Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Guest Post: Frustrated Product Managers unionize to better their working conditions

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

In what is probably a first for the product management profession, a small group of product managers in Budapest have joined and formed a labour union.

The group is formally known as the Union in Solidarity with Electricians and Radiologists local 2.0.

Zoltan Nagy, head of the fledgling group stated the following:

Although we are only a small group, we decided to band together to bring change to the terrible conditions in which we must work. I don’t know what it is like in other countries, but here, we are given lots of responsibility but no authority to get things done.

On top of that we have to spend all of our time ensuring the developers do what they need to do, and we have little time to do all the other things in our jobs, like meeting customers or learning about the market or defining product strategy. He who owns the compiler can no longer always be the winner.

A spokesperson for the local software engineering community, who asked that his name not be revealed, said the following about the product management union:

Who needs product managers anyway? We do all the heavy lifting and all they do is talk and think they can tell us what to do. Besides, we are now adopting Agile development, and we’re going to elect our own Product Owner to work with.  What are they going to do now, go on strike?

It looks like tensions will rise between these two groups as time goes on. But another member of the group, Laszlo Rubic, sees this in a much larger context:

Creating a union is a wonderful development for us. We thank the Electricians and Radiologists for welcoming us and understanding our struggle. My larger goal is to raise awareness of this situation and hopefully inspire other product managers around the world that they too should stand up for their work and their profession. It’s like the Prague Spring all over again, but only here in Budapest.

It seems this small group of product managers may have already started inspiring others. They have received congratulation messages from product managers in several countries, and surprisingly one request from California’s Silicon Valley on how to start a union there. Apparently product managers in that high-tech capital are not any better off.

April

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Guest Post: Web Product Management 101 for “Offline” Managers

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

—–

You are an experienced software product manager and you are thinking about developing your first web product?

Great! This blog post is written especially for you!

Be aware: The fact that you are about to manage a web site really changes a lot in your product strategy and the management processes that you know from “offline” products. I have prepared a crash course for you – defining terms and phrases that you will need to understand as part of your web product management role:

CPC, PPC etc.
Due to the fact that there are many different kinds of business models that exist in the web world, a lot of abbreviations have become very common (I am not really sure if that is a good thing…), particularly when it comes to advertising!

Most common is PPC (Pay per Click) which describes a model where the advertiser is charged only when a user clicks on their ad. Google Adwords is the most well known example of this. The payment amount or CPC (Cost per Click) defines the price paid by the advertiser for each click.

Even if your business model will not be advertising-based, the day will come that you either want to advertise your product on other sites or that you want to implement some advertising model on your site. You will need to understand the common models to avoid (expensive) mistakes.

Emergency Deployment
A website has to be up and running all the time, and there can be numerous backend servers and database needed to do this. You’ll need to schedule regular maintenance time to handle patches and upgrades. But, if you encounter a large bug on your production site or the site is not working at all, you might need to interrupt the usual release cycle and schedule an emergency deploy to fix urgent problems. In the worst case you will have to adjust the timings of your product plan because of these events.

SEO
In “offline” product management you basically have to think about how to create a great user experience. In web product management you have to think about search engines, too. Unfortunately users and crawler bots don´t always have the same needs which makes SEO (search engine optimization) quite interesting. SEO is the process of improving traffic to your site from search engines.

Important: Do not get the idea that you can completely outsource this! The majority of modern internet business models are based on good SEO, and your product planning will be affected by SEO requirements right from the start!

Private Beta / Public Beta
That is possibly one of the biggest luxuries that you will have as a web product manager. You can launch your product while it is still in beta-state. You just put a “beta” label beside your logo and a feedback-button somewhere prominently on your page and see what happens – this is called “public beta”. If that is too crazy for you then you can password-protect your site and only share it with selected users – that is a “private beta”.

Very important: Get the idea out of your head that your product needs to be perfect before you can launch it! There are many minimalistic and half-backed products out there that are pretty successful. Early release beats perfectionism and the minimum viable product beats the over-featured product. Remember the early days of Twitter?

Cookie-Issues
Well this has nothing to do with food! In the web a cookie is just a piece of data that will be saved at the client computer. A bunch of very common features rely on cookies such as online-shopping or login-sessions etc.  It’s important for you to know that features that rely on cookies can be very painful to test because the features can behave differently depending on the client´s configuration of browsers etc.

“See you at 2 am!”
Well, in theory you can release a new version of your web product at any time you want. But maybe you don´t want to risk downtime during the peak periods of the website. So for bigger releases and maintenance operations, the early morning might be the only time-frame of the day with low traffic …and you and your team are working hard while everybody else is sleeping! If your website has a huge amount of traffic you might even consider to launch at the weekends, because usually the traffic is lower during those times.

Browser Issues
Creating a useful user interface for websites is a hard job. In the offline world you “only” have to think about which operating system and screen resolutions your target customers have. In the web you also have to worry about different browser versions, browser security & privacy settings, pop-up blockers etc. It is almost impossible to create a complex website that will work with all browsers.

My recommendation: Focus on the most popular browsers and be minimalistic with the product features. The best way to figure out which browser your web product needs to support is to take a look in your web analytics. The diversity of browsers can vary significantly depending on the target group or target-country of your website. At minimum, your site should support Firefox, Internet Explorer (even the old IE 6 is still a common browser) and Chrome.

Web Analytics
You will have lots of information about the users of your product – for free! Google Analytics is the most common free web analytics tool that will provide interesting information about your users. For example: number of visits, pageviews, average time on page, country, browser version, screen resolution, bounce rate, top landing pages and much more. Get familiar with these analytics tools and identify the strong and weak points of your product!

Website Speed
Even in the age of high-speed internet connections you need to have a fast website! Not only do users like fast websites, search engines love them as well! Listen to what Matt Cutts from Google says about this:

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muSIzHurn4U]

I hope this crash course will be helpful for you to kick-start your web product manager career!

Thomas Fuchs-Martin is web product manager & SEO at the Spanish internet start-up nuroa.es – More articles about web product management can be found at his blog: www.webproductblog.com

Guest Post: Measuring Product Management (part 3)

This is part 3 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.

——-

In part 1 and part 2 respectively, I discussed the answers I received from company executives on the following questions.

  1. What is the value that product management brings to your company?
  2. How would you measure success for the group and individuals? i.e. on what metrics would you reward them?

In this part, I’ll look at the following question.

Question #3:  Is Product Management Effective, in Your Experience?

The dominant answer here was a resounding SOMETIMES.    I’ll let some comments speak for themselves.

(VP Eng) “Never adequately. It’s a tall order and they are often placed in the organization where they cannot succeed or with unenlightened leadership. If they are in sales they become too deal / feature / near term focused. If they are in engineering they become too development / feature / development focused. If they are in marketing they become too abstract and disconnected. Ideally they are in line of business management reporting directly to an SBU Manager or GM. Where they have done best it was where the corporate imperatives were obvious, and they were well connected and led.”

(VP Ops) “Currently, our model defines product management in terms of marketing activities, so the value is less than optimal.”

(GM) “Yes, the good ones. As always, if their direction is good, and they have goals that make sense, and they are managed, they can usually meet or exceed their goals.”

(VP Eng) “Both successful & unsuccessful.   Needs to have an environment for success – expectations, aligned groups, business goals.  PM needs to stay outwardly focused.   Needs to bring customer into the company.”

(Program Mgmt/Former VP Mkt) “For Agile shops, the product owner role is critical and delivers great value to the business and to dev teams — the product cannot be built without one.  For more waterfall oriented shops, it can be tricky.  I find that product managers that seek to translate market requirements (from marketing/ customer facing teams) into product specs for engineering program managers will often deliver dubious value.  It is best if the product manager is closer to either the customer (e.g. product marketing manager), or to the developers (e.g. program manager) to avoid being an odd-man out. “

Summary

Let’s compare where we ended up as the primary value of Product Management with the Mandate previously posted on this site:

The Product Management Mandate These Results
To optimize the business at a product, product line or product portfolio level over the product lifecycle. To deliver measurable business results through product solutions that meet both market needs and company goals.

They are both in the same ballpark with regards to business and products, but there is definitely a divergence beyond that, with the Mandate missing the key element of MARKET NEEDS.

It is a primary expectation of company executives that product management is a bridge between the internal functions and understanding the market needs and this got lost in the Mandate.

Where we still don’t have clear guidelines are the actual measurements to use, but we do have a general direction in which we need to head.   It is imperative for product management to be able to tie their activities to measurable business results to be perceived as adding value for executives.

These do not have to be tied directly to revenue or profit, but there is ideally some way to tie to leading indicators of them – usage, penetration, retention, quality, cost, etc.

If the feature sets you’re prioritizing or the activities you’re doing do not somehow support an improvement in these indicators, it’s time to rethink what you’re doing… pronto.   It also important that you communicate where you’re impacting business level results so that the execs are aware of it.

I have also personally found that the “intangibles” carry a much higher weight than emerged from these exec comments.   Be assured that even if there is no formal process for measuring how you are perceived in the organization, you are constantly being assessed for leadership skills and ability to collaborate and facilitate internally and externally.   These will ultimately steer your career progression.

Lastly, it’s clear from the final comments that product management success is strongly correlated to a supportive organization with clearly defined roles, objectives and mission.   If you find yourself in a company without these, it’s time to exercise some leadership to help create them or to perhaps move on to greener pastures.    It’s really not that much fun to continue to struggle where personal success is unlikely.

Don

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Related Posts

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

Guest Post: Measuring Product Management (part 2)

This is part 2 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.

——

In part 1, I described my conversations with some industry executives on the question:

What is Product Management’s overall value to your company?

The answers were quite interesting. In this part, I’ll look at the following question:

Question #2:  How would you measure success for the group and individuals?

This question generated a few different discussions and in many instances I got the response “they SHOULD be measured on…”, which indicated their expectations and reality are different.

That being said, most respondents were strongly on the side of tying rewards to business results.    These included:

  • (#1 by a wide margin) Meeting product business plans and forecasts for revenue and profitability
  • Achieving key business objectives for the specific period, including meeting delivery milestones for releases and launches
  • Achieving key market metrics – adoption and usage, penetration and market share, customer satisfaction and retention

Only a few mentioned the difficulty of looking at current business results only, such as revenue, while needing the product manager to be focused on producing future business results.

One also recognized there may be multiple product managers on a large product, with revenue difficult to associate to each.

These advocated a more blended set of measurements that included specific assigned metrics or deliverables within a specific period.

Product quality was mentioned a few times, and included measurements such as returned product, trouble tickets submitted, major bugs found and SLA performance.

There were also some who raised the need to include some “intangibles”, specifically around how well the individuals were perceived in the organization.

This included satisfaction ratings of internal stakeholders based on timely and effective support of other functional groups, how well they performed at driving product delivery and resolution of issues, how well they collaborated with others, and in providing general leadership.

To capture the intangibles, a few companies performed peer reviews or 360 degree reviews on a regular basis.

A few highlighted that the metrics used for a B2B company versus a B2C were somewhat different.

In the B2B company, responsiveness and effectiveness in supporting a direct sales team for major accounts was a key need.

In a B2C company, there may be less on-demand support of the sales channel, and a higher emphasis on marketing and usage metrics.   (As with everything else, this is probably highly variable from company to company, but may be worth a whole separate article.)

Specific comments included:

(CEO) “I am sure every company is different, but revenue, customer retention, customer satisfaction, net promoter score, and market share (are the measures of success).”

(VP Biz Dev/PM) “We measure and reward based on a combination of product performance in market and other metrics related to on-time delivery for new products, quality metrics, and other qualitative measures based on the PM’s role in providing timely and effective support to marketing, sales, and other functions.”

(CEO) “The success metric has to be on net contribution.  Given the lifecycle stage of the product, it may even be managing losses during the formative stages, but ultimately, the only goal of any product is to make money.  The market is the best indicator of success. If quality is down, sales will be off or returns high. If the product doesn’t meet needs, there will be no sales.  If the product is a poor value against the competition… you get the idea.”

Take-Away

The key take-away from this section is the expectation level of the senior executives on product management being measured against business results.  These other executives are heavily dependent on product management for making the right product choices to ensure business success, and they believe product managers should be tied to company results, just as the execs are.

With business results emerging as the top priority, I would reorder and rework my previous value list to be:

  • Delivers measurable business results through product solutions that meet both market needs and company goals.
  • This is accomplished through:
    • Creating a shared awareness of the customer and market needs to the internal functions
    • Shaping the product solution and delivery plan
    • Facilitating and supporting cross-functional and external activities required to achieve the planned objectives

So how well does Product Management do at meeting expectations? I’ll get to that in part 3.

Don

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Related Posts

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

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.

——

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

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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Guest Post: To Kill a Product: Why, When and How part 3/3

Note: This is the 3rd of a 3 part series of articles by guest blogger Chris Brown. If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

Part 3: How to Kill a Product

kambNo one wants to manage a dying product. No one wants to sell, support or, certainly, buy a dying product, either. The role of the product manager includes performing the kill analysis – thoughtful, thorough and completely unbiased – and making a recommendation that is best for the business.

Time to Pull the Plug

The process of discontinuing a product will vary greatly by industry and company, depending on the structural makeup of the organization, the sales channels, the customers and, of course, the product itself. But there are some basic steps.

First, the product manager needs to perform the analysis described in the earlier posts. Once the decision has been made to kill a product, the product manager should provide a timeline with the following action items:

Communication plan. Work with the Marketing and Sales teams to create a plan that includes customer notification, internal communication (including FAQs), collateral updating, branding consideration. Make sure the tone and level of communication are appropriate. If the product is purely ancillary, the communications may not need to be extensive. If the product has a deep connection to the brand, for example, but is no longer performing, or is being killed for strategic reasons that may not be apparent, a more carefully considered story may need to be crafted.

Shut down marketing. Any outbound or customer acquisition efforts should cease on the prescribed date.

Sales and Finance. Work with the Finance and Sales teams to make sure sales goals are properly adjusted to account for the lost revenue. Review final billing procedures, outstanding receivables, etc., with Finance.

Provide support to Customer Support. The Support team will also need to be ready to field concerns and questions from customers, partners etc. Provide the necessary training and documents (FAQs, email response templates, talk-tracks, etc.).

Provide direction to the Technology team. If the product requires any ongoing technology, e.g. it is Web-based, make sure Technology knows when to permanently suspend functionality, and that doing so will not impact any other services. Have a plan for warehousing code and/or data, if necessary.

Make sure it’s all legal. Confirm you are within the bounds of any contracts with customers and suppliers, and that official cancellation notification is vetted or provided by the Legal team.

When working on these steps with internal teams, the product manager needs to make it clear why, at a high-level, this decision has been made. Don’t assume everyone from sales to tech knows the history of the product, or that, if they do, that they don’t have an attachment to it. A summary of the criteria that led to the decision will provide context and buy-in, which is very important since many of these people will have to do much of the dirty work of killing the product.

Product managers must make their kill recommendations by thoroughly and objectively examining the financial, organizational and strategic factors. Recommending the discontinuation of a product one manages can be a difficult prospect. But often the manager, especially a good one, will be the first to admit a product has run its course. This creates an opportunity to focus on more important, rewarding initiatives.

–  Chris Brown

Chris is vice president of product management at Apartments.com, a division of Classified Ventures, LLC. Email him at cbrown@apartments.com or follow him @Brown784

Previously:

Part 1 Why?: If it’s generating some revenue, even a little, why kill an underperforming product? Because ineffective products divert focus and resources from core and growth products, and ultimately dilute the overall value proposition of the business.

Part 2 When?: When is it time to kill a product? Part 2 offers up six areas to keep an eye on for telltale signs. It’s examining these areas that will help product managers build the case to kill or keep a product.

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