Monthly Archives: December 2012

Farewell Cranky PM

by Saeed Khan

Back in July on her website, the Cranky PM announced the following:

By year end, the Cranky Product Manager is planning to shut down this entire show: blog, twitter, facebook, pinterest everything.  *poof* gone, deleted.

And with the exception of some updates on a book (crowdfunded on KickStarter), there’s been little activity on her site.

Whether she follows through and shuts everything down by 11:59 PM on December 31 2012 or not, it’s clear that she’s moving on to other things.

Back in June 2007 when we first started this blog, there weren’t a lot of PM blogs out there. Forgive me if I’ve missed any old-time PM bloggers, but the blogs I recall from 2007 were written by Steve Johnson, Paul Young, Scott Sehlhorst, Marty Cagan, Jeff Lash, Rich Mironov, Ivan Chalif and the CrankyPM.

Of course there have been many other PM blogs started since then. Our blog roll list over 150 of them! But in those days, and for several years thereafter, the Cranky PM was different.

Aside from being an anonymous blogger and a good writer, she delivered many insights about the world of Product Management. Granted, it was about the “dark side” of the work, but with both humour and irreverence, she dished it out and said what needed to be said.

There were riffs about:

and many other topics.

There was even a post aimed at me, though she never mentions me by name. I responded in kind with this post. :-) That was almost 4 years ago!

It’s been great to read her blog, learn from it and laugh along the way.

I hope the book comes out soon, and as the year comes to an end, I wish the Cranky PM farewell.


Tweet this: New post: Farewell Cranky PM  #prodmgmt

More discussions, fewer documents

By Steve Johnson, Under 10 Consulting

“The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”—Princess Leia in Star Wars IV: A New Hope.

willMy wife and I realized that our wills were twenty years old and out of date. We now have a bigger house, more assets, more guitars, more jewelry. Our kids are now adults and no longer need a guardian. So we went to a lawyer who asked us our requirements.

Basically, my will is “the kids split it all”, but it took the lawyer 85 pages of legal jargon to say it. As I was proofreading the final document, I found a whole paragraph defining the number “30” and I burst out laughing. Clearly this paragraph was the result of a lawsuit. When I complained, the lawyer replied, “But remember, when the will is being disputed in court, the judge needs to understand your intentions—because you’re dead and can’t explain.

The reason it takes 85 pages to explain “the kids split it all” is because you’re not able to explain yourself when things go wrong.

Object Lesson 1

Has this ever happened to you? You have some seemingly simple sounding product requirement that you have specified completely and without ambiguity (at least from your perspective). Yet, when the Dev team interprets it, they have many questions and in fact don’t see it as completely and unambiguously as you do? Thankfully,  you’re still alive and can answer their questions.

Getting back to the will…

Over dinner, I explained the basics of the new wills to the family, that the kids would split it all, that my daughter would get Susan’s jewelry and my son would get my guitars. After all, my son Chip is a professional musician. It seemed logical that he should get my guitars.  Then my daughter said, “But daddy, I want one of your guitars.” She doesn’t play but she’s been listening to me play since she was a baby.

martin_d35_600Then the kids started arguing over which of the five guitars my daughter could have. They both wanted the one I play the most—which is also my best one. It’s a 1979 Martin HD-28. The disagreement started friendly enough—you know, kind of kidding around but not really—and then it got kind of mean. For a few days it created a wall between them until I solved the problem. I found and bought another Martin, a 1975 D-35 in pristine condition.

Object Lesson 2

You don’t know what you don’t know, until you try and find out. I couldn’t have foreseen the argument over my guitar. The desires of my children only became apparent AFTER going through the process. I then easily addressed the issue.  The same is true when creating new products. We learn through experimentation — trial and error. The key is to make the errors early enough so they can be addressed BEFORE they cause real harm.

And in my case, well before the will “went live”. Pun intended.

Tweet this: New post by @sjohnson717 More discussions, fewer documents #prodmgmt

About the author

Steve Johnson is a widely recognized speaker and story teller within the technology product management community. As founder of Under 10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement strategic product management in an agile world. Sign up for his newsletter and weekly inspirations.

3 Ms That Are Critical for Creating High-Impact B2B Solutions

By John Mansour

The three Ms for B2B solutions are analogous to the four Ps for consumer products with one key exception. The four Ps emphasize individual product success while the three Ms emphasize solutions  comprised of multiple complementary products and services that make it easier to differentiate, solve bigger problems and increase the average deal size.

Apply these three Ms to your portfolio and you’ll be rewarded with faster and healthier growth.

1. Markets

The good news is your products can be used by many organizations across many market segments. It’s also bad news because the thought of focusing on specific market segments feels like you’re consciously excluding others and limiting your growth potential.

The simple rule of thumb is you can “sell” to any organization in any market to maximize your revenue opportunities as long as your solutions are a good fit as is. But strategic product investments, marketing resources and sales initiatives should focus on market segments that will drive 80% of your revenue. The other 20% are smart enough to know you’re a good fit even if you don’t target them explicitly.

This level of market focus allows your solutions to be highly relevant with differentiating capabilities for your most important markets, and those elements of differentiation are the key to more effective sales and marketing. Continue adding market segments over time to ensure you’re always playing from a position of strength.

2. Metrics

It’s easy to let metrics that are critical to your organization consume your strategy and product direction. But if your goal is to deliver more powerful solutions, it’s easier to start with metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators) that are critical and strategic to your target customers. If your solutions are powerful enough to advance the KPIs of organizations in your target markets, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t move the needle on your own KPIs.

3. Mindshare

Mindshare may be the most difficult of the Ms because internally, there are so many product initiatives competing for the same resources and externally, marketing communications quickly become white noise.

The key is to communicate a message that’s simple, clear and compelling enough to be heard above everything else competing for the same minds, both internally and externally. The secret: leave all things product and technology out of the initial dialogue. They’re not important until the focus shifts to “how” the solution will be delivered.

The core message should focus on who (target markets), what (target customer KPIs and key challenges to meeting those KPIs) and why (root causes behind those challenges). Messages built with these components are simple for everyone to understand, internalize and repeat. And the more people repeating your message, the greater the mindshare you’ll achieve.

The emphasis on products versus solutions isn’t an either/or scenario. B2B organizations require both to succeed. Incremental product improvements are important to retain customers and protect recurring revenue streams while multi-product solutions are critical for exponential growth.

So what makes the 3 Ms for B2B solutions so critical? They provide incredible clarity and focus when making decisions on growth and investment priorities that are most valuable to the organization. They also provide common parameters that product teams, marketing and sales can rally around to drive growth. When product teams, marketing and sales are focused on the same three Ms, your organization is rewarded with a fourth M – (market) momentum.


John Mansour is president and founder of Proficientz, a company focused on B2B product portfolio management.

Tweet this: 3 Ms that are critical for creating high-impact #B2B solutions – #prodmgmt #management

PM Songs — Next year’s goals — Sung to “Deck the halls”

By Saeed Khan

Here’s a little Christmas carol parody for all you product people to enjoy and share. Who  knows, maybe some of you can relate to this. :-)

And if you have one of your own, please feel free to let us know in the comments — paste a link or the entire parody if you want!

Sung to the tune of “Deck the Halls”.

Next year’s goals will be much higher
Fa la la la la, la la la la
The new GM needs a high flyer.
Fa la la la la, la la la la

The product needs a brand new vision
Fa la la la la, la la la la
There were no problems ‘til the acquisition
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Too many code changes late in the cycle
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Sending quality in a downward spiral
Fa la la la la, la la la la

They start the new build compilation
Fa la la la la, la la la la
And then begin the next iteration
Fa la la la la, la la la la

We must create new product positioning
Fa la la la la, la la la la
It needs to align with corporate messaging
Fa la la la la, la la la la

Leads and opps we will measure
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Creating dashboards is not my pleasure
Fa la la la la, la la la la

We’ll hold Ops reviews with our bosses
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Explaining important wins and losses
Fa la la la la, la la la la

So let’s go forth all together
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Countless re-orgs we all will weather
Fa la la la la, la la la la


Tweet or share this: #prodmgmt songs — Next year’s goals – Sung to “Deck the halls” #parody

See also:

  1. Time to go, Time to go, Time to go (Sung to “Let it snow”)
  2. 12 Days after GA (Sung to “12 days of Christmas”)

And here’s the original rendition of Deck the Halls!

When the product is YOU: Instagram, Facebook TOS

by Steve Johnson, Under 10 Consulting

In my consulting and coaching work, I’m often asked to clarify what I mean when I use the word “product.” Do I mean software, services, solutions, something else?

There are really two definitions of ‘product’: 1) a product solves a problem for a set of paying customers; and 2) if sales people are selling it, it’s a product and someone else had better define it first.

So, by either of these definitions, software, services, and solutions are all products, and should be managed like products. That means specifying exactly what the product delivers, who it serves, how much they’ll pay for it, and what requirements are necessary to achieve success in your customer base. That’s why product management should be involved in each product—whether software, professional services, customer support, or anything else that is purchased.

And some of the products we use—like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—are not really products. Yes, they solve problems for a set of customers, but not for a paying set of customers.

Instagram released its controversial new terms of service on December 18, 2012:

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, released its new conditions overnight which states it has the right to use people’s photos in advertisements without the photographer’s consent and without payment.

But despite the roar from angry users, this isn’t really a new idea. Back in 2009, The Guardian reported:

When the Smiths of Missouri—an all-American family with the regulation two blond children—posed for their Christmas photo, little did they know they would end up on a billboard thousands of miles away in the Czech Republic.

People are finally starting to realize this: if you’re not paying for it, you are the product.

From USA Today:

The best way I’ve ever heard Facebook’s business model described is simple: “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” What makes Facebook so valuable is that you, your friends, and everyone else who uses the site are sitting ducks for marketers out to exploit your information to sell you things.

A similar discussion took place on LifeHacker and in the comments thread yagameister quoted the great Robert A. Heinlein:


(You’d think this term would be familiar to the readers of a blog called “LifeHacker” but apparently not. And then, in typical internet fashion, the thread goes off the topic into crazy-ville with a big argument about use of the word “ain’t.”)

My Econ 101 professor shared this term with us… and put it on the final exam. TANSTAAFL stands for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” It’s a central theme in Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”

Vendors have to get paid for their work, just like you do. When you’re using a “free” product, how is the vendor going to get paid? By selling your information to others in some form.

Tweet this: When the product is YOU: Instagram, Facebook TOS #prodmgmt #socmed

About the author

Steve Johnson is a widely recognized speaker and story teller within the technology product management community. As founder of Under 10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement strategic product management in an agile world. Sign up for his newsletter and weekly inspirations.

Worth Repeating: Go to school, get an education, create a job

By Saeed Khan

Back in 2009, as the economic downturn was digging in, I wrote the following piece. People were getting laid off in droves and having to search for jobs. As I’ve observed the employer/employee relationship evolve over my working years, it’s clear that a significant change has occurred. Not only have many employers abandoned any sense of responsibility to their employees beyond the bare minimum that labour laws dictate, but conversely, it’s never been easier (though it’s still not necessarily easy) for individuals to strike out on their own and start new businesses.

So it’s time to change how we think about jobs and what we teach our kids. I know what I’m trying to teach mine in this regard.

Slight update to the original 2009 post: I now have 2 kids in high school, my eldest will soon be in university and both (after years of hearing me talk about this topic) are thinking about small businesses they can start.

A small modicum of success for me. :-)


As my kids are getting older – my eldest is now entering high school – I’m turning into one of those dads who tries to impart wordly advice on them. Most of the time they wonder what planet I’m from.

Often times, I find myself repeating advice my own parents gave to me. It’s an odd feeling because when I first heard those words from my parents, I’m pretty sure I wondered what planet they were from.

Recursion in the real world!

One piece of advice that I’m trying to instill in my kids, but which is very different than what I was told by my parents, forms the title of this post.

Go to school, get an education, create a job!

The fact that we’re in a recession makes it even more poignant given the layoffs that are happening. The old school way of thinking had a similar phrase, but ended with “get a job” instead of “create a job”. That one word difference is incredibly significant.

Who’s your employer?

The employer-employee relationship has fundamentally changed over the last generation. My father-in-law worked for the same company for almost 25 years before retiring. I know a number of people who were in that same situation. There used to be an unwritten social contract between many companies and their employees.

If you did your job and did it well, you would be rewarded with regular promotions and pay increases by your employer. Internal politics aside, there were many examples of people who “worked their way” up the ranks to become CXO executives. The current President and CEO of Intel, Paul Otellini is an example of this.

And, for many employees who remained with a company for 20 or 25 years, there was the pension plan. While not a princely sum, the employer had a pension plan that paid out a good supplemental income for a number of years after you left the company.

That scenario is far less common these days. How many of you reading this expect to work for the same company for 20 or 25 years? How many of you reading this work in a company that actually has a pension plan?

The most recent economic slump has shown that even the (seemingly) mightiest companies are not immune to complete and massive restructuring. i.e. huge layoffs, pay and benefit cuts, plant closures, mergers, bankruptcy protection, and even complete collapse (a la Bear Stearns). And those most impacted are the individual workers who have little say or control over the machinations of the companies they work for.

Self-reliance is on the rise

While the employer-employee relationship has never been a level one, the disruption of tens of millions of people’s lives and incomes because of the mismanagement of a few has shown many people that one of the most important lessons for the next generation is financial and employment self-reliance. Ralph Waldo Emerson would be proud.

When corporations ship jobs (and people) across the globe, or view people as “human capital”, whose interests are they looking out for?

A recent report came out indicating that in the US alone, 6.5 million jobs have been lost in the current economic downturn. That is equal to all jobs created in the US in the last 10 years. As I overheard someone say — we’re employed like it’s 1999!

It’s about creating value

Now there are some clear macro-economic benefits in teaching kids to create jobs instead of getting jobs. If we tell people to get a job, we are teaching them to be consumers and to be dependent on others for their financial livelihood and security.

If we tell people to create a job, they are producers, and think and act very differently. In fact, the supply/demand curve for jobs and employment would shift dramatically if only an additional 5% of people implemented this advice.

And think about the impact that would have on the (un)employment rate! Even if someone only creates a single job for themselves, that has a positive ripple effect in the economy. They are creating value, and that is the key. And while everyone won’t create a job for themselves, those that do will likely (directly or indirectly) create jobs for others as well.

One of the big problems in the most recent economic cycle is that a lot of the “wealth” that people saw, was not from value creation IN the economy, but value extraction FROM the economy. A few got rich by making a lot of other people poor. There was little actual value creation. Someone gained because someone else lost. At best it became a zero sum game in many parts of the economy. And we won’t get to the impact of criminals like Bernie Madoff.

There’s a great piece on Paul Graham’s site entitled “How to Make Wealth“. While a lot of it is focused on programmers and the value they can create, Paul makes the following statement midway in the article:

Someone graduating from college thinks, and is told, that he needs to get a job, as if the important thing were becoming a member of an institution. A more direct way to put it would be: you need to start doing something people want. You don’t need to join a company to do that. All a company is is a group of people working together to do something people want. It’s doing something people want that matters, not joining the group.

So there you have it. Paul Graham totally agrees with me! :-)

The times, they are a changin’

We are entering a time where communication channels are almost frictionless. People in distant places can easily coordinate, collaborate and create products or services of real value. Someone in Eastern Russia can set up a service business and have customers in Europe, North America and Asia and never meet or directly speak with those customers.

Technological barriers are dropping. Capital requirements for many businesses are dropping. Supply chains are opening up. Today a 12 year old boy can start an online business and raise millions in VC money.

I hate to sound “old”, but as my kids are growing up, I see a future of great opportunities, if they are equipped to seize them. And I’m going to do my best to help them think and understand the meaning of value creation, about being a producer instead of a consumer, and about creating something instead of simply getting it.

I don’t want to turn my kids into little product managers, but there are certainly a lot of things about Product Management that I know will help my kids as they go forward in their careers. And while this is certainly a personal point of view, I honestly believe that there is tremendous benefit for society if we truly take those words:

Go to school, get an education, create a job

and instill them along with the necessary knowledge and skills into our next generation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Tweet this: Worth Repeating: Go to school, get an education, create a job #prodmgmt #startup #innovation

Building Your Own Product – Isn’t Always the Best Strategy

By Rivi Aspler

build_buyAdding a new product to your product portfolio is usually discussed whenever you want to create a product-based competitive differentiation or when you need to fill a gap in your product portfolio.

Now, I know that what I’m about to say is somewhat provocative, but my experience has proved that technologists will usually go for the Build Strategy whenever a new product is discussed.

Please don’t get me wrong – ‘Build’ is indeed an important strategy; but one should always consider alternative strategies including Buy and Partner.

  • Build – Refers to an in-house development.
  • Buy – Refers to an acquisition of technology or a company (alongside with its market-share).
  • Partner - Refers to a resale or OEM agreement in which a company agrees to resell the products of another company or leverage another companies products in their own solution.

The attached table highlights the main differences between the three strategies.  And since people tend to underestimate challenges, I’ve added some more notes, just below the table.

(Click table to enlarge)

Looking at the table, one can see that depending on your target, the relevant alternative should be seriously discussed.

For example, if Time-To-Market or Risk Aversion are the most important factors, the Build Strategy would be a less favorable one compared to the Buy or Partner Strategies.

On the other hand, when you are a domain expert, have a great idea (i.e. IP), are in need of full control over your product and can afford the risks, the Build Strategy would be the favorable one.


And since there are so many examples that one can learn from, the following factors should be considered as well …

Whenever the Build Strategy is considered:

  • Do not underestimate the importance of the Domain Expertise – It’s likely that you are underestimating the depth and the breadth of the product that will give you that competitive edge that initially drove the new development.
  • Do not underestimate the speed in which markets move on one hand and the R&D setbacks on the other hand. There are so many examples in which a cool product has been developed… but the market is already elsewhere when you are ready to launch (and then the sunk cost fallacy is unfortunately the one to be discussed).

Whenever the Buy Strategy is considered:

  • Acquiring the people is as important as buying the IP itself – Good acquisition contracts usually include this underestimated section. To ensure that the IP keeps evolving, you want the domain experts to remain with you for at least two-year after the acquisition.

Whenever the Buy or Partner Strategies are considered:

  • Do not underestimate the importance of team-work to the success of the business-deal. Getting people to work as a team isn’t that easy as it is. Getting people from 2 different companies to work together as one holistic team is probably the toughest job you will ever have to do (and one of the main reasons for failed acquisitions…. but that’s already another post ……).


Tweet this: Building Your Own Product – Isn’t Always the Best Strategy #prodmgmt #strategy #innovation

Steve Johnson starts new company, “Under 10 Templates”

By Alan Armstrong

This just in: Product Management guru Steve Johnson has left his post at Win/Loss Analysis company Primary Intelligence, and founded a new company called “Under 10 Templates“.

Most of us know Steve from his tenure at Pragmatic Marketing. I took my first Pragmatic class from Steve in 1999 in Reston VA, and my life wasn’t the same after that. That was a LONG time ago, but what always impresses me most about Steve is that he doesn’t stand still. Although he can tell you stories about the mainframe and the minicomputer, Steve’s advice for product managers is very fresh, even luminary. Under 10 has this fresh feel to it also. Whereas a lot of product leadership can feel like waterfall, Steve is talking about helping companies bring lean/agile methods to product disciplines beyond the dev team. (How many of you find the dev team moving to Agile, only to learn that the rest of your processes can’t keep up? I’ve heard Steve call this Fragile Agile.)

I’ve scheduled an audio interview with Steve later this week … stay tuned for that!

- Alan

Tweet this: Steve Johnson @sjohnson717 forms new company, Under10Templates. #prodmgmt #winloss #marketing #prodmktg

The Best (and Worst) Innovations You Saw This Year

by Saeed Khan

The year is almost over and it’s time to start thinking about year-end lists.   There will be lots to choose from, but how many of them ask you for your input?

Well,  here’s your chance to speak out.

We’re looking for the best and worst innovations you saw this year. These could be products, inventions (not yet productized), services, or other innovations (business models, process etc.)

Just leave a comment below, and if possible a link to a web page with more information. And don’t forget to tell us whether it’s a candidate for “best” or “worst”.

We’ll look at them and compile a year end list ranking the top best and worst innovations in 2012.

Thanks in advance for your input.

But to get things kicked off, here’s are two candidates for best and worst respectively.

EnableTalk – Candidate for Best Innovation in 2012

There were lots of cool innovations this year but the EnableTalk glove tops my list right now. And in a world of sexy but ultimately throwaway technology and gadgets, this stands out.

In a nutshell, it’s a glove that converts hand gestures into speech, providing the possibility of enabling virtually anyone, but most importantly the deaf or mute to speak.  It is done with very inexpensive technology and has the potential to significantly benefit tens of millions of people worldwide. Take a look at the video below.

Wii U — Candidate for Worst Innovation in 2012

My candidate for one of the worst innovations of 2012 is the Nintendo Wii U.  Almost 6 years after the original and ground breaking Wii, Nintendo follows it up with an expensive new game console that fails to impress.

The most innovative change in the Wii U is also the most confusing. It’s the Wii U game pad. What the hell is that? Is it a touchscreen tablet, a game controller, a portable game console? Well it’s all of them  and it’s none of them.

The original Wii was a great innovation. It changed the way we interacted with video games, it was simple and fun, inexpensive and a great success.

I can say that the Wii U isn’t any of those things.  There is no compelling reason people should want to buy it.  At least none that I’ve seen articulated by Nintendo.  I’m no gamer fanatic, but I know a dud when I see it.

But maybe I’m wrong. You decide. Is it as bad an innovation as I think?


P.S. Don’t forget to submit your own best and worst entries for 2012 in the comments below.

Tweet this: The Best (and Worst) Innovations You Saw This Year – #innovation #prodmgmt


The Difference Between Good and Great Solutions – “What-if” Scenarios

By John Mansour

There are plenty of good B2B solutions in the market, but as a percentage there are only a few great ones.  What’s the difference between the two?  Could it be something as simple as incorporating “what-if” scenarios into your functional requirements and design process?

The good and the great solutions both possess the following elements:

1.   A clear business objective for the target customer.

“Marketing Solution X will help car dealers grow revenue more profitably by increasing the volume of non-warranty work in the service department.”

2.  Business requirements for each customer department impacted by the solution (e.g., marketing, IT, cashier and service).

“To ensure marketing is creating the most relevant service promotions, a single repository of customer information is necessary to avoid redundancies, improve response rates and eliminate wasted marketing resources.”

3.  User Stories that must be considered to satisfy the business requirement.

“As the marketing manager and I want to create an email campaign to increase service volume on Mondays when the workload is lighter to improve our revenue and cost metrics.”

The what-if dimension is the extra layer that occurs after the user stories are written and examines the same work processes for common exceptions.  The result is a few more user stories to support the what-if scenarios.


  • What if a customer has multiple cars serviced at one dealership?
  • What if a customer has multiple cars serviced at different dealerships owned by the same organization?

The great Marketing Solution recognizes a single customer with multiple vehicles and makes it easy for a car dealership to market to those customers with relevant messages and offers that demonstrate their appreciation for that loyalty.

The good Marketing Solution associates every vehicle to a customer and sends the same customer multiple redundant emails that result in higher opt-outs, lower response rates, wasted marketing money and ultimately lower service revenue – the exact opposite of what the solution is designed to accomplish.

While the good solution can do almost everything the great solution does, the incremental what-if scenarios in the great solution become a clear point of differentiation that most car dealers would prefer.  Result: great solution wins the majority of head to head competitions!

In the B2B world, most great solutions encompass multiple products and services.  If your product organization is functioning in silos that inhibit your ability to create great solutions, contact Proficientz and learn how our portfolio management best practices help create high-value, high-impact solutions instead of just creating good products.


Tweet this: The difference between good and great solutions #prodmgmt #innovation