Product Managers: Show your mettle!

When times are good, no one really needs Product Management.

You build something marginally useful and someone funds it, people use it and some people even buy it.

Looking back at the dot-com heyday of the late 1990s, there were A LOT of really dumb or bad ideas. The worst,  and not just in my opinion, was AllAdvantage.  They received several rounds of funding, burned through over $100,000,000 (yes, over one hundred million dollars), mostly by giving it away, and in the end had nothing to show for it.

Wanna know what they did? Let WayBackMachine show you their home page from 2000. And nowhere amongst the 16 – yes sixteen – people listed on their Management Team page, did anyone have a title including the words “Product Management”. The pattern repeated itself in this most recent boom period, though not with the same extremes.

But when times are bad, as they are right now, good Product Management is not simply important, it is a real necessity. Unfortunately, too many companies don’t understand the value of Product Managers and are laying them off. It happened in the last downturn and it’s happening again in this one.

What is Product Management?

Now before I go on, let me define what I mean by Product Management, because, as we all know, there are some different perspectives on what “product management” entails.

Product Management is a business optimization function focused on product or product line success.

And thus it is the responsibility of the Product Management organization within the company to focus on defining, managing and optimizing the business priorities and focus of the product or products of the company.

Far too often, individual Product Managers get focused or are told to focus on product development, releases, beta tests and the like.  But, in times like these, when the economy is looking bad —  read what Paul Krugman is writing —   Product Management had better get focused on ensuring time and effort is prioritized to keep the product(s) alive and healthy through the troubled times to come.

How to get focused?

First of all, remember you work for a business and not a technology company. This is important.

To paraphrase James Carville, “It’s the bottom line, stupid!

Now, start thinking of all the things Product Management can do to help improve business efficiency. These include:

  • contact some good existing customers and get 1st hand information about the impact of the economy on their business and budgets
    • find out what their priorities are for the next 12 months, and whether this is different than their priorities 3-6 months ago
    • can any of these  priorities be  achieved with the help of any of your products
    • ask them for contacts in other companies — not necessarily users of your product — that you can have similar conversations with
  • contact some recent new customers and ask similar questions
  • contact some recent lost accounts — yes it’s that Win/Loss topic again — and find out why you lost
    • was there a cheaper alternative?
    • was it a product deficiency?
    • was it some other reason?
  • talk to members of the sales team and get their perspective on what prospects are saying
  • gather sales data for the last 6-12 months and see if you can find any patterns or changed patterns in it with respect to product sales, deal size, discount levels, territory sales, partner sales etc.
  • assimilate the data you collect
    • talk to Product Marketing (hopefully you have a good relationship with them) and decide what programs or initiatives they can create to spur additional sales
    • share your Win/Loss findings with Sr. Management and/or trusted members of Sales management. Help them understand any key findings that may enable them to close additional deals.
    • offer to help lead some sessions with other members of the sales team to share your insights

Rise above the usual routine

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking something like:

“This is all fine and dandy, but when am I going to have time to do any or all of this? I’ve got a freakin’ full time job dealing with the engineers and the next release, and the bug scrubs and product backlog take up any time I have left.”

All I will say is this:

Are you a Mexican or a Mexican’t? 🙂

OK, let me put it another way.

Here’s a golden opportunity for Product Management to step up and show that it can have a real and measurable impact to the business. What executive wouldn’t notice someone who, not only conducted some good relevant business analysis, but also shared it with internal teams and then helped implement changes that benefited the company?

Is it easy to do? No. If it were, everyone would be doing it.

If you do it and do it right, you might annoy the Engineering team a bit by not focusing on them, but that’s a small price to pay for helping improve the business in a bad economy. Also the potential for C-level recognition doesn’t hurt. Wanna be CEO of your product?  Then act like it, especially when leadership is needed.

Look at the situation in one of two ways:

  1. Opportunities like this, to make a mark and gain recognition and truly impact the business don’t come by very often. Carpe diem.
  2. If you don’t do it, what have your got to lose, except possibly your job.



4 responses to “Product Managers: Show your mettle!

  1. Pingback: links for 2009-01-13 (Jarrett House North)

  2. Excellent points about why product management is important during a recession to maximize business value.


  3. A little early for the 2009 post of the year declaration, but nicely said. I am seeing lots of Product Managers searching for jobs right now but worst of all the ones still employed are still doing the same time wasting activities they were doing 12 months ago. It is important to remember that people are not buying your product because of the recession, it is because the value your product offers is marginal enough that status quo is an equal or better option. Follow Saeed’s advice! -Stewart

  4. Michael Ray Hopkin

    Saeed, well put. Product managers do have great opportunities to step up and take the leadership role. It may require getting outside of your “comfort zone” but it’s well worth the effort. -Michael