Many of us make New Year resolutions. I don’t know the conversion and retention metrics of New Year resolutions but that’s not what I’m going to talk about. I’m going to share with you one New Year resolution that is worth deliberating.
Someone took a leap of faith and offered my first product manager job. Another gave me the opportunity to run product marketing. Yet another gave me the opportunity to work on corporate strategy. One person flew me all the way across countries, and offered a job and relocation. Some of these were small. Some, life changing. But the count, too many.
One of my resolutions for this year is to take that leap of faith in others more often in a deliberate way. How about you?
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This past weekend, I had the opportunity to give a talk on The Whole Product Manager at ProductCamp Austin. My thesis is simple. The traditional path to becoming a craftsman (or craftswoman) at product management, while paved with good intentions, often leads you to copy and paste territory – repeat the same and expect a different result. Great products get created when there is a relentless pursuit to product excellence. It is a life long journey rather than a formula that can be handed out in the form of a bunch of templates at a 3 day ‘product management training’ or a 2 year MBA program.
To be successful at product management we need both maker skills and meta skills. Maker skills are generally skipped by product managers and senior product leaders in their corporate ladder climbing activity. As they get into management positions, they lose the curiosity to learn and start ‘managing’ instead of producing anything. Even the PowerPoint slides they pitch are someone else’s work. Without the basic maker skills these product leaders lose the respect of their own teams, not to mention their inability to guide their teams or add significant value to the product development process. But maker skills alone aren’t sufficient. There’s very little emphasis in any cookie cutter product management training or on the job training, on how to build influence and lead teams indirectly. These are meta skills – the ability to scan the environment, sense various stakeholder motivations and needs, communicate effectively and lead the product to success. We need a deliberate effort to learn these skills.
Product management is an interdisciplinary subject. To excel at product management dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of excellence from the ground up is but one approach to craftsmanship.
Sometimes pictures can say more than words. Here’s a simple flow chart to help diagnose organizational health and a quick poll.
The top part of this chart is where culture and leadership matters most. The bottom is where capability matters most. The two need to work in sync for a healthy firm. If your firm’s problems are at the top – it’s a leadership problem.. If it’s at the bottom, it’s a capability problem. Employees at most large firms spend way too much time arguing about the bottom – Strategy, Plan and Action when the problem might be elsewhere. (fish rots from the head)
Take a look at the chart below and please take our poll below the chart. What’s your firm’s problem area?
About the author
Prabhakar Gopalan is an entrepreneur and growth strategist. In 15+ years, he has worked in a diverse set of roles including consulting, systems engineering, IT architecture, product management, product marketing and corporate strategy. He speaks on management, innovation and strategy. Follow Prabhakar on Twitter.
Walk into an established software company and you see these product management and product marketing silos. [note: startups or well run product organizations don’t have this problem at all – see last paragraph in this skeptical PMM view]
To begin with, product managers and marketing managers are saddled with two divisive documents – PRDs and MRDs. Move a little further there’s the big question of ownership. Product managers want to ‘own’ the product. They’ve conveniently added the suffix Owners, sounding important all of a sudden. So we now have ‘Product Owners’. Bear in mind nobody really reports to the product managers for all that ownership. Who’d want to is a separate discussion. For proof, ask the engineer sitting next to you.
But back to the product manager. When you start your PM job you are told this very important fact in big companies – “product managers build products through influence, engineering doesn’t report to product management”. Just that very statement gives Cialdini’s book an instant spike in sales. What about marketers? Ah, they’ve become ‘revenue marketers’ now. Revenue marketing has been in vogue for a while. It is when marketers have finally figured out what they are actually supposed to do. As if the word market didn’t really give enough clarity about revenues they added this powerful prefix Revenue to their title. Nice job marketing yourself! But wait, no market, no revenues. It’s that simple.
So what’s the current state really? Product Managers are ‘Product Owners’ and Marketing Managers are ‘Revenue Marketers’. I don’t know how you could have ownership without owning revenues or revenues without having ownership. And therein lies the problem in the tech industry.
What are the daily complaints in the above set up? Product managers accuse Marketing managers of having no clue about the product, having no technical understanding of APIs, programming, not being able to log into the console and make a demo of the shitty product that lacks half the features the nimble startup across the street is pumping everyday. And Marketing Managers? They talk about how product managers don’t have a clue about the market, the buyer personas, the users, or even describing what the heck the product is supposed to do for whom. Not just another feature release please. Tell me why would anyone value this feature? And not every feature really has to go on CNN and Fox and if it didn’t it is really not marketing’s fault!
Here’s a simple solution to this situation – start becoming a Whole Product Manager. That means start becoming the founder of your product. Yes, it is very hard to do both product management and product marketing. And yes, it is not scalable, blank, blank, blank…(fill in the blanks with other enterprise words). It’s no longer about one side of the equation. Want traction? Start thinking end to end – become the system thinker, the Whole Product Manager. Learn everything for the sake of your product and do everything for the sake of your product. It’s your baby. If you can’t raise it, don’t expect others to raise it for you. And the reality is they’ll do a poor job of raising it or you won’t be happy with it.
For the 99% of us that can’t do that, here’s some advice. Suck it up and do your job really well and show us why you are awesome, not why your peer in product management or product marketing sucks.
Of course, if you are the lucky 1% in a startup that will do everything from writing code to hanging in the clouds to get your VP of Product [blank where blank = Management or Marketing depending on the day] 1.5% equity materialize in the minor event of an extremely unlikely exit through a soul crushing acquisition, just do what you already do – build that awesome product!
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About the author
Prabhakar Gopalan is an entrepreneur and growth strategist. In 15+ years, he has worked in a diverse set of roles including consulting, systems engineering, IT architecture, product management, product marketing and corporate strategy. He speaks on management, innovation and strategy.
In a single article, the authors have done something that nobody (other than Henry Mintzberg) in recent times has done – articulating the irrelevance of practically every framework, model or strategy that is commonplace in tech industry – Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, Porter’s 5 Forces, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema’s The Discipline of Market Leaders and Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm.
The authors claim Big-Bang Disruption is characterized by unencumbered development, unconstrained growth, and undisciplined strategy.
Of the three, the concept of undisciplined strategy is nerve wracking for theorists and practitioners alike. How can strategy be undisciplined? Understanding this is going to be the education that two generations of experienced corporate executives will have to go through to clear their biases. We have way too many industry experts working in their System 1 intuitive, cut & paste habits of running organizations and businesses. True disruptors are critical System 2 thinkers that are unencumbered by experience and create the world of possibilities. Time to celebrate and join the Big Bang Disruption!