Onboarding for Product Management

by Mike Smart

onboardingA few years ago, a friend of mine recommended the book Topgrading by Brad Smart, Ph.D.

One “a-ha” moment for me was the cost of hiring and retaining a team member that doesn’t work out (or is retained for less than two years). The costs are staggering; $100,000 for every $10,000 of compensation.

I won’t bore you with the arithmetic as you can refer to the book, but I’ve found that proper onboarding results in a real payoff. Onboarding is the fair and equitable way to tell our product leaders and managers, “We want you to be successful.” It also identifies issues early and provides a path to correct them.

Onboarding should apply to everyone new to the company—individual contributors; managers and directors; even executives—and be tailored to past experiences and roles. An ongoing process with measureable results in a 100-day or less timeframe is best. This ensures your team, and most expensive assets, will always perform at their peak even when adding additional resources.

Why is this especially important for strategic roles such as product leader and management?

Not that long ago, I worked with a CEO of a mid-size enterprise software company that hired a product director. The director had industry experience, managed a team of product managers, and had an advanced degree from a prestigious school. He was a very “smart” guy. The CEO liked his education and intelligence—and was very behind schedule filling the role.

Some issues started to surface a few months after he accepted the role. He was “too busy” to check-in with his team, and didn’t request they spend time with customers to develop market knowledge—or do so himself. Two operations reviews later, a board member commented the product strategy lacked credibility and showing signs of decline.

Fast forward six quarters: The same board member asked with frustration, “How did we get here? The product strategy is a mess, our customers are unhappy and we haven’t delivered anything significant in almost two years.” He thought the product director was failing. The director had not created these issues but now he owned them.

An executive-level onboarding program would have helped the product director integrate the company’s goals, objectives and expectations into his job. Onboarding would have solidified what methods, resources and tools were available to him to accomplish key objectives. A formal process would have kept everyone updated on the progress and answered whether they had a great product leader and if he was a good, strategic fit. In fairness it would have given the director a tracking tool to let everyone know he was on course.

What does an effective onboarding program look like?

Here are six basic steps to create your own:

  • Formally assess teams and individuals. Model your best practices after your current best talent. What skills do they exhibit?
  • Create a scorecard. Define key results and outcomes for the team. Publish them!
  • Create a complete feedback cycle. Talk to your organization—make sure all employees weigh-in. What do they want in the next 60-90 days? What was missing in the last 30? Do something meaningful and visible with the feedback.
  • Promote and foster a formal and informal network. Set the stage and get out of the way. Let the informal network grow, but make suggestions on pairing-up team members as well.
  • Focus on things that aren’t visible. Recognize individuals that embrace the role by practicing the skills and the process. Recognize and encourage a continuous learning environment.
  • Keep it light, but fit. Make regular adjustments to the process to make it fit. This works best with a “just enough” process.

Successful onboarding is how some companies achieve the 10x:1 results the rest of us only dream about. It’s about leveraging your organization, increasing productivity and developing a successful product management team. I have seen it firsthand—this is a critical part of high performance teams.

by Mike Smart

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This post was originally published on ProductManagement2. Reprinted here with permission of the author.

About the Author

mike-smart-bwMike Smart is Principal Consultant at Egress Solutions, a technology product management and marketing consulting firm that specializes in solving the critical product and market problems companies face.

Experience or Vision — How to make great products

By Anders Lisdorf

experience-visionReading Steve Jobs’ biography set in motion a train of thoughts that took me from the Jobs/Gates controversy over history of religion and philosophy to what we need to do to make awesome products.

Jobs vs Gates

In Steve Jobs’ biography a chapter is dedicated to Bill Gates. Jobs and Gates initially collaborated tightly. Microsoft for example originally made Excel and Word exclusively available for Apples MacIntosh. But as we all know, Bill Gates eventually decided to make a new version of his operating system and called it Windows. It was inspired by the graphical user interface he had seen on the MacIntosh computer.

Naturally Jobs didn’t like that Gates had stolen his idea and this started an ongoing animosity between them. Jobs, however didn’t dislike or envy Microsoft as a business, he simply had a problem with how they designed their products, which he thought lacked style and finesse.

We hear about how the first version of Word and Excel were ridiculed by Apple engineers and how the first version of Windows was unanimously mocked by the press. In both instances, however, the Microsoft team was very fast and efficient in correcting mistakes and improving the product to something that worked.

Gates on the other hand didn’t like that Jobs had no experience with coding or any real technical experience. He put a high value on having personal experience with what you were doing.

Superficially that is interesting from an anecdotal point of view, but there is a much deeper philosophical divide between the two approaches, than what can be gleaned from Jobs mocking Gates’ lack of style. Let’s start by noting that Microsoft valued experience and experimentation highest.


The focus on experience and experimentation can be traced to the epistemological position known as empiricism. Empiricism is defined in the Encyclopedia Brittanica as:

“the view that all concepts originate in experience, that all concepts are about or applicable to things that can be experienced, or that all rationally acceptable beliefs or propositions are justifiable or knowable only through experience.”

Wikipedia states:

“Empiricism in the philosophy of science emphasizes evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world”

This is the philosophy that fueled the industrial revolution and this is the approach used by Bill Gates and Microsoft. It is based on experience with coding and experimentation is the way to find out how to make the optimal product.


But what about Steve Jobs? If he is evidently not an empiricist, then what is he? He was very inspired by buddhism especially zen buddhism. He travelled through India in his youth and was eventually married according to Zen ritual.

Now, according to buddhist writers the material world, we have access to through our senses, is an illusion. Concepts exist before and independently of the experienced world. In western philosophy this is similar to the epistemological position known as idealism. The other major epistemological school in philosophy championed by Plato.

Jobs had a vision of how the product had to be. He also made several attempts at producing the product, but here the purpose was to get closer to an already existing idea of how the product should be. The attempts were not experiments in the scientific meaning of the word, but mere materializations that could be measured against the immaterial idea.

How to make new products

So, finally we have come full circle. The disagreement between Jobs and Gates on how to develop technology was not just a superficial disagreement about lack of style or coding skills. It was about whether the best way to develop a new product was obtained through vision and thought or through experience and experimentation.

Beneath the difference between two of the worlds largest technology companies lies a century old divide between empiricist and idealist philosophy. Both have been very successful, but in radically different ways.

In software development today the winds are blowing the empiricist way. The Lean Startup movement focuses on experimentation. Start-up after start-up put their ideas into the world quickly in bad shape and experiment, like Microsoft, to arrive at a product that is good enough to satisfy a market.

If followed correctly, it can lead to good products, but it will never in itself give you amazing products.  If you are fumbling along in the dark with sequential A/B test designs and random hypotheses, you will arrive at products that are good enough to generate money for your company. But in order to create something truly great you need the ability to soar above the terrain in the sky; you need to have vision.


NOTE: This article was originally published on Opaque Parcels. Reprinted here with permission of the author.

Tweet this: Experience or Vision – How to make great products  http://wp.me/pXBON-49v #vision #prodmgmt 

About the Author

 anderslisdorf-bwAnders works to to turn new innovative ideas into the reality of tomorrow. His company, Sensor Six, makes software to help companies develop new products.

Rules for Customer Visits #1 – Know thy customer

by Saeed Khan

Ever had a customer visit go bad? It’s happened to me once or twice. If the customer has a blocking issue with your product and it’s causing them a lot of grief, expect an earful.



Do you have any other rules you can share?


Tweet this: Rules for Customer Visits #1 – Know thy customer http://wp.me/pXBON-49h #prodmgmt #research

Product Marketing – Undervalued and Overlooked, Still!

by John Mansour

Product MarketingWhen I founded Proficientz in 2001, my perspective on product marketing was analogous to the awakening I had when I first moved away from home to go to college. I naively assumed most other 18 year-olds were raised similar to the way I was raised. Then I found out differently.

Over the course of nearly 15 years as a practitioner with several software companies, a formalized product marketing function was a staple in every one of them. As I ventured into the world of training and consulting, I naively assumed most organizations had a formalized product marketing function. Then I found out differently. Product marketing was the exception, not the rule, and thirteen years later, not much has changed.

I continue to ask myself, why?  My theories run the gamut.

  • Organizations don’t know what product marketing is
  • Organizations don’t see the value or don’t think they need it
  • Product Marketing is a victim of the marketing stigma (which is really the PR and advertising stigma)
  • Organizations think product managers do it
  • Organizations think marketing communications does it

While I still haven’t uncovered a theory I’d bet on, the single biggest reason every organization needs product marketing boils down to two words – MARKET KNOWLEDGE. In fact, the product marketing function of today goes far beyond the one-armed paper hangers of the past that created presentations and data sheets for each product.

In fact, the “per product” approach to marketing was never that great anyway, for two reasons.

It opened the wrong doors for sales people. Product messaging speaks to users, which means lower level users are initiating contact with your sales people instead of decision makers or influencers. Feature bake-offs and big discounts are inevitable and you rarely have the opportunity to sell differentiating business value when the fate of the deal is in the hands of a lower level user.

It failed to establish a discipline of pure market expertise – industry dynamics, operational business practices and the impact of both on your target customer organizations.

 It’s Not Really “Product” Marketing Anymore

The B2B product marketing function of today isn’t really “product” marketing. It’s an expanded role that possesses greater knowledge on vertical industries and horizontal business operations more so than ever before. That stronger level of domain expertise adds necessary horsepower to the sales enablement engine as well as the company messaging, and it also gives product management a much-needed assist on the front-end of the planning cycle.

Benefit to Sales

pmm-quoteSales will engage in more conversations with decision-makers during the sales cycle, especially in the early stages. This happens as a result of marketing messages that target needs at the decision-maker level with a much higher relevance factor.

A strong dialogue – and supporting sales tools – improve the credibility of the sales force, allowing them to have a credible business conversation with decision makers to uncover the real buying motivations before introducing products and services into the conversation.

Benefit to Corporate Marketing

In a nutshell, corporate marketing creates a stronger resume for the company when the messaging is more relevant to vertical industry issues and the subsequent business challenges at an operational level. That higher level messaging will open more doors for sales opportunities at the decision maker level. Capabilities of your products and services are still important but serve as strong proof points to the higher level business value messages.

Benefit to Product Management

Product managers simply don’t have the time get out of the building on a regular basis to dredge the market. An assist from product marketing to funnel market trends and business dynamics would ensure product decisions are made with a balanced view of the market beyond sales deals and “squeaky-wheel” customers.

If the traditional (tactical) product marketing function were up-leveled to a market expert role to drive higher performing sales teams, more relevant value messages and market information that’s consumable for product teams, would more organizations value it?

What’s your experience with product marketing?  Enter your comments below.

John Mansour

Tweet this: Product Marketing – Undervalued and Overlook, Still! http://wp.me/pXBON-488 #prodmgmt #prodmktg

About the author

John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, a services company focusing on product portfolio management.

Is it possible to measure the impact of Product Management?

by Saeed Khan

measuringtapesOne of the very first articles I wrote on Product Management was titled “You can’t never have too many Product Managers“. I think that was back in 2005 or 2006. Clearly I had a particular bias,  :-) though quite honestly, I’m pleasantly surprised that I still agree with most of what I wrote back then.

In the article, I wrote the following about the role of Product Management. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but bear with me.

The work of product management is really about solving an optimization problem. In short, how to optimize a finite set of engineering resources to implement the optimal set of product features that best solve the diverse needs of the target audience. In addition, product managers must also be instrumental in shepherding the product through the development and release cycle, working with downstream groups such as marketing, sales and technical support to transfer information and knowledge to them so they can be optimal in their jobs.

OK. I would write that a bit differently today, but the gist would be the same. It’s still an optimization problem, with multiple stages  or elements in the process that impact other teams. Product Management plays a key role in those stages and can positively affect the effectiveness of those teams. The following is a simplified list of the key elements to track.

  • Product
  • Positioning/Messaging
  • Awareness
  • Lead Generation
  • Funnel Management
  • Sales Execution

Each of these is a critical component in the overall business success. Now what happens if any one of them are not done well? e.g. you can have a great Product and great Positioning/Messaging, but if Awareness and Lead Generation falter, then even the best Sales Execution cannot do much. Similarly a bad product cannot be saved by flawless execution in the rest of the elements.

But the reality is that none of these are done perfectly. In any given company, some may be done well, others not so well.

So now, let’s do a little math. The following is a very simple measurement model, but I think it illustrates the key point I’m trying to make.

If your company did everything perfectly (i.e. 100% effectiveness for each element), it would achieve maximum success. e.g.  100\%^6 = 1








Now imagine if your company didn’t perform everything perfectly :-), but at 90% effectiveness. That’s still really great. It means you’ve got a great product, you’re positioning and messaging very well, and your marketing and sales are knocking it out of the park. Then the calculation would be:   90\%^6 which equals……

What do you think it equals? Take a guess?

Well if  you do the math, it is 53%. Seems hard to believe doesn’t it? The company is only half as successful as the perfect example, even though each area is executing at 90% of maximum!








And if we drop the effectiveness per element to 80%, the overall number is 80\%^6 = 26%. i.e. half of the 90% level!








That’s a huge change between good and great.  And yet, there are a lot of companies that would be thrilled to execute at this level.

Now consider a startup. The product is immature, their positioning/messaging is usually weak, they struggle for awareness, their lead generation and sales execution are immature. What do you think that number will be? Don’t peak. :-)








Yes, that says .8%. Point eight percent! 50\%*50\%*20\%*50\%*50\%*60\% is a rather small number.

It shouldn’t be shocking for anyone who has worked in a startup. But here’s what good Product Management can add.  A better product, properly positioned and message (i.e. focusing on great use cases and communicated well to the market), leads to better awareness and lead generation. And let’s not even touch Funnel Management or Sales Execution.








Those changes have more than tripled the total effectiveness of the company (2.7% vs. .8%), even though each represents a small increase in Product, Positioning, Awareness and Lead Generation.

I admit. This is a VERY simplistic model, and it’s very easy to drop a few (hypothetical) scenarios into a spreadsheet to illustrate a point. But the point is important: that small changes in a complex system can have significant impact on that system.

A catalyst for change…but how much?

Product Management is, amongst other things, the driver and catalyst for positive system changes in a company.  These can be anything from pricing/licensing/packaging, to better positioning/messaging to targeting new use cases or markets etc. Those changes can help a startup achieve initial repeatable success, or move a good company towards greatness. And unlike most other groups, Product Managers don’t live silos, but look across them. Thus Product Managers can identify and change the business in ways other groups cannot.

I don’t know of a way to truly measure the benefit of  good (or great) Product Management practices in a company, but there must be a way. Some things like price/licensing changes are easy to measure because there is a clear metric to look at (assuming all else remains static): sales before the change vs. sales after the change But other things are much harder. I once had the following (peculiar) exchange during a planning meeting.

Executive: What is the revenue impact of adding [feature X] to the product?
Me: There’s no way to answer that question.
Executive: But you must have some idea of the value, otherwise why are you adding it?
Me: Yes, there is value. It solves a problem for a subset of our customers.
Executive: So then how many new deals will you get by adding it?
Me: Like I said, it’s impossible to answer.
Executive: But there must be some number you can tie it to. Is it 5% more deals, 10% more deals?

The conversation didn’t end there, and as the executive persisted, I threw out some numbers to appease him. He then asked the same question about other features. At the time I thought the question was ridiculous, as there’s absolutely no way to predict revenue on a feature-by-feature basis. But I think he was trying to determine if the planned release would deliver the targeted results. i.e. assuming everyone else executes as expected, what impact will the product changes have? It’s not a completely unreasonable question, but as far as I know, there’s no way to measure that. Is there?

What are your thoughts? How can we start measuring the impact we make in the companies we work in?


Tweet this: Is it possible to measure the impact of Product Management?  http://wp.me/pXBON-48t #prodmgmt 

Saeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.