Can marketing learn from agile?

By Steve Johnson

Failing to focus, failing to choose one discipline and stick to it, is exactly what leads firms to a state of mediocrity.—Michael Treacy & Fred Wiersema

small__5141328136When I was the head of marketing, I got into a heated argument about our marketing and promotion programs. It was in a senior management meeting of directors, VPs, and the CEO. One of the directors took me to task for not supporting more industry speaking opportunities. Initially, I gave him a non-answer so we could get back to our primary discussions but he wouldn’t let it go. “Tell me,” he demanded, “why we’re not speaking at industry conferences!”

I shouted back: “You’re getting all the marketing you can afford!”

I explained my approach. “We wrote down everything we wanted to do, put it in priority order, and then moved down the list until we ran out of money. Speaking didn’t make the cut.”  I continued, “Of course, we can do more programs when we have more money. Does anyone want to move some money from their budget to the marketing budget? I thought not.”

We now know this technique as one of the basic elements of Kanban. And yet, in my conversations today, I still hear sales and marketing people arguing about individual programs. “We need to do a newsletter!” or “Hey! Let’s write an ebook!” or “Why aren’t we blogging?”

It’s time to take a step back.

Marketing, like every other department, has to prioritize. We have to choose. And that usually means choosing not to do things. Invariably some don’t get their pet programs funded. After all, there are always more ways to spend money than the budget allows.

We can learn a lot from Kanban. Just like your home budget, you allocate funds by category, prioritize the list, start from the top and work your way through the list until you run out of time or money. We need to focus on business prioritization—just like agile development teams.

What if we managed the promotion plan like a product backlog? What if we applied agile techniques to marketing?

Think of your marketing programs in three levels: company, products or initiatives, and campaigns.

Start with your investments at the company level. There’s a big (or maybe not so big) pot of money. Allocate it among your products and initiatives. What are your big initiatives? What percentage should support the launch of your new products while maintaining the old ones? And don’t forget infrastructure and maintenance. How much do you need to spend on basic infrastructure, such as the web site, automation, and memberships?

With your percentage of marketing spend allocated by products or initiatives, write down your list of campaigns and promotions. Write down everything you can think of.

Now prioritize the list. Look at the business value of each item compared to the others. You can start with “this is more important than that” and after you have a rough sorting, look at the delta between current and desired state. That is, are there any items that are “good enough,” at least for now?

Consider using the Outcome-Driven Innovation approach to prioritization from Anthony Ulwich’s What Customers Want. It’s really quite simple. On a scale of 1 to 5, rate the importance of each item. Then, again from 1 to 5, rate the satisfaction with your current state. The value of the opportunity (or program in this case) is the importance plus the delta between importance and current satisfaction. Need help? Download this tool to see how it works for your marketing programs.

If you need help wrapping your mind around apply agile approaches to marketing, Lean Samarai has a quick video overview of the SAFe approach to product development. Watch the video—but instead of thinking how it can be used in development, consider its application to marketing programs. Instead of development teams, think of your content teams, bloggers, PR teams, events, and so on.

This approach makes sense to me. What about you? Does agile marketing make sense for your organization? Add your comments below.

photo credit: 3oheme via photopin cc

7 Ways to Ramp Up Quickly as a New Product Marketer

By Rahim Kaba

getthefactsAs a product marketer, you’re expected to be the “buyer” expert in your organization and clearly communicate how your products can benefit potential buyers. But if you’re new to your company and its markets, learning about your buyers isn’t straightforward; unlike other roles in your organization, you need to seek information from outside the company. Unless you’re moving into your new role from within the organization (or perhaps as an ex-customer), you probably don’t know a lot about your company’s buyers and markets.

Even if you have the right skills as a product marketer, you won’t be able to do your job effectively until you truly understand your buyers’ challenges and needs. Once you begin to acquire this knowledge however, you’ll be in a unique position to connect the dots between your buyers’ greatest pain points and your solutions’ benefits to persuade them to purchase your solution over the competition (or the status quo).

For new product marketers, the learning curve can be quite steep. So how do you ramp up quickly? Here are 7 practical tips to help you succeed in your new role:

1.       Don’t believe everything you read

Internal documentation is always a good start, but often only reflects your company’s perspective of its products and buyers. Dig deeper to get the full picture of what your buyers really want.

2.       “Listen” to the market

Register for daily or weekly Google Alerts and join LinkedIn Groups relevant to your industry to monitor what others (e.g., competitors, customers, industry experts, and analysts) are saying. This will help you spot trends and identify new and important topics of interest in the buying community.

3.       Gain insights from customer-facing employees

Your sales team isn’t the only group within your company that has a good understanding of your buyers. Take the time to talk to your pre-sales engineers, field marketers, technical support, and professional services staff to gain insights into what your prospects and customers think about your company and products. This will help you determine what they appreciate the most—characteristics that you may want to place front and center in your sales and marketing materials.

4.       Join sales calls and demos

Since you’ll be working closely with the sales team, it’s important that you attend sales calls to see what they’re up against on a daily basis. Not only will you learn how your sales team pitches your products, but you’ll also hear firsthand the challenges your prospects and customers are facing. After several calls, you’ll likely begin to see patterns that will help drive product positioning and enable you to create tools that will resonate well with your buyers.

5.       Talk to champion customers

Your company probably has customers that get overly excited about your products. Get introduced to them and ask about their biggest challenges, why they chose your products, and what your company is good (and not so good) at. It’s likely that other buyers in the market have similar challenges; use this information to showcase how your products can help solve their problems as well.

 6.       Attend industry conferences

Travel budgets are tight these days. But if you have the opportunity to attend industry conferences or events, don’t go just as an observer. This is your opportunity to speak to thought leaders and buyers, and gain valuable insights into your market. You’ll likely hear from buyers that are outside your company’s pipeline—enabling you to gain a wider view of market needs and trends, and provide valuable input to your product management team.

7.       Perform win/loss interviews

Get access to your company’s most recent wins and losses and talk to your buyers directly. You don’t need to be an expert on your products to have conversations on why they did or didn’t buy your products.  With 10 or so interviews under your belt, you’ll begin to see common buyer concerns and needs that will help shape your positioning and messaging strategy.

As a new employee, you know how important it is to quickly showcase the value you can bring to your company. New product marketers have it particularly tough because they have to acquire their expertise from outside the organization. Make sure you take a holistic approach and get insights from a wide variety of sources in order to paint an accurate portrait of your buyers.

If you aren’t being provided opportunities to become the buyer expert at your company, speak to your employer to get access to the right resources and tools. It’s in their best interest to help you succeed in your new role.

Rahim

Tweet this: 7 ways to ramp up quickly as a new Product Marketer - http://wp.me/pXBON-40q #prodmgmt #prodmktg #innovation

About the author

Rahim Kaba is a B2B product marketing professional based in Montreal, Canada with over 10 years of experience managing successful products, services, and marketing programs in a wide range of industries and sectors. You can find him on LinkedIn.

 

 

If I Were Building the Ultimate Technology Solution for Product Management & Marketing…

By John Mansour

swiss army laser knifeIt’s been on my mind for years, even to the point where we seriously considered developing it at Proficientz a few years ago. But we decided to practice what we preach and stick to our core competencies, at least for the foreseeable future.

But the frustration level from our clients is reaching a fever pitch as they look for technology solutions to support product management and product marketing functions. Yes, product marketing too!

If I had to characterize the sentiment from our clients, they’d say the current technology solutions help product managers manage products, but none of them help the organization develop a stronger product management and marketing discipline.

Comments I hear most often:

  •  “They’re bloated with features and difficult to implement and use.”
  • “They focus on helping you manage whatever you’ve decided to do but none of them facilitate the decision process.”
  • “They’re all requirements management packages in one form or another.”

Perception is reality, so I feel compelled to start this discussion – and you’re invited to join the party – in an effort to get technology providers and product professionals engaged in a conversation on a very different level to advance the cause. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t benefit!

For as long as I’ve been in the product management and marketing profession, we’ve aspired to become the heartbeat of the organization, not for selfish reasons but to help our organizations reach their full potential. With the right technology solution, this goal becomes a chip shot!

Who’s Invited to the Discussion?

  • Product managers, marketers and strategists who need solutions
  • Your counterparts from the technology solution providers

The discussion will take place in the Proficientz LinkedIn Group only so please share this blog with your social networks and let’s see if we can generate enough momentum to benefit both parties.

Isn’t it time to put our heads together in ways we’ve never done before and use social media to do something significant for our profession?  Let’s make it happen.

Guidelines for the Discussion

Please use the following guidelines to keep the discussion engaging for everyone.

  •  Limited to B2B products and services.

Product Managers & Marketers Who Need Solutions

  •  Please focus the discussion on activities, goals and objectives and why they’re important to your organization (and not ask for features).
  • Please do not make references (good or bad) to any product or service providers you’ve had experience with.

Technology Providers Who Build Product Management & Marketing Solutions

  • Please refrain from promoting or defending your solutions either explicitly or implicitly.
  • Please do not encourage your customers to drop testimonials into the discussion.
  • Feel free to ask questions to clarify something.

Product Management Service Providers and Consultants

Remember, the purpose is to connect the people who need the solutions with the people who develop them. I recommend we sit on the sidelines and learn as much as we can from the discussion.

My role in the discussion will be a facilitator to kick things off and introduce topics that (in the eyes of our clients) never get any airtime on blogs or social media. All participants are welcome to do the same.

John Mansour

Tweet this: If I were building the ultimate tech solution for PMs and PMMs – http://wp.me/pXBON-3Zt #prodmgmt #innovation

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.

 

 

Help! I’m a secretary to development

Or, Why a developer can’t also be product manager

negativespaceIn small companies—and in some not-so-small companies—the development lead often serves as the product leader or product manager. Is this a good idea?

In your team, who is responsible for persona or market definition, requirements, acceptance testing, and feature prioritization?

Like a fox guarding the henhouse, the one who develops a feature should not also be the one who verifies that it meets the market requirement. Product features should be prioritized based on market need and not on available development resources. And the one who is managing the daily operations of product development is unlikely to have time for research on markets and their requirements.

Many product teams—and some executive teams—are confused about the role of product management. And often, this results in product managers who type up meeting notes, update spreadsheets with the team priorities, move “to do” items to the “completed” column—in short, they’re become secretaries to development.

One of the leaders of the Scrum movement told me that he’d never met a product manager he respected. Maybe that’s why today’s agile teams have a product owner instead of a product manager.

I met a developer once who said the key was patience. “I’ll be here long after the product managers are gone. I just have to wait them out.”

Back in the early 1980s, I joined a company in Dallas. This was my first vendor experience and it was one of the best-run software companies I would ever encounter, something I didn’t appreciate until many years later. This company had a very clear job description for those who performed business planning for a single product. The title: product manager.

Now jump to the late 1980s. In his seminal tech marketing book Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore recommended two separate product management titles:

A product manager is responsible for ensuring that a product gets created, tested, and shipped on schedule and meeting specifications. It is a highly internally-focused job, bridging the marketing and development organizations, and requiring a high degree of technical competence and project management experience.

A product marketing manager is responsible for bringing the product to the marketplace and to the distribution organization. It is a highly externally-focused job.

(Actually, this is still a pretty good delineation of product management and product marketing.)

In 1995, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland formalized the Scrum development methodology. And with it came yet another product management title: product owner.

The Product Owner represents the stakeholders and is the voice of the customer. He or she is accountable for ensuring that the team delivers value to the business. Scrum teams should have one Product Owner.

Developers tend to prioritize based on intuition while sales teams focus more on active deals in the pipeline. Others prefer to leverage their industry experience. Ideally, a product manager will employ these methods plus customer requests and quantified market data. Read more about the ways that companies make decisions.

Steve Jobs was famous for using his intuition on what the market needed; he generally ignored the advice of industry pundits. Marissa Meyer seems to use data to support her decision-making. But what can you say about Microsoft, Nokia, and Blackberry? Who did they listen to for insights on where to take their products? Did they listen to sales and development? Did they listen to the analysts and reporters? Or did they have meaningful conversations with their best customers?

Sure, there are many companies people use as examples, both good and bad. You can use Apple and Microsoft and Google and others to make almost any point you want to make.

Who in your organization should be making the business decisions about the product? Unlike some, I rely on development to make technical decisions; I want them solving problems. And I want product managers and product owners talking about personas and problems rather than solutions and capabilities. Product managers define the problem; product developers solve the problem.

Developers don’t need a secretary reading aloud from a requirements document; they need context about markets and problems that address a business need.

There is much more to a product than the product: there’s promotion, sales, support, operations. These are strategic decisions about the business of the product. Who in your organization is best suited to make these decisions?

5 Tips for Building Tablet-First Business Applications

tabletBy Rivi Aspler

Congratulations, you have just gotten approval to build a tablet-first business application.

This scenario is nothing new when your product has been designed initially for the mobile consumer, but is a professional dream-come-true for the traditional B2B Product Manager.

As always, talking the talk is easy. Walking the walk is a challenge. Not only are there very few best practices for building mobile-first B2B applications, but there are still very few business users who work on tablets for the majority of their day.

This post is an attempt to capture some of the growing knowledge of business mobile applications so that your product investments are utilized in the best possible manner.

1 – Expect Two Modes of Usage: ‘On-The-Go’ and ‘In-The-Office’

If your product handles heavy-duty tasks (good SW examples are Photoshop, SolidWorks and AutoCAD), then unlike traditional desktop products, the importance of a focused MVP (Minimal Viable Product) per resolution size becomes a critical decision.

You must define what tasks the target user will want to complete ‘On-The-Go’. For example, urgently addressing alerts or the handling simple but very common tasks that one can do without much attention to little details)?  Such features will go into the MVP-tablet application with a mobile UI (touch gestures, layered content etc.)

In parallel, you must assume that your users will connect their tablets to a large resolution screen for at least a few hours a day and certainly for the heavy-duty tasks. You must therefore define those heavy-duty tasks and make sure that they can be performed using a mouse and a keyboard as well.

2 – Carefully define your Mobile-First MVP (Minimal Viable Product)

If your B2B product is mature, module-rich, crossing verticals and internationalized, your tablet-first version will not be able to meet the needs of all geographies, all verticals, all types of users and all types of tasks. Making sure you are leveraging your limited resources effectively, you should decide which geographies, which verticals, which users and which types of tasks you focusing on first.

3 – Re-Design the Application to Fit Mobile UX Guidelines

Leverage the mobile-UX knowledge that has already been gathered and documented.  Good sources of information are: Android Design, your place for learning how to design Android apps or Designing for iOS 7  websites.

4 – Test your Product UX with Millennials

You obviously want to know if you are doing a good job with the UX design of the tablet-first application. Unfortunately a usability test with mouse and keyboard savvy people will not give you the results that you are looking for. They will not be happy with the UX unless it imitates the product that they already know.

Millenials are those born (roughly) between 1977 and 1992 – or those currently between 22-37. They are mobile and technology savvy,  they represent the upcoming target mobile users, and will do a great job testing your new UX.

5 – Sales Strategy – Throw in a bunch of cost-effective tablets

Tablets as an in-office tool are not very common yet. Don’t let it be a show stopper for your mobile first product. Since there are many types of cost-effective tablets out there, you should test multiple different tables. as well as the the software itself on those tablets.

Oh… and don’t forget, if you are building a mobile-first heavy-duty business application, you are amongst the first ones to do so. You are therefore bound to make some mistakes. Embracing the challenge as well as the frustration is a necessity.

Rivi

Tweet this:5 Tips for Building Tablet-First Business Applications http://wp.me/pXBON-3Zw #prodmgmt #mobile

About the author

Rivi is a product manager with over 15 years of product life-cycle management experience, at enterprise sized companies (SAP), as well as with small to medium-sized companies. Practicing product management for years, Rivi now feels she has amassed thoughts and experiences that are worth sharing.

In case you missed ProductCamp Silicon Valley 2014…

by Saeed Khan

I had the pleasure of attending ProductCamp Silicon Valley this past weekend. Like all such events, it was good to see familiar faces and meet new people as well.

I had 2 presentations.

One was on my own, covering a topic near and dear to me — Lean Communications. The other was a town-hall discussion with my friends Steve Johnson and Barb Nelson. Steve regularly posts on this blog, and I’m trying to convince Barb to start. :-)  She’s a great Marketer and I think her stories and insights are worth sharing.

Steve also gave a talk on his own entitled – Has Agile Ruined Product Management? – which already has been blogged about by an attendee!

Additionally, my good friend and fellow blogger on this site, Prabhakar Gopalan, flew in from Austin to attend and he gave a talk — a reprise of his well received talk from the recent Austin ProductCamp — The Whole Product Manager: What it takes to be a Craftsman. Want to know what a sushi master in Tokyo can teach you about being a better Product Manager?  Read through Prabhakar’s presentation.

The following is a curated version of the tweets from the day. Will try to attend next year, and hope to see  you there.

Saeed

Tweet this:In case you missed ProductCamp Silicon Valley - http://wp.me/pXBON-3ZP #prodmgmt #svpcamp

About the author

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.

Help! I’m demo boy for sales people

Or, Be careful what you teach your sales teams

call meA VP wanted to improve the visibility and perception of product management with the sales people so he created a series of video introductions of his team. The videos included the product manager’s background, areas of expertise, and contact information. Once they were distributed, sales people asked, “Can we share these with our clients?”

In my early days as a product manager, I really enjoyed doing product training for the sales people. I was good at presenting. I enjoyed it. And I wanted them to see the presentation and demo done correctly at least once. Yet all the sales people said, “Man! That kid is good. I’m going to take him on all my sales calls.”

In a similar story, the VP of sales distributed the home and mobile phone numbers of all product managers to the sales channel (including international). Within a week, all of the product managers had gotten new, unlisted phone numbers.

These scenarios—with all the best intentions—resulted in sales people perceiving product management as the go-to resource for all things product.

Is that what you want your product managers to do?

How to fix it

The key to fixing this is to listen to what your sales team is telling you. They need a go-to resource and they need tools they can share with their customers. When your sales team doesn’t have deep product expertise, you need to empower them with sales tools that do the heavy lifting. Here are some suggestions.

Sales enablement tools

When sales people ask, “Can we share these with our clients?” they’re telling you they need more and/or better sales tools. In fact, they’re so desperate for sales tools that they want to share videos of the product managers! What’s that about?

Put on your product management hat and evaluate the implied requirements. What are your sales people requesting? Break it down into the sales funnel and strive to understand which steps need supporting tools. Develop these tools and share them broadly. And make them a key element of your product training.

Product training

Many product managers feel their sales teams need deep technical knowledge of their products so they try to educate the sales people on their years of experience. But the sales people quickly realize they’ll never have this level of experience. Their solution: just call on the product manager when the client needs deep knowledge.

Make product training less about transferring your knowledge and more about finding information.

Here’s an alternative approach to product training. Make the agenda about the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel. Start with a definition of the markets and personas. Explain the compelling events that typically cause a client to initiate a project. That is, explain what a qualified prospect looks like. Once you’ve profiled the buyer, distribute a list of sales enablement tools, organized by step in the sales cycle, with links to where the content can be found on your sales portal. Show them how they can help themselves.

When it comes to product, get one of the sales engineers to deliver the presentation and demo. Sure, the sales engineer might not do quite as good as job as you would but it will show the sales people that their own field resources are knowledgeable about the product.

Sales engineering

Perhaps the best way to support the sales effort in your company is to be an advocate for sales engineering. Sales engineers are product experts in the field. For sales people, the SE should be their first call. In my experience, most companies with complex products and a direct sales force require one sales engineer for every two sales people. What’s your ratio? Unfortunately, many teams have understaffed and sometimes underskilled the sales engineering group. And when sales teams don’t have access to the skills they need, they’ll call on product managers.

Set up a sales support desk

If you continue to get product support calls from sales people, maybe it’s time to formalize your team’s sales support. Create a sales support desk and staff it with a junior person who knows where to find answers. Put this person front-and-center in all your communications. Put this person in charge of the product content areas of the sales portal so he or she knows where to find sales tools and content.

And maybe it’s not just one person. Another approach is to set up a dedicated mobile phone and a general email account for the product management team to share. Each product manager takes charge of these for one day and then passes the responsibility (and the phone) to the next person in the queue.

As with anything else, you should track the number and nature of these communications. Whenever the support desk gets repeated requests for a certain type of information, it’s clear that you have to develop and document a solution.

What next?

Considering all the typical company asks of sales people—relationship building, navigating the complex sale, negotiation—it’s really surprising that we also expect them to be technically adept. And maybe yours are. But if not, empower them not with education on the technology but with education on how to provide answers. The more you know about how buyers buy and sellers sell, the more you’ll know how to support your sales teams.

The Five Scariest Words a Product Manager Can Hear

By John Mansour

“We’ve created an innovation team.”

scaredOh, great! Just what every product manager needs – more shiny new objects competing for the same resources that should be going toward product improvements needed years ago.

Innovation is great, but too many organizations define innovation to be synonymous with new products. And that generally leads to expectations that over promise and under deliver.

Innovation is most successful in organizations that see it as an end result, usually falling into one of three categories:

  • Finding a new way to solve an old problem because of a new method or process.
    • In 2005, BarCamp became a new way to put on a conference that ensured session topics of greatest interest to the participants.
  • Technology advances that enable new ways to solve old problems.
    • GPS location services on mobile devices that make a host of things easier for businesses and consumers.
  • Uncovering needs people didn’t realize they had until there was a solution, then it became all the rage!
    • DVRs in the United States, circa 2000.

How do these organizations consistently arrive at end results that are innovative? It’s a mindset, and it doesn’t start with looking for problems. It starts by understanding what your target customers are ultimately trying to accomplish and the obstacles standing in their way.

Since big data is such a hot topic these days, I’ll throw some love to a small technology company in Atlanta, GA – Emcien – that has taken a very innovative approach to big data.

Most companies hawking big data solutions are touting better ways to organize the data. They make it easier to ask complex questions of the data and get answers that offer better insights to running the business. It’s a strong value proposition.

Emcien has come at big data from a completely different perspective that goes something like this: “Your big data is so big you don’t even know what you don’t know. So stop asking the data questions and let it give you answers to questions you’d never think to ask.”

Emcien’s solution is predicated on pattern recognition. It finds patterns in the data you wouldn’t dream up on your best day. Talk about valuable insights! Emcien’s founder understood the ultimate goal of mining big data – tell me something useful and insightful I’d never think to look for that will ultimately help grow the business more profitably. That’s innovation!

A Simple Solution for Product Management

B2B companies don’t realize how easy it is to build innovation into their product management discipline (which may go beyond the product management department). It’s a matter of dedicating part of that discipline (10-20%) to understanding the goals of their target customer organizations from top to bottom and the biggest roadblocks preventing them from meeting those goals. With that level of domain expertise in hand, the other 80-90% of the team responsible for the products can deliver solutions that hit the bulls-eye every time.

Innovation teams don’t have to be a nightmare for product management if they’re integrated in a manner that aligns the goals for the entire portfolio to the goals of its target customers.   When that alignment occurs consistently, your organization experiences more profitable growth because everyone shares a common mission – the profitable growth of your target customers.

John

Tweet this: The 5 scariest words a Product Manager can hear - http://wp.me/pXBON-3XT #prodmgmt #innovation

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.

It’s difficult to manage P&L…

It’s difficult to manage the P&L, when you don’t have control of the “P” or the “L.”—Rich Nutinsky, Pragmatic Marketing

It’s fairly common for product managers to be asked to act like “mini-CEOs” or “the president of the product. Good idea in concept but harder to implement in real life.

Even if you don’t have actual control over P&L, you can control reporting of P&L. Try using a scorecard approach.

I was working with a team on their scorecard but alas, all of their metrics were focused on development productivity: how many defects, how many hours, how many stories, how many features…?

But what about metrics on the business of the product from your perspective?

  • What are development costs against plan? Revenue against plan?
  • How many calls to support? Is that more or less than the monthly average? What is the trend?
  • How many leads from marketing? How many were rejected by sales?
  • What is your win rate and what are the top reasons by you lose?
  • What are the trends in Net Promoter Score or other loyalty-related metrics?
  • Fundamentally, what are some of the business metrics you should have at your fingertips? What questions are your execs asking that you should be able to answer? Be the source of metrics on the business of the product!

What other metrics would you capture?

Understanding the role of Product Manager

by Pandith Jantakahalli

whatdoesproductmanagerdoA product manager helps a company achieve its goals by helping customers get their jobs done in an unique and delightful way, and getting customers to pay in some form (money, attention, information).

Let me elaborate on the key responsibilities encapsulated in the above definition.

Getting jobs done: A parent purchases your app to keep her six year old daughter entertained over a three hour train ride. The parent did not purchase the app because it uses the latest technology or she liked how your app is designed/looks. A product manager must understand what “jobs” or outcomes a prospective customer is trying to accomplish. This can also be seen from the lens of solving problems. But I prefer the “jobs approach” as it provides a richer understanding of the context in which a product/feature will be used, why someone is using it, what outcomes they are hoping to achieve, and what they need to stop using to begin using your product. A product manager must ensure that the team builds something compelling enough for customers to switch away from an existing solution that they are currently using. This framework is especially helpful in understanding your real competitors or alternatives that the prospective customer has, to get the same job done.

Lens of solving problems -“real problems”: A product manager must ensure she focuses the team’s effort on solving real problems that will help the company achieve its goals. “Problems” that are ignored are usually not worth working on. The pain killer vs vitamin framework is a useful for assessing the intensity of the pain/problem. Des Traynor’s perspective on “Making things people want”

Making things people want involves understanding a long standing human or business need and then using technology to:

  • take out steps
  • make it possible for more people
  • make it possible in more situations

Flawless execution cannot save a company (or a product or a feature) that chooses to focus on jobs/problems that nobody cares about.

Unique: Prospective customers will have an array of options to get their jobs done. The product manager must pick a customer segment and a dimension (like Amazon’s delivery of ordered items within 30 minutes) that is aligned with the most important outcomes/jobs that the customer wishes to accomplish. This decision is critical in ensuring prospective customers consider your product when they want to hire a product in a specific situation.

Trying to be everything for everyone or “unique” for the sake of uniqueness is usually a recipe for disaster. Choosing a dimension that is important to the customer and has very little competition helps build a defensible business.

Delightful: While thorough and thoughtful attention to detail helps, Kathy Sierra’s talk on Minimum Badass User provides sage advice. Focus on improving the user’s life and/or skills. What “badass” powers does the user get by using your product?

“People don’t use your app because they like the app or they like you, they are using it because they like themselves, and they tell their friends because they like their friends!” – Kathy Sierra

Establishing reference customers is critical for scaling any business, and you will have reference-able customers only if you have delighted them while getting their jobs done, using your product.

Pay: In a business context, the product must generate enough revenues to grow and sustain the business over the long term. The product manager must be adept at picking a business model that captures enough value for the business to thrive, grow, and remain viable.

Another critical responsibility of a product manager is validating that the solution (product) that is built is actually helping the customer get their jobs done and delighting them in the process. Some product management frameworks mandate that the product manager must focus only the “problem space”. I strongly disagree with this specific recommendation. Validation of the solution/product that has been built is as important as specifying what to build. I am not advocating the product manager specifies how to build. Does that mean the product manager does not validate other critical decisions like validating intensity of a problem? No. I am specifically calling out this aspect as a product manager plays a crucial role in deciding whether to ship a product/feature based on this validation.

Summary: Prioritizing which jobs/problems to work on, which customer segments to target, which dimensions to compete and excel on, how to access customers, how to capture value, determining what will delight users, how to scale the business, and validating what is built are key responsibilities of a product manager.

Two other perspectives on the role of product management that I like are one by Marty Cagan:

Discovering a product/feature that is valuable, usable, and feasible

and the other by Satya Patel:

“Product management isn’t a role or a function, it’s a set of skills. Those skills help remove obstacles and grease the wheels so that the functional experts can do their jobs best. Product management also balances the needs of users, the business and the team and makes the difficult tradeoffs needed to keep pressing ahead. In that way, Product Managers are very similar to CEOs. Very few would argue that a company doesn’t need a CEO. Product managers are simply CEOs of their products. No organization should be without someone who has ‘product management skills’ and works to make everyone else’s lives easier.”

Note: Every interaction that a prospective customer or customer has with a company is viewed as the “product”. It is not just the physical product or the service that is provided. Examples: looking for information about the product on the website, reading the user manual to understand different options/modes supported by a specific feature, response to an email query that was sent to the support address.

pandith-bwPandith Jantakahalli is a practicing product manager with over 17 years of experience and lives in Bangalore, India. He has helped craft a variety of web, mobile, and shrink wrapped products. In his spare time he enjoys birding and photography.