.  Bring customer view into company.  Outline the product needed.   Evangelize the product internally.”

(VP Corp Dev) “Ability to distill corporate goals and objectives and customer / market needs into products (services / solutions) that are built and sold at positive margins!  That includes not just having the bright ideas, but the organizational savvy to make them real.”

Some interesting comments came from multiple respondents involved in Agile. They indicated the value of product management is even higher in that environment.  Working as the Product Owners with Development seems to raise their visibility as an integral piece of the machine.

(VP Eng) “In the modern world of Agile the product management role is even more critical. They are often embedded in a SCRUM team as a product owner or business owner. These highly cross-functional teams can move quickly and demand that the role is in touch with the business and on-demand available to the team – in early iterations for prototyping and market validation, in mid iterations for feature build-out and in late iterations for sustaining and ongoing investments.”

Take-Away

If I rephrase some of the key expectations from above, here is what I come up for the primary value product management brings to a company:

  • Creates a shared awareness of the customer and market needs to the internal functions
  • Drives product solutions that meet both market  needs and company goals
  • Facilitates and supports cross-functional and external activities required to achieve the planned objectives

So if this is what is valued, then what is actually measured?    I’ll get to that in part 2.

Don

Also in this series:

Measuring Product Management (part 1)
Measuring Product Management (part 2)
Measuring Product Management (part 3)

Our Presentation at PMEC Battle of the Bloggers

Last week I participated in the 1st Annual PMEC Battle of the Bloggers. Out of a field of about 10 contestants, I placed second in the competition. Curse you April Dunford! I can honestly say you phoned it in, but somehow you won.

And while I’d love to find video of the actual event [hint hint to anyone who was there with a video camera!], here’s the next best thing. It’s a recording of my presentation for your viewing and listening pleasure. It’s not quite as good as being there, but then whose fault is that? :-)

NOTE: Make sure you have the sound on otherwise it won’t make a lot of sense.

NOTE: Make sure you have the sound on otherwise it won’t make a lot of sense.

Ethan

Brand extension gone too far?

Brand extension occurs when a company intentionally takes a well known brand and applies it to another product category. Companies extend their brands quite regularly.The objective is to take advantage of the awareness of the brand, reach new audiences, and ultimately make more money.

For example, Arm and Hammer moved from Baking Soda into Dental Hygiene products.  They utilized their association with cleanliness and fighting germs and odor and found a space in a new market (though their competitors are aggressively fighting back).

And the Virgin brand has been successfully extended from records to airlines to mobile phones and even to space travel (Virgin Galactic).

Of course, brand extension doesn’t always work. McDonald’s had a significant failure with their McPizza offering. And does anyone remember LifeSavers soda? Coors Spring Water? Or Colgate Kitchen Entrees? (I kid you not!)

Another form of Brand Extension is when two well known brands, are brought together. One very successful example of this is the Lego Star Wars toys and games.

I believe the reason for this success is that there is overlap in the market segments of people who like Lego and those who like Star Wars.  i.e. mostly male, but with an age range skewed much higher than the typical target audience for Lego.

Those of us who grew up playing with Lego and saw the original Star Wars movies in the theaters can now spend some more money on the combination of those two passions, or introduce our children to them.

But this kind of combination doesn’t always work. Lego recently announced a new game for the Wii, entitled Lego Rock Band.

There is whole family of Rock Band games including:

  • Rock Band (2007)
  • Rock Band 2 (2008)
  • Rock Band Unplugged (2009)
  • The Beatles: Rock Band (2009)
  • Lego Rock Band (2009)

Who is the target audience for Lego Rock Band? And will this game appeal to them?

The songs provided with the game are a curious mix of hits from various decades, with music from:

  • Jimi Hendrix, The Jackson 5
  • The Police, David Bowie
  • Carl Douglas (gotta love “Kung Fu Fighting”)
  • Foo Fighters, Bon Jovi
  • Spinal Tap (set the volume to 11)
  • Queen, Pink
  • Iggy Pop (yeah, this guy ===>)
  • Elton John, Korn
  • Counting Crows
  • and KT Tunstall (Who???)

to name just a few.

Forget about the video game for a second. Who would be the target for  that group of musicians????

Now combine the Rock Band portion, and maybe you’ll get some eclectic rocker/video game enthusiasts.

Now combine in the Lego theme, and who’s left? Young videogame playing, Lego fanboys who like 1970s punk rock?

Perhaps I’m not the target audience for this? I do own a Wii, and I actually do like some of the musicians listed above, and I did like Lego as a kid. But combining them all into a Rock Band game? I don’t think so.

Am I wrong here? Let me know.

Saeed

Vote For Us! ComputerWeekly IT Blog Awards

It must be that time of year. We have been nominated (for the second year running) for the ComputerWeekly IT Blog awards. And just like last year, you can vote for us in 3 easy steps.

1. Click the “VOTE FOR ME” image on the right (or click here).
2. Scroll down to the IT Project Management category (#7) and select our blog ( On Product Management ) from the list.

3. Scroll down a bit further and press Done.

That’s it.

One more thing. Don’t let the fact that this is a ProJECT Management category fool you. There are other ProDUCT management blogs listed, and one of the criteria is that nominated blogs have covered Project Management topics such as Agile. And we’ve definitely covered that topic on this blog.

Thanks

Canadians take top spots at PMEC Battle of the bloggers

Congratulations to April Dunford of RocketWatcher, and our own Ethan Henry for coming in first and second respectively at the PMEC Battle of the Bloggers in San Jose, CA today. There was stiff competition from a number of prominent bloggers including Michael Ray Hopkin, Tom Grant, Ivan Chalif, and the team from Brainmates in Australia.

Here are a few tweets about April’s and Ethan’s performances.

And here are the official results.

Congrats also to Tom Grant, Ivan Chalif and Ivan Lybbert.

Surprise us: Seeking examples of SURPRISING positioning statements

We write a lot here, and we hope that it helps you. Now I’m looking for your input. Can you help? If you do, I will feature you on our blog. But I need the responses within 1 day!

The request

I am looking for examples of positioning that takes the buyer by surprise. The classic example of this is AVIS, as told and retold by Ries and Trout in their classic books on marketing and positioning. Avis: We are only #2AVIS was not the leader in its category, so it claimed a different position: “We are only #2, but we try harder.” Very few companies would be willing to admit that they have a #2 position, but AVIS did, and it was a successful move.

Why? Because Hertz – then the market leader – could not dispute the claim. “At Avis, the lines are shorter!” How could Hertz argue with that? Hertz is/was the leader, so they must have longer lines! (This was before the no-checking Gold service.)

I believe that positioning statements need to be surprising. Too many positioning statements are ineffective because they are boring, and frankly, not believable.

Some examples of useless, un-believable positioning:

  • your companies claim to be a leading vendor when you are really a trailing vendor in your space
  • you are not leading in the main space, so you say you are the leader in a space that no one cares about

Boring. Ineffective.

Can you help? Find examples of surprising positioning statements!

I would like your input here. Please comment below, or email me, with examples of positioning statements that are surprising, unique, and disarming.

Fame will be yours

I need your responses within 1 day. I will write an article discussing the responses. All the super-compelling examples will be highlighted on our blog, with a shout out to your LinkedIN profile, a picture of you if you like, or a link to a page or article about you.

- Alan

Taking the "mess" out of Messaging (part 4)

This is part 4 of the series. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

In this part, I’ll take a look at whether the industry can get out of the mess it’s in.

Looking back

Before looking forward, let’s take a look back at some ads from a couple of decades ago.

Click each image to enlarge.

Notice something about these ads? They all look rather similar. Pictures of (similar looking) computers and lots of text! Check out those headlines. “A new way of personal-professional computation”???? What’s that all about? Is it a personal computer or a professional compute? Well it’s both (and neither)! Ouch.

And that’s one fine looking set of muttonchops on Issac Asimov in the Radio Shack ad!

Even Apple was not immune to kind of advertising.  Here’s the original Macintosh print ad. A double-page spread! Click images to enlarge.

Cool. Did you catch the specs on the Mac? 64K ROM, 128K RAM, 32bit MC68000 processor, and even a clock/calendar chip!

Comparing these ads to advertising today, it’s  clear that things have changed for the better in 25 years. Apple certainly leads most other technology companies in their sophistication, but then, they’ve been at it much longer than most other technology companies!

As every industry matures, so does the audience for it’s products. Forty or fifty years ago, a lot of advertising for cars talked about engine horsepower, size (in cubic inches), acceleration, top speed etc. The only metrics that are frequently mentioned today are mileage or fuel consumption (and sometimes number of cup holders!). But that’s because those are important to us.

In personal technology, few consumers, truly care about the processor in their device. Quick, what kind of of CPU does you iPod have? What about a Blackberry? What about an iPhone? The Palm Pre? The Motorola Razr? The MacBook Air?

If you know any or (even worse) all of the CPUs in those device, you’re a serious geek. :-)

But for the vast, vast majority of people, it doesn’t really matter one bit. Those days are behind us. We have matured and so has the industry. Of course, there are still many companies that talk in “speeds and feeds” or mumbo-jumbo, but in a maturing industry, they pay a price. The segment of the market that listens to the “tech-speak” is shrinking steadily.

Looking forward

If we try and look 25 years into the future, how will things have changed? Technology will have become much more embedded and ubiquitous in our environment.

The days of the big desktop computer will be gone. We will carry, wear and perhaps even embed devices within our bodies.

A second full generation of people will have reached adulthood living in an Web-enabled world. The word “offline” will be an anachronism. Augmented reality will be our reality.

In a world like that, how will people relate to technology? How will companies need to communicate with the market about their products?

The current “craze” known as social-media will be old news, and will just be part of the communication process vendors have with their customers. Consumers, particularly younger ones, will likely give up a lot of what is now considered “personal” information to companies, in exchange for individualized products and services.

In the context of the digital world, “Give me what I want, when I want and how I want” will simply be a common state of affairs.

Remember the phrase “personal computer”? That of course was shortened to PC, which is still used today, but few people think about the “personal” part explicitly anymore. Messaging and advertising will become “personal” in the future as well.

And of course there will be those that do it well, and those that do not.

So getting back to the original question – Can we get out of this mess? – the answer is yes, but it will take time. But for those of us who are at the forefront of this change, let’s see if we can’t make that change happen just a little bit faster and easier and ensure we don’t get emails that promise to help do things like  “Design a Monetization Strategy to Enhance Strategic Goals while Protecting Core Assets” any more.

Saeed

Also in this series:

PM Open House Nov. 5 @ Forrester Research

If you in the Bay Area on Thursday November 5, make sure you take some time in the afternoon to attend the Product Management Open House at Forrester Research in Foster City.

Location: Forrester Research HQ
Address: 950 Tower Lane, Suite 1200, Foster City
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 PM

More details can be found here.

Kindly RSVP  Marsha Versen (mversen@forrester.com, 650.581.3851) if you are interested in attending.

If you have questions about the event, please contact Tom Grant (tgrant@forrester.com, 650.581.3846).

I honestly miss being in the Bay Area because of the numerous events like this one. They’re great for meeting new people or connecting with old friends.

Tom, I hope you have a successful Open House. Make sure you take some pictures and post them on your blog in the near future.

Saeed

Taking the "mess" out of Messaging (part 3)

Continuing this series (click the links for part 1 and part 2), let’s look at the following question:

  • How can we get out of this mess?

Given the problems cited in part 2 – laziness, review committees, truthiness – it’s not easy. There are many other reasons of course, and the combination of them makes it difficult to change the behaviour of an entire industry.

Differentiate yourself

It takes effort, skill and planning to create great messaging. Like many other things, it’s difficult to describe what makes great messaging, but you know it when you see it (or read it, or hear it)!

Messaging should be a weapon of differentiation for companies. Tied very closely to positioning, messaging can impact audiences in ways that no technical achievement can. The now famous 1000 songs in your pocket message for the original iPod was simply brilliant.

Why? It was completely focused on the value to the customer. It spoke directly to them, was conscise, appealing and spoke about the iPod in a way completely different from any of it’s competitors.

Watch the video, and observe the story it tells.

The “dude” is sitting behind his Macintosh, listening to his music and clearly enjoying it. He then transfers it to his iPod, puts on the earphones, selects a song on the iPod with the thumbwheel, and within seconds is enjoying the song again. He then tucks the iPod in his pocket and dances out the door. The voiceover comes on and in only 6 brief words, speaks volumes to the audience:

iPod. 1000 songs in your pocket.

In 1 minute, Apple demonstrated how easy it was to enjoy music on their portable player, and focused the audience on the 1 thing they wanted the audience to remember. It worked amazingly.

Now, someone else — not as savvy as Apple and their advertising agency — would probably have promoted the iPod as follows:

  • Comes in 2 models with 5 GB and 10 GB hard drives
  • Capable of holding 1000 or 2000 songs respectively (in 160Kbps MP3 format)
  • Patented thumbwheel interface
  • 2-in backlit LCD display
  • 60-mW high output amplifier
  • Battery life of 10 hours (your mileage may vary)
  • Firewire port with 400 Mbs transfer speed
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack

In fact, if you looked at how other competing music players were advertised, they actually were marketing technical specs. Instead of benefits, they actually spoke about things like the amount of RAM they provided or the audio formats they supported.

It amazes me that in the 25 years (yes it’s been about that long) since the original commercial that introduced the Macintosh to the world, very few technology companies have been able to match the simplicity, clarity and effectiveness of Apple’s messaging.

And the obvious question is, yet again, why?

Rules for getting it right

It takes culture, commitment and command in the craft of communication for a company to create consistently compelling commuiques like those of Apple.  For the rest of us mere mortals, we can try something a little more mundane to mend our messages. :-)

For whatever reason, people seem to think that in business writing, all the rules they learned in school are no longer needed. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Follow these rules (created by none other than George Orwell himself) and see what a difference they make:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If you want more detail on any of these, check out this article.

And here’s the original essay where he first wrote these rules (way back in 1946).

For business writing, one other rule is needed.

Apply the “So what?” test to everything you write. If what you’ve written doesn’t provide a good answer the question “So what?”, rewrite it, and ask the question again.

I’ll stop there. :-)

In the next part, I’ll discuss whether the industry can ever fix the messaging problem for good.

Saeed

Also in this series: