Strategic Roadmaps That Energize & Drive Consensus – Three Key Elements

NOTE: The following is a guest post by John Mansour. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information

Products are certainly the most important element of delivering the roadmap, but they’re the least important part of the story when it comes to creating and communicating a strategic roadmap that generates excitement across disciplines and drives consensus.

The intent of a strategic product roadmap is to articulate key product initiatives that support the goals, objectives and market direction of the organization.    For product management teams though, the biggest challenge is presenting a cohesive roadmap that tells a compelling story and energizes other disciplines to the point of consensus.  Hence, the most critical elements of a strategic product roadmap aren’t detailed descriptions of product initiatives or project plans.  They’re elements that provide context in a non-product dialogue others can easily relate to and get excited about.

When creating and presenting your next strategic roadmap, lead with the following three elements and you’re all but guaranteed a more favorable response than those elicited by roadmaps that offer nothing more than a laundry list of development projects and due dates.

1. The Plot

“What will this roadmap do for our market position?” Your senior executives establish company goals and objectives based on financial targets and market conditions surrounding your organization.  The headline of any strategic roadmap should acknowledge these goals and the market influences behind them at a level that exudes credibility and spot-on market insights. Competitive landscape, adoption trends, converging technologies and shifting buyer paradigms (relative to your business/market space) provide a solid backdrop for every strategic roadmap.

2. The Pillars of Your Story

“How will this roadmap advance the strategies of our target buyers?” The supporting points of your storyline should demonstrate strong knowledge of target market dynamics and trending business practices of organizations in those markets (without regard to your products). This information provides the necessary context for any proposed product investments.  For maximum impact, articulate business scenarios from the perspective of a target buyer CEO.

For example, “to help non-profit organizations raise more money and lower the cost of raising it, we’re going to eliminate the complexities of segmenting prospective donors and deliver highly targeted marketing messages to each group through marketing mediums most common to each.” With this context as the backdrop, describe proposed product solutions as high-level use-cases instead of feature lists and they’ll make complete sense to everyone.  “The current process is…and we’re going to simplify it by…which results in…”

Present a series of high-impact solutions as such for each of your target markets and the required product investments will be a much easier sell.  Why?  Because you’re selling the market value of a single cohesive roadmap instead of a laundry list of product improvements often perceived as highly disconnected and not strategic to your organization.

3. The Close

Connect the two previous elements to summarize your pitch.  “If we help non-profits raise more money at a lower cost and help hospitals increase the volume of higher margin services to offset declining reimbursements, we’ll be well-positioned to meet our 30% growth target.” Any further opportunities to put your sales hat on and embellish the story with anecdotes about competition, customers and common sales situations will only help your cause.

In written document form, the above content should be bold headings and short, succinct bullet points that tell the story at-a-glance.  In presentation format, compelling graphics and short phrases should tell the story while details reside in the slide notes.

Creating and presenting strategic roadmaps comes down to a positioning and storytelling exercise for product management teams once they’ve completed their market homework.  Know your audience, know which buttons to push and speak their language.  Make it a habit to improve your leadership quotient and success will come with far greater ease.

Tweet this: Strategic Roadmaps that Energize and Drive Consensus #prodmgmt #innovation #roadmaps

John Mansour is the founder and president of Proficientz, a company that specializes in B2B product  portfolio management.

How to Hire a Product Manager

NOTE: The following is a guest post by Andy Jagoe. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information

Ever come across a really bad product manager?

Jim Collins said, “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, lead, yes. But not tightly managed.”

Correcting a hiring mistake is hard and wastes a lot of time. The last thing you have time for is a new hire who doesn’t produce.

Avoid these 5 interview mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to consistently hiring great talent.

1. Not fully thinking through the real job needs
As a product manager, you’re extremely busy. There’s rarely a time when your plate isn’t overflowing. And sometimes it seems like there just aren’t hours enough in the day to hire another product manager to lighten your load.

In the interest of saving time, make sure you don’t just run out the generic product manager job description you’ve always used or copy and paste from product manager job descriptions of hot company X and hot company Y. This creates a high risk of not hiring the person you really need.

Instead, write down the specific results you want the new product manager to achieve in the first 90, 180 and 365 days on the job. This is called a success profile, and you can learn more about how exactly to create one here.

What’s the benefit of doing this?

A unique and differentiated job that will attract the right people; people who want to do your job. There is no confusion on your interviewing team about exactly what the role is. This makes your interviews more useful and creates a much better impression with the candidate.

Onboarding is easy. You’ve already done the work you have to do anyway to get the new hire up to speed, adding value, and working to agreed on goals and deadlines.

2. Not asking case-based interview questions
With product management, it’s possible for a candidate to know the right “sound-bite” answers to high-level product management questions but not actually be that good at managing a product.

As you know, the devil is in the details and there simply is no substitute for putting a candidate into actual case-based scenarios to find out what he or she would do.

At minimum, you should do case-based questions in these areas:

This process is essentially “doing the job” and is invaluable to assessing talent.

3. Not digging deep enough into answers

Your primary job as an interviewer is to collect enough facts to determine a candidate’s job competency. This is your responsibility; it is not the candidate’s responsibility to provide it to you.

Why is this the case?

If you leave this up to the candidate, you will collect only the information he or she wants you to collect. In other words, you will be measuring the candidate’s interviewing and presentation skills, not job performance.

A great way to get to the bottom of something is called root cause analysis. One of the best methods of root cause analysis was developed at Toyota and is called the “5 Whys”. Here is an example of the 5 Whys adapted to interviewing.

Don’t accept a generality as an answer from a candidate. Dig deep and get the specifics.

4. Not staying objective
A lot has been written about the impact of first impressions. Unfortunately, the interview is a situation when first impressions don’t always work in your favor.

A group of researchers at Carleton University were very surprised to learn that showing users an image of a website for only 50 milliseconds was enough for the users to form an opinion about how appealing the site was.

And because of what’s called confirmation bias, once a human mind has made an opinion we tend to readily accept new information that agrees with that opinion and reject or discount information that disagrees with it.

The researchers found that the 50 millisecond rating correlated highly with ratings given to the site after much longer exposures and the visual appeal rating also correlated highly with other ratings about the site, like whether it was interesting, clear, boring, confusing, etc.

These findings mean that the researchers were seeing confirmation bias in their study, and if you’re not careful you probably have confirmation bias in your interviews as well.

The solution? Focus the interview solely on collecting information. Postpone any assessment or decision on the candidate until after the interview.

5. Selling the job instead of buying the talent

Because hiring is something we do less frequently than other parts of the job, we don’t always have a well-refined process for “recruiting” the good candidates.

When we encounter a top candidate there is a risk that we slip into “selling the candidate on the job” mode.

Don’t do this.

You should always be in “buying the talent” mode. If you’re not, you risk not actually assessing the candidate’s product skills, not building the candidate’s respect in your product skills and your company’s rigor, and giving control of the interview to the candidate.

There are many other things you can do to consistently hire great product managers—but these are the basics. Avoid these interview mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to consistently hiring with confidence and speed.

Have a product manager hiring mistake we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Tweet this: How to Hire a Product Manager #prodmgmt #career

Andy Jagoe is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Product Manager Interview Questions and has 15 years of experience founding, funding, and leading venture funded startups. You can also find Andy on LinkedIn, Google+ and @andyjagoe on Twitter.


Agile Marketing and the Product Owner

The following is a guest post by Jim Ewel. He blogs about Agile Marketing over at

Agile Development Process
Courtesy of Ken Schwaber, Mike Beedle: Agile Software Development with Scrum Prentice Hall PTR, 2001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much has been written about the role of the Product Owner and their role in working with Agile Development teams. But what about the role of the Product Owner in working with Agile Marketing teams? Does he have the same role and responsibilities?

A Primer on Agile Marketing

I’ll reveal my answer below, but first it may be helpful to get a quick primer on Agile Marketing.  Agile Marketing takes its inspiration from Agile Development – like developers, marketers face some of the same challenges (changing requirements, insufficient resources, tight deadlines). The goal is to increase the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of marketing. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If you have an agile development team delivering new releases every 2-4 weeks, why would you want a marketing team executing on six month or yearly marketing plans?

Like Agile Developers, Agile Marketers have values, principles and process. Unlike Agile Developers, we don’t yet have an official, widely agreed upon Manifesto. However, a number of marketers have taken a shot at creating an Agile Marketing Manifesto (see here and here) and Agile Marketers are gathering together for the first time in San Francisco on June 11th to try to hammer out an agreed upon Manifesto.  Here are a few of the values and principles that are likely to come out of that meeting:

  • Agile Marketers value responding to change over following a plan
  • Agile Marketers deliver marketing programs frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale
  • Agile Marketers favor measurement over opinion, what works over what’s popular with the highest paid person in the room
  • Agile Marketers favor many small experiments over a few large bets
  • Agile Marketers favor solving customer problems and helping customers buy over shilling and interruption marketing

The Role of the Product Owner in Agile Marketing

To get back on topic, what is the role of the Product Owner when it comes to Agile Marketing?

  1. The Product Owner contributes to the Marketing backlog, but does not own it – In Agile Development, the product owner owns the Product backlog. He or she creates it, maintains it and prioritizes it. Not so for the marketing backlog, which is owned by someone on the marketing team, and prioritized in the Sprint Planning session, as a joint effort of senior management, sales, the product owner and marketing. The Product Owner can and should contribute to the marketing backlog. For example, the product owner may state that buyers need information about a set of new features coming out in the next iteration of the product, whether than information be delivered on the web site, through a data sheet, or perhaps through a white paper.
  2. The Product Owner represents the product concerns of the customer – Customers choose one product or service over another for many different reasons, only partly because of product features or capabilities. Perception, brand, service, relationships all play a role. These additional issues are owned by marketing, and all must be addressed in the marketing process.
  3. The Product Owner participates in Sprint Planning sessions, Sprint Reviews and (optionally) in the Daily Marketing Scrum – Product owners do not participate in the Sprint retrospective, which is typically limited to the marketing team only. By participating in these events, they can represent the product perspective, and ensure that marketing is aligned with the product team.
  4. The market, not the product owner, is the arbiter of success or failure of a marketing program – in Agile Development, the Product Owner is the final arbiter over whether work is accepted or sent back for re-work. In Agile Marketing, it is the market (the prospects and customers) that determines if a marketing program is successful.  I’m reminded of the story Sergio Zyman tells in The End of Marketing As We Know It. Sergio was called into the office of Roberto Goizetta, the then CEO of Coca-Cola, to show him the latest ads for Coke. Roberto told him bluntly, “I don’t like those ads”.  Sergio replied, “Look Roberto. If you’re willing to buy a hundred percent of the volume [of Coke] worldwide, then I’m happy to do advertising that you like. Otherwise, I’ve got to keep doing it for those damn consumers.”

What do you think? Are there other responsibilities that you think the Product Owner should have in regards to marketing? What are your experiences as a product owner in working with marketing? Have your marketing teams adopted Agile?

Tweet this: New Guest Post by @jimewel on Agile Marketing and the Product Owner #agile #marketing

T-shaped skills and more

Last week I was at a strange meeting: Three guys in a room asking me a number of questions about how I hired talent into my team.  I told them I typically look for T-shaped people.  The audience composed of hyphenated types (will explain in a bit what that means) didn’t get it.  So I shared what I learned and my own interpretation of the well known definition for T-shaped people types and a few others.  Since then I’ve scribbled it in cocktail napkins more than three times this past week explaining to a friend or colleague the same subject.  At this point a  revisit of the topic in a blog post is overdue.  So here it is…

T-shaped, I-shaped, hyphenated and A-shaped…what do they all mean?

If you Google or lookup Wikipedia, you’ll find plenty of links on the subject (see Wikipedia for T-Shaped skills).  The CEO of design firm IDEO is a well known advocate and adopter of recruiting people with T shaped skills.   There’s even a book on the subject of T shaped people sparking creativity and innovation.  Here’s a topical summary of the subject of people types and shapes nevertheless.

I-shaped people types are those that have a very narrow, but expert domain skills in one specific area.  A researcher who has spent his entire life in science in one area is more like an I-typed person.  These are the people that can solve a problem like a ninja – focus and specificity.

T-shaped people types are those that not only have the strength of a specific domain area (i.e. the I-shaped), but a broad set of other domain skills too to collaborate and build things with others.

If you are exceptional with two domain specific skills, and have broad cross domain skills as well, you fit in the A-shaped type.  (A modern day Da Vinci or polymath)

Hyphenated people type is for  those that have no specific domain skills of full competence, but have a broad range of skills across domains. Examples of hyphenated people types include career project managers or general managers at large organizations who have never built anything but a project plan.

So why know or understand these people-shape types?

The first reason for the above is to figure out what kind of an organization you are in and where you’d be better suited to be at.  Startups for example need to have lots of T-shaped people because there’s no place in a startup for a hyphenated person – dollars are scarce, time (to market) is usually short, and if you want to attract outside investment, you better have an A-class team.  Stellar professional services firms too develop their teams this way – where you have a lot of domain experts with specific industry knowledge, sometimes in more than one area, and can operate across domains.

Contrast that with working in a large stodgy firms.  Over time, the same people that have risen through the ranks to executive positions, either loose focus on what got them there (their I’s) or fail to develop new I’s and simply become hyphenated people. And that breeds a culture of more hyphens throughout the organization as they start to hire or encourage and retain more hyphens.  Quickly, this can lead to a culture of mediocrity where domain knowledge disappears and the organization simply fills itself with groupthink.

The second reason is to assess and plan your own career development.  If you are an I type today, you could plan to expand on your domain knowledge and become more well rounded in other domains and become the T-type.  If you are a T-type, your stretch goal is to get to an A type polymath (here’s a recent HBR post on the value of being a polymath now).  If you are a hyphenated type, it is time to spend the time learning and practicing a craft.

There is a third reason outside of planning your own career development or knowing which type of organization would best serve your needs.  And that is figuring out where to compliment your own team by developing your team, including yourself, or hiring the right set of people in your team.  Few people recognize or master this concept.  Insecure managers often have difficulty hiring smarter talent because they feel threatened by that while smart managers embrace talent to challenge the status quo in their otherwise or soon to be mediocre organization.

This is particularly important for product managers and what separates them from being or becoming hyphenated project managers.  Product managers that collect tasks around the room, track status or relay information amongst product development teams will perish if they don’t have deep domain skills or broad cross domain skills.  Because, product management is a strategic T-shaped role.  As the folks at Pragmatic Marketing would say, Own it, no excuses.

A couple of years old but still relevant: IDEO CEO Tim Brown: T-Shaped Stars: The Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture

– Prabhakar Gopalan(@PGpopalan)

Tweet this: New post by @PGopalan Reviewing T-shaped skills and more #onpm #people #culture


What Happened to All Those Strategic Product Managers We Hired?

NOTE: The following is a guest post by John Mansour. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information

The words “strategy” and “strategic” are draped all over most B2B product management job descriptions like a cheap suit.  But many organizations don’t realize the consequences of hiring product managers with skills, talents and experience to be strategic, setting expectations accordingly, and then placing them in situations that require nearly 100% focus on execution.  It’s a reality for many product managers and it’s as counterproductive for organizations as it is for the individuals.

On the bright side, the fix is relatively simple.  The key is to recognize the difference between hiring a team of “strategic product managers” and structuring a product management team that’s strategic to the organization.

The Strategy Dilemma

Every organization needs its product management function to be strategic for obvious reasons. Ironically, the manner in which most product managers are directed, evaluated and compensated has little if anything to do with strategy.  Worse yet, too many people believe “the lack of strategy” is a systemic problem within the product management discipline when it’s really an organizational problem that’s amplified in product management.  Unfortunately, it goes largely unnoticed because no one thing seems to be horribly wrong.

Most organizations build a team of product managers with individual goals instead of creating a unified product management team that’s a strategic asset with a single organizational mission, and therein lies the problem. To that end, companies over-treat the symptoms – people, processes, skills, tools, etc. instead of the root cause – the fundamental structure of the product management function.  With a proper structure in place, the right people, processes, skills and tools accelerate and improve desired outcomes exponentially.

A Unified Team Structured for Outcomes

A product management team that’s strategic to an organization consistently meets two criteria that go hand-in-hand. They deliver solutions that help your target buyers/customers advance their strategic agenda in measurable ways, which in turn helps your company advance its market position in measurable ways.

For example, financial services organizations and U.S. healthcare providers have been inundated with regulatory requirements that drive up the cost of doing business and eat into profit margins that are already on the decline.  Strategic value arrives in the form of products and services that help organizations in these markets meet compliance requirements at a significantly lower cost.  Alternatively, solutions that offset those costs in a measurable fashion have equal value.  A strategic product management team attacks the compliance challenge from one or both angles and leverages multiple products and services for maximum impact!

If you consider how incredibly difficult it is for industry issues of this magnitude to be addressed by any one organization, imagine trying to do it with a product or two.  But this is what organizations expect product managers to do when they’re hired to be “strategic” without realizing it’s difficult if not impossible within the confines of an individual product manager.

The Complexion of a Strategic Product Management Function

A B2B product management team that’s a true strategic asset to an organization consists of two complementary areas of focus, markets and products, integrated within a single product organization.  Both elements make significant contributions to a single overarching market & portfolio strategy and both elements own execution of that strategy at a market or product level.  The results of those efforts deliver strategic value to the organization.

The Strategic Part

The market function, 10-20% of the team, uses comprehensive quantitative, qualitative and competitive industry data to “set the table” for the organization’s market strategy by painting a single consensus picture of target markets at a level that transcends all products. Team members in these roles have a full-time focus on markets with no product responsibilities.

The product function, 80-90% of the team, combines horizontal business-practice expertise (e.g. new methods for driving add-on sales via customer service) and product knowledge to “set the table” for the organization’s product investment strategy in each target market.  Individuals in these roles have a full-time focus on aligning new/emerging business practices to product solutions in markets that are strategic to the organization.

It’s a unified team that combines both elements to form the ideal market and portfolio strategy most suited to helping the organization meet its short and long term goals on an ongoing basis.  Senior executives ultimately make the decisions, but they’re doing so with a holistic integrated view of target markets and high-value opportunities mapped to proposed product investments across the entire portfolio instead of many competing versions for each product.

The Execution Part

The market function repurposes the same quantitative, qualitative and competitive information to ensure the organization’s differentiating value is communicated relative to each target market via marketing and sales.

The product function, now armed with comprehensive market data and guided by a single overarching portfolio strategy, no longer has to stress over “finding time to be strategic for my products.” They can more easily budget their time between product initiatives related to high-value market solutions (from the portfolio strategy) and the daily care and feeding of products that keep the squeaky wheels at bay.

As product management goes, so goes the rest of the organization.  When product management is structured with many individuals, each expected to be “strategic”, it results in an organization going in many different directions with competing influences, spreading its resources too thin to achieve a leadership position in any one area of strength.

The burden is on the organization to rethink the manner in which it structures product management if it wants an asset that has real strategic value to the organization. Most anyone who’s talented enough to be hired into a product management role is capable of being strategic.  They just need an environment that recognizes the key difference between a team of “strategic product managers” and a product management team that’s strategic to the organization.  Setting appropriate expectations during the hiring process can only help the cause.

Tweet this: What happened to all those strategic Product Managers we hired? #prodmgmt #strategy #innovation

John Mansour is the founder and president of Proficientz, a company that specializes in B2B product  portfolio management. This article was originally published on the Proficientz blog in January 2012.