Monthly Archives: April 2010

There is no such thing as bad press

OR: Misery loves company, especially company that can go onto your Twitter stream.

So assuming you’ve read the Interwebs lately you’ve hard the tale of how an Apple employee lost a next-generation iPhone test unit at a bar where it was found and sold to a gadget blog. Sordid stuff.

Many commenters immediately assumed that the person who lost the phone would be fired, but that has not yet been reported to happen. So perhaps he merely has to spend a few weeks in the penalty box at work.

(Note to the CrankyPM: Yes, your CEO can drop his laptop off his yacht without penalty, but if you lose a hotel receipt there’s hell to pay, right?)

At any rate, of all the things that might come out of such an incident, this is an unlikely one: Lufthansa has offered to fly the person-who-lost-something (I hate to pile on by calling the poor guy a “loser”) to Munich.

You see, he lost the phone at a German-style bar, tenuous connection, etc.

Now, it takes a lot of nerve to offer this poor Apple employee a reward for making one of the biggest mistakes in recent company history (with the exception of MobileMe, zing!) but, the real question is: how much nerve does it take to accept the offer?

And is this a legitimate use of social media marketing or is it, as a Lufthansa employee would succinctly put it, just Schadenfreude?

The Bad of Product Management

Here’s part 2 of the results from my survey. Part 1 — the Good — was published last week.  Following the same format as Part 1, I’ve categorized the open ended answers into specific categories and the picked some of the most representative responses for each of those categories.

The question asked in this case was:

What are the top 3 things you *DON’T* like about your role? (The BAD)

NOTE: Please list things that you actually do in your job or are enabled to do.

NOTE: It was actually harder putting these responses into appropriate categories than it was for the Good. Sometimes responses straddled 2 or 3 categories that I had used. In the end, I did my best to be consistent about the categorizations.

And with that, here are the results:

Tactical Responsibilities

By far the most common thing disliked was having to do what can best be described as very tactical tasks. I don’t think this is unique to Product Management, but there was a really long list of these types of answers in the survey responses.

  • Writing detailed specifications
  • Bug triage
  • Product demos
  • Sales support
  • Writing collateral
  • Handling support escalations
  • Writing white papers
  • RFP responses
  • Mundane research
  • Creating data for customer demos

The general sense I had when reading these and other similar responses is that a lot of time is spent doing these things and that time could be better spent in more valuable tasks.

I’m surprised no one mentioned being responsible for the dreaded “Platform Availability Matrix”! :-)

Lack of Authority

The next most common category was related to authority (0r more commonly the lack of it) for Product Managers. This is not news but it is not a good sign if this is still the case in many companies.

  • Little influence on R&D operationally
  • No ultimate decision making authority
  • Competing priorities when leaders/groups want to hedge their bets to avoid making final decisions
  • Realize very little of the planned funding for roadmap projects
  • Executive desire to control – effectively defeating a PMs authority/influence
  • Limited opportunity to affect business strategy
  • Micromanagement of products by upper level management
  • Too often the PM is charged with applying a thin veneer of the latest hot biz idea over current development efforts even when the idea conflicts with the product vision, core belief or functionality
  • Execs deciding strategy with no information or input

People Issues

This is a bit of a catch-all for things related to team work, interaction with other groups, organizational structure  etc.

  • Org structure that inhibits team participation by team members
  • Babysitting R&D (and/or sales)
  • Bad leadership, really bad
  • Responsiveness of the people I’m depending on
  • PM leadership directly converted from Engineering but pretend to be visionary PM
  • Having to manage under performing direct reports
  • Not having a mentor or someone to learn from
  • Mediating between conflicting departments re: product issues
  • Lack of strategic guidance from the executive team
  • Doing other people’s jobs to get the product out

The comment on mediating between conflicting departments is interesting. I don’t know how much mediating that person does or what kinds of conflicts occur, but I found that comment somewhat strange.

The fact that you’re being called to mediate shows those teams respect you enough to have you help them address these issues. At least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience. Not all PMs are called in for those situations, and if you are one, understand why.

Culture

Responses that sounded like they are part of the company culture ended up here. Culture plays a critical role in successful companies and it’s important that Sr. Management understands this and sets the right examples.

  • Ongoing dealings with unrealistic expectations internally
  • Working with teams who don’t care that much about the product
  • People more dedicated to processes and polices than actual outcomes
  • Organization tends to respect product managers who are into technical minutia, not strategic vision
  • Back and forth executive decisions
  • Working with R&D that is unable to make a design freeze
  • A slow inclination to change
  • Good ideas always take too long to reach the market
  • Everything is hurry up and wait

Politics

Where would product management be if it didn’t involve politics? Politics is not always a bad thing, but unfortunately, it’s human nature to take care of number 1 first, and then worry about what’s best for others.  Here are some of the responses:

  • Wresting with other teams to get things done
  • GMs so busy with politics and budgets that they forget about customers and users
  • Juggling the slate to accommodate politics or last minute requests
  • Politics of who owns design

Project Management

An oldie but a good. There were a number of respondents who simply wrote “Project Management” as one of their dislikes in the job.

OK everyone, repeat after me — A Project Manager is NOT a Product Manager. Again. Again. One final time. OK, problem solved?

Lack of Resources

  • Inability to allocate resources to my project
  • Not having enough resources
  • Lack of evangelism resource. To get product to market effectively, you need to help drive feature adoption

Lack of Direction/Definition

  • Lack of broader understanding of expections of Product Management
  • No being challenged enough by Management
  • Lack of definition of the role
  • I have so many different hats/roles to play

Lack of Customer Contact

This came up several times. If you are a PM and your company won’t let you talk to customers, the company doesn’t understand Product Management. You should try to help them understand, but if that fails, seriously consider changing employers. It’s not worth figuratively banging your head against a wall every day.

  • Not being able to talk to customers indirectly or directly
  • Not allowed to visit customers
  • Can only talk to customers when a sales rep is present

Other responses

There were quite a few responses that covered various themes such as workload, job pace, constraints, compensation etc.

  • Sometimes a dumping ground
  • Can be quite exhausting at times
  • A struggle to keep the respect of other departments
  • Working without enough data
  • PM is never really appreciated – [this person should read this post.]
  • All the blame, none of the glory – [and this person as well!]
  • Volume of email
  • Can’t get it all done – [prioritize! :-) ]
  • Not enough time for family and hobbies
  • Communication overload when every problem a stakeholder can’t figure out gets sent to your desk as you seem to know everyone
  • Lack of documentation for all the “gotchas” of our product. No simple way to communicate them to those who need to know
  • No documentation on the history of our products – what was added/changed in what release – [it should be in the release notes or 'What's new' document :-) ]

The final set of results — what people want to change — is now available.

What are your thoughts on these responses? Do they mirror your environment? Any advice you want to give to the people who wrote these comments?

Saeed

The Good of Product Management

Way back in February, I ask you to fill out a survey indicating the good, bad and ugly about your jobs. Well, a lot of you did just that, and I thank you for that.

Unfortunately, it’s taken me about 2 months to get around to analyzing the results and reporting them back to you.

Note to self — when you ask people to fill out a survey, don’t be surprised when a lot of people do, and your survey design means it will be quite time consuming to analyze the results.

OK. Now that I have that over with, I’ll get back to business. Here’s what I did with the responses.

There were 3 main questions asking what you liked, disliked and would change in your jobs. For each question, there was room for up to 3 responses.

Given they were free form answers,  I looked at each and tried to classify them in some logical category to identify patterns.

The first key question was:

What are the top 3 things you *like best* about your role? (The Good)
NOTE: Please list things that you actually do in your job or are enabled to do.

And here are the results. For each category, I’ve listed some of the actual responses from the respondents to give you a flavour of what people said.

Responsibilities

Not surprisingly, this was the most common category for responses. People in these jobs like it for the work they do.

  • Managing work that has a beginning, middle, and end with opportunities to sell excitement, problem solve, then celebrate success.
  • It’s a good balance of being social with being analytical
  • Working across all internal groups to educate and take a product to market
  • integrate viewpoints/biases of functional contributors
  • Building multidisciplinary teams without official authority
  • Bringing together and involving myself in every part of the company with the aim of getting everyone on board

Product

The next most common category was related to products and product development.

  • Building new products/solutions from the ground up
  • Work with the development team to assure the vision is turned into a viable product
  • Writing requirements for new features
  • Creating a product that solves customer problems
  • Releasing new product and seeing how it impacts our customers, users, partners.

Strategy

This category was quite common with many people indicating or implying they like the strategic nature of their work.

  • Ability to impact and participate in the corporate strategy
  • Creating vision
  • Guiding the direction of the product
  • Learning the business and strategizing for future
  • Big picture of the product
  • Seeing how it all fits together

Customers

Again, not surprisingly, a lot of responses related to customers

  • Really understand and translate customer needs
  • Customer visits
  • Lots of interaction with our customers
  • Interacting with clients and potential customers
  • Bonding with customers

Cross-team communication

  • Being communication channel between customers/sales and tech dev team
  • Variety of being the linchpin between all functions
  • Interacting with a variety of people internally & externally
  • Getting sales and customers excited about our stuff

Impact and Influence

  • Making things happen
  • My analysis and opinions are respected by senior executives
  • Being known throughout the company as an expert on the aspects of our product I am responsible
  • Can make an impact to the company

Market

  • Identifying market needs/problems
  • Researching unmet market needs
  • Create solutions to meet market/client needs
  • The market and technology are interesting and ever-changing

Creativity and Problem Solving

  • Solving conceptual challenges
  • Creativity required for marketing efforts
  • The opportunity to be creative and innovative
  • The Aha moments when I bring clarity to complex issues
  • Solving technical challenges

Other comments

Some of the other comments that did not fit into common categories include:

  • Crisis management – [NOTE: Someone likes this?]
  • Seriously work on business model & pricing forecasts
  • Getting into the details of use cases
  • Working with UX team on website design
  • Data mining to understand business patterns
  • Responsible for keeping current on web technology
  • Pricing
  • Learning something new on how NOT to do something, every day
  • Mentoring my reports
  • Constantly learning more about the web and analytics
  • Competitive analysis

So there you have it. A summary of what people like about Product Management. Nothing too surprising here. At least I hope not.

It will get more interesting in the near future, when I report on what people DON’T like and what they want to CHANGE in their roles.

As usual, if you have any comments or thoughts on the topic, please leave a comment.

Saeed

Feedback from Sales

A comment left over at the Inside Sales Experts Blog provides a rebuttal to the common view of sales people by Product Managers:

Son, we live in the world of software , and that software needs to be sold. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Mr. Product Manger? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for your product and you curse the sales people. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: over zealous sales practices , while tragic, probably saved jobs. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, creates YOUR job. You don’t want the truth because, deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me in sales, you need me sales.
We use words phrases like cold calling, lead generation and closing. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent selling something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under a blanket of the very revenue I produce and then questions the manner in which I produce it. I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a telephone and make a sale. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.”

ProductCamp Toronto – It's on!

It’s official! ProductCamp Toronto Spring 2010 will be held on Sunday May 30 at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto.

We will have 3 tracks to help focus content to different audiences who attend.

  1. Product Management 101 —  aimed at people new to Product Management or those who want to learn more about the basics of the topic.
  2. Start me up! — aimed at people who are interested in or involved in startups and want to learn more about how to make those ventures successful
  3. Advanced Product Management and Marketing — while open to anyone, this is  intended for experienced Product Managers and Marketers who want to go deep into topics with others in their field.

Sessions nominated and voted on (see link below) should fall into one of these tracks.

We are open to suggestions for other tracks as well, so speak out if you think there are other areas that you’d like to see covered.

Here are all the important links:

We look forward to seeing you at the event!

Saeed

What is the best class you ever took?

Dear readers: I would like your input here.

Please respond below with the best class (training or academic) that you have ever taken. By “best” I mean, tell me about the class or training course that most impacted your life and career.

I am not assuming that this would be a product management class!

Please respond in the comment section below:

  • Name of the class
  • Where you took it
  • Why it was your favorite
  • What impact it has had on your life or career

- Alan

Guest Post: Frustrated Product Managers unionize to better their working conditions

NOTE: The following is a guest post from April Bolond. If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

In what is probably a first for the product management profession, a small group of product managers in Budapest have joined and formed a labour union.

The group is formally known as the Union in Solidarity with Electricians and Radiologists local 2.0.

Zoltan Nagy, head of the fledgling group stated the following:

Although we are only a small group, we decided to band together to bring change to the terrible conditions in which we must work. I don’t know what it is like in other countries, but here, we are given lots of responsibility but no authority to get things done.

On top of that we have to spend all of our time ensuring the developers do what they need to do, and we have little time to do all the other things in our jobs, like meeting customers or learning about the market or defining product strategy. He who owns the compiler can no longer always be the winner.

A spokesperson for the local software engineering community, who asked that his name not be revealed, said the following about the product management union:

Who needs product managers anyway? We do all the heavy lifting and all they do is talk and think they can tell us what to do. Besides, we are now adopting Agile development, and we’re going to elect our own Product Owner to work with.  What are they going to do now, go on strike?

It looks like tensions will rise between these two groups as time goes on. But another member of the group, Laszlo Rubic, sees this in a much larger context:

Creating a union is a wonderful development for us. We thank the Electricians and Radiologists for welcoming us and understanding our struggle. My larger goal is to raise awareness of this situation and hopefully inspire other product managers around the world that they too should stand up for their work and their profession. It’s like the Prague Spring all over again, but only here in Budapest.

It seems this small group of product managers may have already started inspiring others. They have received congratulation messages from product managers in several countries, and surprisingly one request from California’s Silicon Valley on how to start a union there. Apparently product managers in that high-tech capital are not any better off.

April