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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Who is best fit for product manager’s position – IT DEPENDS

I have been part of discussions on this topic for enough and more times. Few suggest a strong back ground in technology while some emphasis on business acumen and marketing background a must for PMs job. I remember my discussion with a senior executive of a reputed Indian telecom giant who says, “It depends on product type, market and key deliverables that are expected from PM”. And why should not I agree to him, he has been pioneer in setting up successful PM team on more than one occasion. And then I sit back and say, ok now here I am talking about technology products for enterprise customers and expect my product manager to conceptualize product, drive engineering, do market research, talk to potential customers, evaluate competition, define go-to-market strategy, train my staff, help sales and accounts team in closing the deal, talk to analyst etc…. Wow too many things to do, and do I expect my product manager to do all these? Strange but that’s what I see PMs doing when I go through CVs of stalwarts in the domain.

I then go back to one of my mentors and ask him the key deliverables I should be expecting from my PM who is working on an enterprise software product. And I get a prompt reply, “well it depends on the organization structure and functional departments that you have, marketing, strategies, sales, engineering etc and where does your Product team come into the picture. Is it part of marketing, engineering, strategies or an autonomous department?” Now from my experience I have seen Product team as part of these functional departments at some or other time. Personally, I have worked as PM as sibling of marketing, strategies and engineering departments. Also, I have worked in Product group as an autonomous body having a VP reporting directly into top executive team. I started scratching my head thinking of an ideal organization structure, and I soon realized that it’s waste doing so as I as PM would definitely like to be part of an autonomous team which has a strong and long stick.

So then I go back to my mentor and say, “Well I prefer Product group to be autonomous and not as part of any other core group like marketing, engineering etc. Anyways this my thought but could you tell me the best fit position for a Product group?” Reply this time was equally prompt as it was last time, "Well, it depends. It depends on the life cycle of your product(s), and/or your business. Are you at a stage wherein you have identified the pain point that you wish to resolve, or you are still doing it. May be you have done that but you now wish to conceptualize a product and then work on architectural aspect first, may be block diagrams first. Or you have done that too and a engineered product is ready for launch, and now if you say that you already have a product which is in transformation from early days to maturity days than the answer would be different. So where do you stand?"

Now this started giving me feeling that I am banging my head on a wall. But does answer to this really matter before I decide roles and responsibilities of PM or identify who is best fit for that job. And yes it does, from what I learned and experienced, Product group's proximity to engineering should be high during startup phase, and its proximity to marketing department is critical during initial research and growth stages of Product. How about the maturity stage of a Product, this is the time when you really don’t want to mess-up too much, steady releases, paying customers, and conquered market are hard earned. So let’s get back to brainstorming session. Where does my Product team best fit for an matured product line. And you know the answer, "Well, it depends on complexity of the product, revenue and organization size." Yes, so what’s the conclusion other than it depends, oh well it depends on what it depends to decide the Product team positioning.

Ok well, so if I need to summarize, this ‘it depends’ discussion in manner that this is well understood on best fit Product Manager candidate and Product team positioning, I would say ‘well, IT DEPENDS’.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Traits as learned @ pcampblr

India Product Management Association organized P-Camp at Bangalore recently. This event was hosted by Yahoo India and attained by over 100 enthusiasts from Product background and few stalwarts of the functional domain from reputed brands like Honeywell and Yahoo. This event will be remembered for long as it was first of its kind in India and was organized to perfection. Well done folks.

This is an well received attempt to build an ecosystem and facilitate exchange of ideas and promote entrepreneurship. About 12 tracks (topics) were covered by speakers from varied experience and skills. Group of product managers from yahoo ran through few key traits of a Product Management professional and here is a brief of what I could capture;

Traits of a Product Manager

1. Passionate of what they do

2. Business acumen

3. Understand product business

4. Understand customer (getting into customer shoe)

5. Good communication skill (verbal, written)

6. Decision making ability

7. Curiosity – always curios to know and learn more

8. IQ

9. Leadership qualities

10. Do what it takes to deliver (Attitude)

Good learning and networking opportunity.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Product Success: Invoke the Salesman in Engineers

It talks two to close a sales deal, a salesperson and an engineer. Sales folks are front end who would typically meet the customer and demonstrate the product to customers, whereas engineers work in back end and are responsible for design and develop a product that exceeds the customer expectation.

Let’s consider this medical simile. Salesperson’s role is like that of a needle, who knows how to get into the nerves to inject the medicine, or push the medicine in the nerves. The rest boils down to the quality of medicine, flowing thrown the nerves to reach the right pain points and being effective in solving these pain points. The quality of medicine here can be equated with quality of the software product. Deal once signed is job half done. Your software should flow through the customer business process and customer habit to solve the pain point for which customer pays you the money. This makes software a success and completes the sales cycle. Fitting into customer’s business process is possible only when your software design is flexible and robust, while the user friendliness of the software will help your product stay in customer habit for long. The needle alone is of no good use unless the medicine knows where to flow and what to solve. It’s only then the customer values your product and your product gets to see life beyond beta cycle. The second part of sales is owned by engineering folks.

Trust me, selling a product is tough, be it washing powder or sophisticated software. And if you have an engineer who believes that selling is ‘talking sweet’ then push him in street with your salesperson for few weeks to realize that selling at times is tougher than solving. They would realize that customer today is smart to judge the product best fitted to their needs. Engineers who have done this (been on street) appreciate the need to have quality medicine in your injecting process and they are those who develops success products.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Traits that Creates a Success Manager - IV

'To Err is human, To repeat it is idiotic'

This is true. We are human and so is success manager. We all are bound to make some mistakes in our decisions but what would distinguished a success manager from rest is that he takes his learning from mistakes and move forward while others might cry, some would find excuse and some start playing a blame game.

Understanding the situation and reason of your mistake so that you would not repeat it again is the imperative for success manager. You cannot effort to make same mistake twice, remember only idiots do that.

To ensure that you understand this correctly, first thing you must learn to do is that never try and get in defending or refusal mode. Accept what happen, you are success manager you own the situation and it's you who is responsible for failure / mistakes or success. So always accept the situation first and then evaluate it to understand where you went wrong. Step by step a complete retrospection of incidents that created the failure should be looked into. Ask yourself at least 2 question at each step;

  1. Was the out come here was as per my expectation?
  2. Was there anything that I could have done to ensure a better result at this junction?
Practice this, you know the answer which I am sure of. More as I learn.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Do you see the light?

In September 2008, I wrote a blog on ‘urgencies of getting ready for post recession’. Many were seeing light at the end of the tunnel then but were not sure of the distance though. Many were not able to see the light then but they could see it today and many are still in dark. What amuses me most is that there were people who had always seen light at the end of tunnel, be it start of recession or peak. There are two breeds of such people;

  1. People who are close to ground reality and understand the economic dynamics
  2. People who have no idea and understanding of economic dynamics. Flukes basically.

To be optimistic one must have right data of what’s moving and what’s stagnated. The trait of being a true social animal helps here. Your source of information could be anything, from sales, marketing, partners, customers, competition or even engineering. Being in touch would always help in getting you your most valuable asset, that is data. Tough times demands tough measures and need to be as close as possible to ground reality. Success then depends on how good you can interpret coming days and what strategy you deploy to get maximum out of it.

Happy hunting.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Traits that Creates a Success Manager - III

"Success Manager is truly a social animal"

In the very first post of my blog, I mentioned that one of the characteristics of a success manager is that he concentrates and advocates customer needs and opportunities. Now how and when do a success manager do it, in board rooms? No way...... board rooms for me are meant for sign-up and not for decision making.

Decision making requires a lot of offline efforts where you go all out to build conviction on any subject matter. You meet people and talk to them over coffee, in cubicle or cabin or in aisle. At times pool a van back home is also a good idea. Not once or twice but meet regularly, talk about your experience of customer meetings, your understanding of the market, and your idea of addressing available opportunity. Conviction are build when you talk opportunity at right opportunity. One cannot effort to leave everything to chance and start steps 1 2 3 in board rooms. It is always 9 10 and close in the board room.

If you are not getting social then you are not playing with a full deck. And who knows what you are missing on, may be an ace. And when do you think that people will start believing you or take you on face value? it's when you have an image of being accessible, acceptable and applicable. All these means lots of socializing, within company, within the delivery modules and within the market place. In the corporate jungle, Social animal services longer than any other know beast.

Start socializing before you extinct.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Traits that Creates a Success Manager - II

Winners make it happen and Losers let it happen

The trait of making things happen is tightly coupled with being proactive, and taking initiatives at right time. A success manager drives product, people and organization. His job is to take initiative, build conviction and then drive the initiative to a logical closure. Waiting for things to happen will only allow others to make it happen, it's like the teacher letting a student have his stick.

If you ever happen to read the article, "who drives your organization" you will better understand what I am saying here. Success manager must earn the stick to drive, and the only way to earn this stick is to instigate the habit of making things happen in his nature. It is this habit which will help him in driving the organization and makes him best fit to take on the competition in the market place. The trait of making things happen is a trait of success.

Remember, for Success Manager, losing is no option.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Traits that Creates a Success Manager - I

‘how high you go, depends upon how deep your roots are”

This one trait of going deep into the requirements, customer expectation & engineering process takes product manager & product to greater heights. As a success manager, you are expected take the bull by the horns. So how do you manage these expectations. The only way forward is to get deep into the expectation, neck deep, deeper than anyone’s imagination and then, hold your horses till such time that you are ready to bounce back on top of the market.

Inject this habit of digging deep in your character, this will rally round you with ample of opportunities, success and respect.

More traits, as I learn.