Category Archives: Process

Guest Post: Measuring Product Management (part 1)

This is part 1 of a series of guest posts by Don Vendetti. Don is the founder of Product Arts, a product management consulting company in Seattle.

NOTE: If you’d like to write a guest post, contact us and let us know about your idea.

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Measuring Product Management – The Executive Viewpoint

There have been plenty of discussions about how to measure and demonstrate the value of Product Management within companies.    From posts on this site:

and from a recent roundtable at the October Seattle ProductCamp, there’s an obvious challenge for the profession.

I decided to follow the prescribed Product Management protocol – I went out and talked to my customers.

Here’s the feedback from some senior executives running technology companies.

My list of execs is comprised of 12 individuals from my contact list, most of whom I’ve worked with at some point and are now scattered around in varying roles.   All have been on the senior executive staff of at least one company.

Most are in the Seattle area, some are CEO/COOs, some are technical heads, some are marketing heads and several have worn multiple hats – business development, engineering, marketing, general manager, program management.   Some have been product managers at some point or managed it as a function.

Company size varied from multi-billion dollar enterprises to startups still trying to get off the ground.

I contacted them through email initially with 3 questions:

  1. What is the value that product management brings to your company or to your department?
  2. How would you measure success for the group and individuals, i.e. on what metrics would you reward them?
  3. (Bonus question) Have you found product management to be effective in meeting the goals, in your experience.

On some of the responses, I probed further through email or met with them in person to discuss.   Some responses were intriguing.

Question 1.  What is product management’s overall value to your company?

There was a strong agreement of the strategic value expected from product management, and that fell into a few categories:

  • Bringing an understanding of the customer and the market into the company
  • Creating a vision, direction, and focus for the product internally and externally
  • Defining product/business plans to meet company strategy and objectives
  • Evangelizing the market needs and product solutions internally

At a tactical level, the front-runners were:

  • Managing product features, product requirements, competitive analysis, prioritization and roadmaps
  • Working with and supporting other functional groups – development, sales, support, marketing

Some comments included:

(VP Eng) “Product Management needs to be the voice of the customer AND the business and they need to advocate for both.”

(VP Biz Dev/PM) “Product management provides a key linkage between our end customers, the field sales and support organizations that support them, our engineering and QA teams responsible for product innovation and delivery, and our executive team from an overall company and product strategy perspective.”

(COO) “Overall product direction and roadmap, clearinghouse for requirements, driver of product delivery.”

(VP Eng) “Right brain, big picture, strategy, positioning, how to win in the market.  Bring customer view into company.  Outline the product needed.   Evangelize the product internally.”

(VP Corp Dev) “Ability to distill corporate goals and objectives and customer / market needs into products (services / solutions) that are built and sold at positive margins!  That includes not just having the bright ideas, but the organizational savvy to make them real.”

Some interesting comments came from multiple respondents involved in Agile. They indicated the value of product management is even higher in that environment.  Working as the Product Owners with Development seems to raise their visibility as an integral piece of the machine.

(VP Eng) “In the modern world of Agile the product management role is even more critical. They are often embedded in a SCRUM team as a product owner or business owner. These highly cross-functional teams can move quickly and demand that the role is in touch with the business and on-demand available to the team – in early iterations for prototyping and market validation, in mid iterations for feature build-out and in late iterations for sustaining and ongoing investments.”

Take-Away

If I rephrase some of the key expectations from above, here is what I come up for the primary value product management brings to a company:

  • Creates a shared awareness of the customer and market needs to the internal functions
  • Drives product solutions that meet both market  needs and company goals
  • Facilitates and supports cross-functional and external activities required to achieve the planned objectives

So if this is what is valued, then what is actually measured?    I’ll get to that in part 2.

Don

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Related Posts

Measuring Product Management (part 1)
Measuring Product Management (part 2)
Measuring Product Management (part 3)

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Canada’s Innovation Gap (part 1)

While this post is targeted at the innovation, funding and technology issues in Canada, it may apply to other geographies as well, particularly if you don’t live/work in technology hot spot such as Silicon Valley or Boston or Banglalore etc. This is a topic that is very dear to me, given that I currently live and work in Canada, but spent 6 years earlier this decade living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an great article in The Globe and Mail newspaper (one of Canada’s leading daily papers) entitled Canada’s innovation gap. The article, by Konrad Yakabuski, outlined what I think is both an accurate and troubling picture of the state of R&D and innovation in Canada. Here are some highlights from the article.

  • Innovation in Canada is in deep trouble. Productivity is stagnating; the manufacturing sector in imploding, and the government policy makers seem asleep at the wheel.
  • Once the flagship of Canadian high tech, Nortel is being dismantled and it’s best assets are being sold to foreign companies.
  • While Blackberry maker Research in Motion is a true global leader, and often cited as an example of what is possible in Canada, there are few if any other Canadian companies that can be held in the same light.
  • Canada’s economy is heavily resource based, and those companies spend very little of their revenues on R&D, even though they made enormous profits before the recession due to high commodity prices.
  • While Canada was moderately successful at moving from a provider of raw resources to foreign countries to a more modern economy, the last 10 years have reversed that process.
  • Historically, the  small group of elites that got rich on these resources controlled the political levers to ensure nothing changed. [Note: I personally think this still applies although not as much as it once was]
  • Innovation is the only sure way for Canada to be more productive.

I could go on. It’s a great article, and it should be a wake up call to every politician and business leader with any sense of commitment to the future and well-being of this country.

Change is a process

Change is needed on a lot of fronts. While many politicians are quick to highlight that the Canadian economy has faired better than other industrialized economies in the current economic crisis, it doesn’t change the fact that there has been a huge disruption in the Canadian economy, widespread layoffs, plant closures and bankruptcies.

Keep in mind that billions were spent to help manufacturing companies, particularly automakers with vociferous unions, but little if any was spent or allocated to help technology companies or create environments to make investment in high-tech much easier. A quote from the article:

“Canada is not being productive because it’s not being innovative,” said Robert Brown, chief executive officer of Montreal-based CAE Inc., the world leader in aircraft flight simulators and training. “A lot of innovation occurs at the interface with the customer. But when you look at the make-up of Canada’s economy, with so much dependence on resources, there is less contact between [our biggest] companies and end users.”

I think this is a polite way of saying that there are a lot of companies that are more than happy to cut down trees or dig minerals  or pump oil out of the ground and then ship it off to some other country to be processed and have value added to it.

Aside from being innovative, Canada needs to look to add significant value to whatever industries it has. We have great R&D minds in this country, but there are problems in productizing the research and funding and scaling businesses.

My personal experience

I moved to California back in 2000 to seek better opportunity – i.e. professional and financial gain — than I could find here in Canada. One of my best friends from high school — a brilliant guy who did his undergrad at Harvard and his Ph.D at Princeton, is now a research professor at another Ivy League school, even though he really wanted to come back and live and work in Canada. He told me back in the early 90s that the opportunities just weren’t here for him. He’s a great example of the brain drain this country faces on a regular basis.

I moved back to Canada a few years ago for personal reasons and I have to say it wasn’t easy coming back. Aside from the nicer weather in California, I knew that my career opportunities would be more limited than they were there.

And trust me, there is a huge difference in the technology industry here in Toronto and that of Boston or San Francisco. Everything from the amount and quality of investment funding, to the networks of people with connections into technology giants to the breadth of skill sets of individuals, and even to the aspirations of company founders are very different.

We’ve got brilliant people

I’m not slagging anyone here. There are very bright, dedicated and passionate people here. I’m proud to know a number of them. But when it comes to goals, too often a Canadian VC or company founder sees a $50 million exit as a big win, whereas in the US, that’s on the low end of their success scale.

And that exit often means jobs moving to the US or offshore. In many cases the key people in the acquired company (the bright, dedicated and passionate ones) move down to the US to work “at corporate”, and the brain drain continues.

I don’t want to paint a completely bleak picture of the situation here. As I said earlier, there are very bright, talented and passionate people here. In fact, after I moved down to Silicon Valley in 2000, one thing I realized was that the people down there are not smarter than the people here.

But the level of investment financing, the personal networks of skilled people, the institutions like Stanford and Berkeley all provide a critical mass of infrastructure that enable risk taking and innovation on a scale we don’t really have in Canada. The infrastructure and culture there pull bright people from other parts of the country and other parts of the world.

The issue is not the people here in Canada, it never has been. It’s all the other business levers that innovators need to “nail and scale” their businesses to be world leaders. I personally think the co-founders of RIM (Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie) should be viewed as national heroes, on the same scale as Wayne Gretzky or Gordie Howe (famous hockey players for those of you who didn’t grow up on hockey!).

I’m sure Mike and Jim had numerous incredibly lucrative offers to sell their company over the years. But they didn’t. They held on, grew the company, fought off lawsuits, challenged rivals and continued to innovate and create a global leader based in Waterloo Ontario. And just recently RIM was named the fastest growing company in the world by Fortune magazine.

So what can be done to close the innovation gap? Konrad offers some solutions in his article. I’ll get more into that in part 2.  But in the mean time, I’d like to hear what you think, particularly if you are here in Canada, or are Canadian and are living/working outside of Canada.

Saeed

Related Article:

Canada’s Innovation Gap (part 2)

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Guest Post: Stop, Collaborate and Listen

NOTE: The following is a guest post from Jim Holland. If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

Sometimes a picture says it all. Not too long ago, I was in the car with my son. As we stopped at an intersection near a college campus where my money lives, we looked up and saw the following sign.stopcolllisten We laughed about who would have spent the time to create a stencil and apply this to the sign. My son said; “Do you know where this phrase comes from?” I thought for a few seconds and had to admit that it’s part of the lyrics from the Vanilla Ice song “Ice, Ice Baby”.

First, let me apologize for that interjection. Many of you may have spent time in counseling to wipe away those lyrics and images or maybe you’re one of those who believe Vanilla Ice was an icon of urban music culture.  Either way, I’m not going further with the topic, only to use the lyric “Stop, Collaborate and Listen” to surface a few thoughts on Product Management.   Now, stop humming that Vanilla Ice tune and read on.

STOP – the frenetic pace. Let’s face it, product managers and their leaders are constantly side-tracked by the list of “busy work” that often overshadows the true purpose and value of product management. Steve Johnson in the Strategic Roles of Product Management, said; “the strategic role of product management is to be messenger of the market, delivering information to the departments that need market facts to make decisions.”

How do we better focus on the messages from the market and build credibility if we’re buried in “busy work” that no one cares about and it doesn’t create sustainable value? In a recent post on Games Executives Play, Alan Armstrong shared, “the underlying problem is often very deep and hard to fix.”

While there are several ways to “fix” the issue, Bill Warner suggests that we “need to manage the CEO collectively and use the experts hired for their expertise.”  If you’re thinking, “I can’t manage my CEO or it’s not within my role” then who will? We all have to take an active part of seizing every opportunity to promote and communicate the strategic nature of product management and STOP the “busy work.”

COLLABORATE – is not an idea, it’s an action. When I moved into product management, one of the first things my mentor and manager taught me was that product managers are successful if they do two things.  First, you have to become the leader of the product and make all product decisions with empirical data. The second was to collaborate on a continuous basis ensuring that number one happened.

Over the years I’ve learned that collaboration is more than “jointly working with” but more understanding the relationships required and how to actively sustain them.  In a recent post on collaboration and leadership, Art Petty stated, “it’s a lean, mean world right now, and the better you are able to find ways to participate in value-creating activities with the leaders around you, the better off your firm will be.” As Product Management and its leaders, we have to personally engage with all those who can provide insight, validation and honesty in the decision making process.

LISTEN – there’s an old saying, “hearing is a gift and listening is an art.” One of the attributes that product management and its leaders must sustain and leverage is listening.  How good are we at listening? I’m not sure, but if you ask those who watch you such as colleagues, customers, and executives, they’ll swear we’re all hearing impaired.

Seth Godin was right when he said, “more than anything else, I think prospects, customers and citizens watch what you do more than they listen to what you say.” How can you be the messenger of the market if you don’t get the message? As you look for ways to improve your listening skills, perhaps eliminating some of the ground noise we all create would help. Find some time to disconnect before you engage.

If product management and its leaders take the time to “stop, collaborate and listen” I believe we will expand our credibility internally and externally and be better prepared, or as Vanilla Ice would say, “You better hit bull’s eye, the kid don’t play.”

Jim Holland’s passion is enabling product marketing teams. With a lifetime of experience, he has a fresh and unique perspective in guiding product teams and has a knack for sensing markets, synthesizing ideas and turning them into reality.  If you’d like to connect with Jim, he may be reached on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jbhprivate[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Upcoming ProductCamps

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ProductCamp New York was last weekend and it appears to have been quite successful. Alan attended and wrote up this post about it.

If you missed the New York session and want another chance to attend one, there are 4 5 more in the works in the coming months, starting with ProductCamp Austin in only a few weeks.

ProductCamp Austin
Date: Saturday August 15, 2009
Location: The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, Austin
More details: click here.

Followed by one in September.

ProductCamp RTP2
Date: Saturday September 26, 2009
Location: Cambria Suites, Raleigh-Durham Airport
More details. click here.

And 2 ProductCamps in October.

ProductCamp Toronto 2009
Date: Sunday October 4, 2009
Location: Ted Rogers School of Business @ Ryerson University
More details: click here.

ProductCamp Seattle
Date: Saturday October 10, 2009
Location: Amdocs, 2211 Elliott Ave, Seattle WA
More details: click here.

And to round the year off, Boston is holding their camp in November.

ProductCamp Boston
Date: November 7, 2009
Location: Microsoft New England R&D Center, Boston MA
More details: click here.

For information on these events as well as other events relevant to the Product Management, Product Marketing and Product Development communities, check out our Events page. And if you know of an event we should list, let us know in the comments of that page.

Saeed

Announcing ProductCamp Toronto 2009

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The time and place for the next ProductCamp Toronto has been set.

It’s Sunday October 4, 2009 @ the Ted Rogers School of Business at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto.

This is the same location as the very successful first Product Camp in November of last year.

It’s a chance to come and meet, brainstorm, learn and network from your peers in a casual and engaging setting.

Here are some links to provide you with more information

We’ll keep you updated as things progress. Look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in October.

Saeed

Guest Post: Triangle Offense and Scrum Mania

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NOTE: The following is a guest post by anonymous blogger GeekMBA360, author of the blog by the same name.  If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

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Phil Jackson has won more NBA championships than any other coach in history. He won six championships with the Chicago Bulls, and then won another four championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.

If you’re a basketball fan like myself, you probably know that Phil Jackson utilizes a unique offensive system called the Triangle Offense.

The Triangle Offense has been around for a long time. According to Wikipedia:

“the triangle offense’s most important feature is the sideline triangle created between the center, who stands at the low post; the forward, at the wing, and the guard at the corner. The team’s other guard stands at the top of the key and the weak-side forward is on the weak-side high post — together forming the “two-man game”.

The goal of the offense is to fill those five spots, which creates good spacing between players and allows each one to pass to four teammates. Every pass and cut has a purpose and everything is dictated by the defense.”

I’d like to make a few observations about Phil Jackson’s success and his use of the Triangle Offense.

First, Triangle Offense is neither sufficient nor necessary for winning a championship. It’s true that both the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers had great successes with the system. However, there are also many other teams who had been very successful by employing other offensive systems.

For example, the San Antonio Spurs has won four championships between 1999 and 2007 (the most in the NBA during that period) by having a totally different system. Other championship teams such as the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rocket also had very different offensive systems.

A good team implements whatever system fits it the best. It doesn’t try to impose a system on a group of players.

Second, triangle offense requires the right combination of players. Because it is such a fluid system, it requires the players to be very flexible. For example, the systems prefers a big-man center who can pass the ball well, and a small forward who can defend and shoot the 3-pointer. It’s a complex system. The players must have the patience to learn and practice in order to play effectively in the system.

It’s not a system that could be retrofitted to any team. Some players are simply not good fit for the system.

Third, Triangle Offense requires an excellent personnel manager and a solid X’s & O’s guy. According to this ESPN article:

“Being a great NBA coach is about managing egos, earning your players’ respect, developing team chemistry, making (in-game and off-day) adjustments, and emphasizing the right things. And no one’s ever done all that better than Jackson.”

Phil Jackson has Tex Winter as his assistant coach. Tex Winter literally wrote the textbook on triangle offense, and is an expert in teaching the X’s and O’s of Triangle Offense. Clearly having the right supporting cast is incredibly important.

The relationship to Product Management

Now, let’s move to our professional world of product management and software development.

In the past few years, I think our industry has had a “Scrum mania” — there are armies of consultants and trainers who tout the merits of the Scrum methodology. Company executives send people to get “Scrum Master” training and assume that their products would be shipped on-time.

An example from real life

I worked for a start-up company that provided a hosted data mining product. It had about 30 clients. Each client had a separate instance of the application.

Because of the amount of customization for each client and complexity of the software, it would take a couple of weeks to deploy a new version of the software since the new software had to be tested for each client. The deployment process was a little bit different for each client due to customized settings and configurations.

The development team had been doing a good job. But, one day, the big boss attended a seminar on Scrum. He wanted the company to adopt Scrum methodology. He sent two Program Managers to get certified.

He even brought in a trainer to give all of the developers a one-day Scrum training session. His rationale is that instead of shipping a new release every three months, we’ll get something done and ship product every month.

It was a disaster.

Most developers on the team used to work for large packaged software companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, etc. They were excellent developers who were used to the waterfall development model. And most of them had been working at this start-up for a long time.

They rebelled against the Scrum process. Instead of daily Scrum updates, they’d much prefered spending the time on design and coding. They also hated to update their tasks using the Scrum software.

Because of the complexity of the software, each developer got very little done during each 3-week scrum cycle. And then they have to attend another several hours of scrum planning. It became very inefficient.

The morale was low. Scrum Masters and developers spent hours debating the right way to do Scrum during each Scrum planning session.

You could argue that this company implemented Scrum incorrectly. There is nothing wrong with Scrum itself.

However, I think this is an example of a company that probably should not have implemented Scrum at first place. Just like the Triangle Offense, Scrum is a methodology, a system.

Scrum is neither sufficient nor necessary for running successful software projects.

Scrum requires the right combination of personnel: Developers must buy into the new systems, and be willing to adapt. In this example, the company had a group of very experienced, senior developers who were used to a waterfall development model that had worked well in the past. It was very hard to get their buy-ins, especially given the nature of the products they were building.

Running successful Scrum requires a excellent personnel manager and a solid X’s & O’s guy. In this particular company, the Scrum Masters were well trained. However, the development manager and senior management team didn’t fully understand the cultural and organizational challenges of implementing a new system. And this was what led to the downfall.

Are you thinking about putting a new system in place? Think and plan carefully. You want to put in the best system for your organization. Simply adopting systems used by other organizations won’t work.

GeekMBA360 is a product management executive with over a decade of experience in e-commerce, online advertising and enterprise software. His blog,  GeekMBA360.com, offers career insights at the intersection of business and technology. He also publishes the popular Great Depression 2.0 Survival Guide for High Tech Professionals.

Guest Post: Awareness, Persuasion and Shelf Life

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NOTE: The following is a guest post by Gopal Shenoy, author of the blog Product Management Tips.  If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

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Products (or services) succeed when they solve a relevant, widely prevalent problem in the market. The three hurdles every product faces before it hits or misses are what I call:

  1. Awareness
  2. Persuasion
  3. Shelf Life

It is very simple. First of all, you’ve got to create awareness of your product amongst your target audience.

Second, once they become aware and come to you (online or offline) you need to persuade them that your product is the best in solving their pain point(s).

Third, you need to make sure that your product has a long shelf life – not from a perishable sense – but from a market defensibility perspective.  How long can your product maintain its uniqueness or its differentiation before it is subject to attack from competition? Success breeds wannabes – the question is how long do you have before the wannabes arrive?

So how do you figure all of this out? In my opinion, product managers have a big role in helping figure this out for the following reasons:

Awareness

Product managers typically best understand the pain points of the target audience that are worth solving. They are chartered to do the deep dive to understand the pain points, to understand the terminology used by the target audience, to understand where the target audience hangs out to gather information etc.  Given this, product managers need to be heavily involved in determining how to create awareness of the product among the target audience.

This is where many marketing departments in companies fail – they take all the upfront market research that has been done and believe that they know better and end up putting the marketing lipstick on it. The end result is what customers have learned to hate – marketing literature that is full of fluff that does not resonate with the audience – the “scalable”, “reliable”, “revolutionary”, market leading”, “customer centric”, “new generation” kind.

They then spend a ton of money spreading the word around in places where the target audience is not present. Would you buy a full page Wall Street Journal ad if you sell “malpractice” insurance to doctors or spend time sponsoring a session at the next Medical Convention in town? If your company rents private jets to corporations (oops, a touchy subject these days!) would you be better off buying a banner at the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert or a full page ad on the Wall Street Journal? Sounds silly, but it still amazes me as to how marketing departments squander money by targeting wrong marketing channels.

Persuasion

Once you have created awareness, the best way to persuade an audience is focusing on the business benefits of using your product as opposed to engaging in discussing features. You need to persuade your target customers on how they can improve their bottom line using your product.

For example, 3D CAD modeling software helped Boeing create the first airplane that was 100-percent digitally designed and preassembled on computer – the Boeing 777. The discussion likely did not revolve around individual features in the CAD software. Instead, the shared vision to take airplane design to a new level that reduced manufacturing costs by eliminating physical prototypes, likely sealed the deal.

While trying to persuade your audience, feature wars are a futile exercise – your product will have features that competitors don’t have and they will have features that you don’t have. Instead companies that focus the customer’s attention and time on how they can provide the greatest value for the customer that will result in tangible business benefits will end up being the winners.

Shelf Life

You could create all the awareness of your compelling product among the target audience, but you still need to figure out how you will defend your position and for how long. If the barrier to entry for your product is low, then your success could be short lived.

There are many ways companies lock up shelf life:

Solving a known, widely prevalent problem in a very disruptive way – for example, Apple’s iPod succeeded because it was the first product that did three things in a very superior way

  • Extremely simple user interface
  • Outstanding integration between the player, computer and the software that connects the two
  • Focus on doing just one thing right – listening to music.

Though Apple was not the first company to launch an MP3 player, it quickly established a leadership position in a very competitive and overly crowded market. As you all know, its leadership position is untouched to this day.

Locking a service delivery model – If you are able to lock in a service delivery model via exclusivity, you have bought yourselves shelf life for the duration of exclusivity. For example, AT&T was able to buy a long shelf life via its exclusive agreement with Apple. Apple’s iPhone success left AT&T’s competitors scrambling to find other ways to defend their positions.

Protecting the intellectual property via patents – for example, Nutrasweet had a monopoly for decades in the aspartame market until its patents ran out. I am all for patents, but not many small companies have the wherewithal to bet their businesses on their ability to successfully defend their patents.

I believe that companies need to do all of these three things – awareness, persuasion and shelf life – extremely well to have a successful and sustainable business. And believe it or not, a lot of this will stem from the information gathered by product managers. Don’t stop using that information just for building that product. Use it for creating awareness and persuasion.

Gopal Shenoy is a product manager with over 13 years of experience in the software industry at companies such as SolidWorks, RSA Security, Salary.com and OnForce. Currently, he is a Senior Product Manager at OnForce, Inc (www.onforce.com). He is a passionate blogger on product management topics at www.productmanagementtips.com