Month: July 2010

Check out LiteMind for a free eBook

I recently started reading LiteMind, and have been enjoying it very much. The focus of the site is personal development, productivity, freedom, and creativity … all topics that product managers can benefit from.

They have an offer today that you should check out: A free eBook just for making a comment on a post. I think it’s a draw, so it’s not a sure thing, but the list of books is worth perusing.

Check it out here:

– Alan

5 steps to building a great Product Management organization

by Saeed Khan

There’s a lot of general discussion about traits and activities to help individual Product Managers excel, but not a lot is written about Product Management teams and departments.  I wrote a pair of blog posts on this topic a couple of years ago, but not much since, so I thought it was time to revisit the topic.

A reality of Product Management teams is that they are usually relatively small, particularly when compared to larger departments such as Engineering, Marketing or Sales.  And perhaps it is because these teams are small, that not much thought is given to how to best structure them. But in fact, given the critical cross-functional role Product Management plays, having a well structured, scalable and properly staffed team can make a huge impact on the top-line of a company’s balance sheet.

Here are the 5 steps to building a great organization.

1. Understand the full value of Product Management

Too often technology Product Management is viewed as the requirements collector, or keeper of the product roadmap, or an adjunct to Engineering. But all of these sell short the value and impact Product Management can have on a business.

What is the ultimate goal of Product Management?

To  optimize the business at the product, product line or product portfolio level over the lifecycle of the products.

Or as Don Vendetti defined it in his guest post:

To deliver measurable business results through product solutions that meet both market needs and company goals.

Either way, the focus is on the business success.

And if you look back at the origins of Product Management it’s clear that’s how it was envisioned by James McElroy at Procter and Gamble almost 80 years ago.

2. Put formal Product Management in place very early in a company’s life

Understanding what should be built and for whom is a core task of Product Management. But even in very early stage companies, there are many other questions that Product Management must answer:

Questions such as:

  1. What high value problems does the product solve?
  2. Who faces these problems today?
  3. How much pain do these problems pose for these people?
  4. Who will be the main buyers of the product? (Note: buyers and users are not necessarily the same).
  5. Will the buyers pay to address the user pain (i.e. is the pain a high enough priority for the buyer to spend money to address it?)
  6. What are the current alternatives to using the product?
  7. What obstacles need to be overcome for people to adopt this product?
  8. What skillsets will the target users have?
  9. Do the skillsets of those users match with the required skillsets needed to use the product?
  10. How should the product be priced and licensed?
  11. How should the product be initially delivered into the market?
  12. What channels or partnerships are required to enter the market?

These are all fundamental questions that should be asked and answered in the earliest stages of a business, as they not only impact how a product is built, but also the activities and people needed to bring the product successfully to market.

For any startup, company success is tied directly to product success. Or as Bill Campbell said, “Great companies start with great products”. It is something a lot of companies seem to forget, as they release complex or unfocused products that require significant marketing and sales efforts to generate customer adoption. Put skilled Product Management in place early to accelerate market adoption, revenue and profits.

3. Product Management must be part of the Executive team

An experienced Product Management executive should be the first formal Product Management hire as she/he can not only help with overall product strategy and market alignment, but can set the stage for building a great team as the company expands. In short, Product Management needs a seat at the management table.

Many companies that hire early, make the mistake of hiring a less experienced person — a “hands on” individual contributor — to be “the Product Manager” for the fledgling product. This person typically reports into Engineering or Marketing and thus isn’t part of the Sr. Management team. While a good individual contributor can certainly help a company avoid common mistakes, an experienced executive can help drive the company forward and accelerate success.

4. Don’t starve Product Management as the company grows

Far too many companies have significant budgets to hire additional engineers, sales and marketing staff as growth occurs. But as they grow, they typically don’t increase the Product Management team to keep pace.  This is a pattern repeated in many companies.

Over time, Product Management becomes a bottleneck for other groups in the company. This not only reduces the effectiveness of Product Management, but also impacts all the downstream teams and activities that depend on information and decisions coming from Product Management. This creates a drag on the company’s ability to execute effectively and to bring new successful products to market.

5. Create Product Management teams with differentiated roles

An often heard lament of companies looking for Product Managers is that it’s difficult to find really good Product Management candidates. I’m sure that’s true, but it’s also true when it comes to finding really great candidates for sales, marketing, software development, QA etc.

In general, good talent is hard to find. But what exacerbates the Product Management search even further is how companies define the job of individual Product Managers.

Product Management is a very broad function with a mix of technical and business responsibilities. Product Management needs to stay abreast of changing market conditions, competitors, and new technologies. Product Management also must create product and business plans to address market opportunities. Additionally Product Management must work across multiple groups and departments in a company to help ensure they are aligned.

A lot of companies make the mistake of rolling all of these responsibilities into a single role – the Product Manager – and then looking for the ideal candidate with all of the the technical and business experience, domain knowledge and leadership skills to fill that role.

And then when they need to scale – for example when looking to create a second product – the same companies look for yet another   candidate with the same broad skill set. This process gets repeated over and over again across many companies. Of course, not only does this make it hard to find suitable candidates, but it makes it very difficult for those people, once hired, to be truly effective and successful.

Would any company hire software developers and ask them to design and write software, test it and also write the documentation for it? Or how about trying to hire a salesperson who can do their own lead generation and act as their own sales consultant.  Not very likely.

Few if any companies would think that these are ways to build scalable and effective software development or sales teams.  It should be evident then, that it is also no way to build a scalable and effective Product Management team.

Roles in Product Management should differentiate between technical and business focus; between short term tactical focus and longer term strategic focus; between internal (inbound) and external (outbound) responsibilities. These roles should be organized as small teams focused on specific products or product lines, with defined metrics to measure progress and success.

This is what is done with virtually every other department in a company. Why should it be different for Product Management?


NOTE: Shortlink for this article is:

Open Question – One thing you wish you had known when you became a PM


Simple question :

What’s one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you became a Product Manager?

Think of it as advice you’d like to pass down to those new to or thinking about entering the field.

I’ll start.

I wish I had really understood the value of ruthless prioritization. By that I mean prioritizing all the things that were (seemingly) expected of me, and being able to clearly define what was most important and focus on those.

I remember being completely overwhelmed in my first Product Management position by trying to do what I thought was expected of me by all the other teams.

It was a huge learning curve, and this was in a company that in hindsight, probably had one of the best grasps of Product Management of any company I’ve worked in.

OK, over to you. Please leave your answers in the comments section below.


NOTE: Shortlink for this article is:

Lessons from 2 very different social media events

NOTE: Shortlink for this article is:

Boy, you can’t throw a stick these days without hitting someone who’s got some kind of social media activity going on. And it’s not just the technology or CPG marketers who are getting into the action.

Perhaps taking a lesson from the success of Barack Obama’s use of social media in his election campaign, Canadian politicians have started their own efforts in this area.

A few months ago, the leaders of the two largest political parties in Canada — Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party of Canada, and Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada — held events that heavily relied on social media.

Comparing the two is very interesting and there are some clear lessons to be learned.

NOTE: I’m in no way endorsing either of these two parties or their leaders, and I have no political agenda here. I’m not a member of either political party. But these two events do lend themselves to analysis and learning. That’s my objective.

Event 1Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes questions on YouTube

YouTube and Google Moderator were used to allow people to propose and rank questions that would be asked of the Prime Minister.  Over 1800 questions were submitted and voted on. A recorded interview with Google’s Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Pichette asking the Prime Minister questions was posted on YouTube under the TalkCanada channel. I’ve embedded the interview below.

Event 2 – Canada at 150 Conference lead by  Liberal Party Michael Ignatieff

A 3-day conference entitled “Canada at 150: Rising to the Challenge” was held in Montreal from March 26-28.

The conference had invited speakers who discussed topics on a number of themes, and also answered live questions from across Canada submitted via email, Skype and Twitter.

There was a live audience of paid attendees at the conference who also asked questions of the various panelists.

Mr. Ignatieff spoke at the beginning and end of the conference but sat in the audience otherwise.

The whole event was streamed live over the Web via their website, and there were many local meetings held across Canada over the weekend where people could watch the panels and speakers in Montreal, submit questions and discuss issues.

And obviously recordings were posted on YouTube after the event.

Comparing the two events

It’s important to note that these were two very different events, held by very different political parties and for very different reasons.  BUT, there are valid comparisons that can be made from the social media perspective and what it means to use and benefit from social media.

Prime Minister Harper on  YouTube

The Stephen Harper YouTube event was recorded and not live. It was no different than an interview or “fireside chat” that could have been delivered via television or radio for that matter. The Globe and Mail newspaper had an interesting take on  event.

Lesson: Putting videos on YouTube does not mean you are “leveraging social media”.

If you listen to the interview and know a bit about Canadian politics, the responses, such as why does Canada not have an elected Senate, on legalizing marijuana, or the Prime Minister’s views on another separation referendum in Quebec were very simple in nature, given little additional information and insight into the topics.

Lesson:  Social media can help reach new audiences, but you need to be authentic and open. Save stock, scripted answers for mainstream media sound bites.

One question on the Canadian military’s role in the potential mistreatment of Afghan detainees (a hot topic in Canada at the time) was met basically with a repudiation of the question and a somewhat rambling answer that avoided the intent of the question.

Lesson: Social media are most valuable for authentic bi-directional communication, not for simply broadcasting controlled messages

Overall response to the event was not very positive. Even the usually supportive newspaper, the National Post, ended a “review” of the performance with this line:

And so, YouTube Interview with Prime Minister Harper ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.  As with many government performances of late, a disappointing finish to an otherwise well-meaning effort.

Canada @ 150 Conference

Hailed by Mr. Ignatieff himself as an example of 21st century democracy (I personally don’t agree with that claim), and a starting point for conversations about future of Canada, the conference was in many ways the polar opposite of the Stephen Harper event.

Instead of a single speaker with pre-screened questions and a recording of the answers, there were many speakers, live streamed over the Web and live questions via email, Twitter and Skype.

Lesson: Social media are tools for communication. Providing multiple means for people to communicate helps foster a true sense of openness and dialogue.

As mentioned earlier, there were over 50 sites across the country where people could go and discuss issue with local members of the Liberal party as well as other individual people. At each of those sites the live stream from Montreal was projected onto screens so all could listen.

A moderator at each site took questions from the audience and conveyed them to the conference in Montreal, but of course people could email, tweet directly on their own.

Lesson: Social media tools should support live human conversations whenever possible, not act simply as a replacement for them.

The Twitter hash tag #can150 was very active during the conference and for several days afterwards with lively responses to the conference, as well as debate on whether the conference was successful or not. Sadly, there is little happening on Twitter a few months later WRT that that event.

This is one place where I believe the Canada @150 conference failed with it’s social media activities. The event hailed as the start of conversations about Canada’s future provided no real means to continue the conversations once the conference ended.

Lesson: Social media provide the means to create ongoing connections with people. For any ongoing project, use them to create and build communities of people who can help move your project forward.

And finally…

It’s been several months since these events, and neither Mr. Harper nor Mr. Ignatieff has followed up with any additional social media activities beyond Twitter and Facebook.

Prime Minister Harper: @pmharper,

Michael Ignatieff: @M_Igniatieff,

It’s interesting to note that Michael Ignatieff is currently on an old style cross-country summer bus tour to meet people across Canada. Nothing like actually meeting people face to face in their own local environments. You can follow it on Twitter under #liberalexpress.

Even if you aren’t familiar with Canadian politics, are there other lessons people should be aware of when using social media?


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The Ugly of Product Management

Finally (sorry for the delay) here is part 3 of the results from my survey. Part 1 — the Good , and Part 2 – The Bad — were published back in April. :-(

For this post, the specific question asked was:

If you could change aspects of your job to make it a more effective role, what would those things be? (The UGLY)

NOTE: As in previous posts, I’ve categorized the responses into high level categories and tabulated those. I’ve tried to keep a bit of consistency (where possible) with the categories used in previous survey result posts.

And with that, here are the results:

Lack of Authority

This was by far the most common answer with a lot of consistency in the comments provided by people. Not surprisingly, lack of authority was a common answer in the BAD of Product Management results. Some of the comments:

  • More decision making power
  • More control over the development process (we’re an ASP)
  • Ownership of the product in reality and not just on paper
  • More “voice” over development priorities
  • Resource management (control/greater influence over dev and /or marketing priorities)
  • Give PM full ownership over the product – i.e. don’t promise anything without checking with her first, trust in her
  • Management of complete portfolio
  • Product Management participation in strategic planning
  • P/L ownership
  • Ownership of product roadmap; move it from the CEO to Product Management

Looking at these, I’m going to make an assumption that Product Management is being defined as a silo (along with other departmental silos) in companies. The last two points about P/L and roadmap ownership attest to that.

Cultural Problems

This was also a frequent response in the BAD results. I see a clear relationship between the Authority comments above and the Culture comments below. In some ways they are flip-sides of the same issue.

  • A culture that believes in good product management
  • Get people to understand the importance of product management
  • Clear accountability of teams to each other
  • Cooperation with R&D
  • Eliminate the micromanagement by empower the Product Managers to own their  business
  • Having enough time to attempt to do things right from the start rather than always rushing through each process
  • Product Management shouldn’t be defining product architecture; Engineering should!
  • More accurate LOEs (level of effort) and schedules from engineering
  • Be given clearer objectives from Management

I think most of us have heard these comments before, or probably lived them in companies we’ve worked at. The question to answer is HOW can we affect the change needed to address these issues. If they are so common, there must be common reasons why and certainly means to start addressing them, either bottom up or top down.

There was one comment that I want to pull out specifically as I think it’s a great one:

  • Get resources and time to celebrate more. Too many project teams seem to see the reward of their hard work as more work in the next project. We should be taking the lead to celebrate wins and rewarding eh people that made it happen. this is especially important in the age of Agile when projects continue for long stretches

I really think every company should take this comment to heart and address it in whatever ways are appropriate.

When I worked in California – after a LONG effort on a major release — all of the PM and Engineering staff were treated to a 3 day trip: Hawaii for those in California and Thailand for those in India. It was a very nice way for the company to show their appreciation.

These kinds of celebration and rewards can do wonders for staff morale, productivity and loyalty. Hey, if the sales teams can go to Club for their efforts, why not the people who build the product that the Sales teams sell?

Limited Staffing

Another common issue in most Product Management teams is around staffing. I’ve never heard anyone say, “We have way too many Product Managers!”. And given the cross-functional nature of the job, as well as the general lack of clear definition of the PM roles, it’s not surprising the PMs feel overloaded.

  • Have a staff of evangelists on hand to drive feature adoption
  • Hire a Project Manager to run projects
  • Have a project/program manager working with Product Management
  • Have a dedicated team of developers and project managers
  • Need more staff; business doesn’t comprehend the importance of activities, so understaffs
  • Have more product experts in house, allowing me to be a market expert

Restricted Customer Contact

It was surprising how many times people indicated that they are blocked from direct customer contact.

I’ve listed this high because it is such a glaringly obvious issue that companies need to change. I think it also goes back to earlier comments about companies that don’t understand how to define and implement Product Management. It also ties into the next heading of Job Definition and Process.  Some of the customer related comments were:

  • Be allowed to interact with customers more often
  • Have more time to spend speaking 1:1 with customers
  • Getting to speak more openly with strategic customers
  • More customer visits
  • More time with customers/prospects outside the sales cycle

Poor Job Definition and Process

This category combines two related items that seemed intertwined in the comments.  Anyone who has worked in Product Management for any length of time has encountered these problems in at least one company.

  • Define the role more clearly
  • The job requirements for the role are too broad
  • Better definition around the scope of Product Management
  • Real roadmap process
  • Less day-to-day support of other functional areas
  • Have a good process where Product Management can have sufficient influence
  • Improve the organizations ability to handle changes coming in from the market
  • Have bottom up strategy and budget planning
  • Don’t be “too Agile” and change the concept of Agile

Inefficient Organizational Structure

Another common thread when talking about changes that need to be made. This is often related to the staffing issue described earlier.

  • Hire pre-sales people in each region globally who are specific to my product
  • Restructure the company to product-centric P&L teams
  • Eliminate expectation for sales support
  • Create a PM support later to handle day-to-day issues

Other responses

There were a number of other comments that didn’t get a broad coverage in the responses. These included:

  • Strategy – 5 responses – e.g. strategic planning, clear corporate goals
  • Metrics – 5 responses – e.g. create clear measures of PM success
  • Issues with Sales – 4 responses – e.g. hire better qualified sales people
  • Budgets – 3 responses – e.g. larger travel.  Let me experience the market directly
  • Tools – 2 responses – e.g. need better tools for requirements tracking, customer summaries, sales data etc.

I’m quite surprised the Metrics didn’t get mentioned more often. It’s clear that few companies have well defined metrics for Product Management, and this causes problems in role definition and staffing.

Tools was another one that surprised me by how few mentions it received. Maybe people are actually using real tools, or may be most respondents have just given up, or maybe lack of tools isn’t one of the 3 biggest problems people face in their roles. :-(


So there you have it, the final installment – What people want to see changed in their roles and companies.

Does you see issues that apply to you or your company?

Are there other issues that were missed by the survey respondents?

I want to hear from you.