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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Evolution and Future of Product Management

We humans are interesting and so are our dreams. On one hand we aim for perfection - try to match precision of machine and on other hand we with help of Artificial Intelligence, design machines to match humans. Evolution and Future of Product Management is inspired by this philosophy of humans & machines.

In ancient world construction was considered as an Art, which later on was discovered as science and now a technology (for eg. Building Technology, drawing cartoons). This is something what I refer here as stages of evolution. A human skill that start as Art and on application of logic becomes science and with help of Technic and simulations soon becomes a technology.

Rich Mironov wrote 'Art of Product Management' and I could search enough paper and course on product management on web which makes it more logical role than ever. From my understanding, Product Management activities are now more logical and conclusive than what it was 10 years back when I was first introduced to the concept of Product Management. Product Management today has done successful transformation from Art to Science and has certainly evolved and matured a lot. Use of Agile methodology and tools is just one more example to get convinced on this point of evolution.

The next phase of evolution will be Product Management Technology wherein we would have thousands of tools and Technic to simulate and judge outcome of a specific product management function, not much different from simulations used in large engineering projects today. This is where we will believe how difficult life would have been for Product Managers in late 90s and early 2000s. Exactly the way we try and appreciate life style of any ancient civilization today. The simulation tools of product management will be so powerful that using demographic, technology and market data, VP Product Management will be able to craft out hundreds of products with millions of features with ROI calculation within few minutes. Simulation tool will also be used to prioritize features, bug scrubs, competitive analysis, managing backlogs and many other tasks that Product Managers spend large time today.

So what next after that? - maturity will grow further and just like it happened with machines, Product Management tools will be injected by Artificial Intelligence. With advent of A.I. in crucial business role, large corporate houses will define and device their next generation product / service with accurate features and user experience in no time, success of which will exceed far beyond any product story we know today.

But will all these help exceeding customer expectation and beat competition? I doubt, because customer too get mature and so does their understanding, expectation and demand. So will be the case with competition who tool would be using similar simulations tools. Struggle to beat customer expectation continues through all these four stages of evolution cycle. It is always wise for a product manager to get convinced that their is lot more to do to meet customer expectation and beat competition, forget exceeding expectation.

Demanding customers and catching competition will call for further innovations and improvements in A.I. Technic, at this nirvana stage, researchers will give inject near perfect human touch to A.I. Technic and A.I. in Product Management will get flavor of Art (maybe with help of Rich Mironov's 'Art of Product Management').  Evolution that started with Art, and traversed through various phases of Science, Technology and A.I. will attain nirvana on reaching back to Art but this time will be A.I. Art.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Product Managers in India

I was meeting this whole bunch of product managers last Sunday at India Product Managers Association annual event at IIMB campus. Each of them doing something different from rest but mostly from IT, ITES kind of background. Just wondering why we don't see PMs from non IT background.

Well, whatever - it was good to learn few things which was evident from what I observed during the talks / Q&A, breaks and discussions;
  1. Product Managers in India value what they do & are happy about their choice of profession
  2. West and West coast no more attract them, they plan to build their career in India
  3. They understand that the PM role has evolved & will continue evolve as Industry matures
  4. Few but not many see need to have Product Management certification
  5. Good lot of them were from start-up background, I guess about 30-35% of 130
  6. They shy away from networking - or even saying Hi.
  7. People who network most are those who are selling training programs or from start-ups
  8. They are good leaders with amazing thoughts but do not participate in contest (6 of 130)
  9. "Future is bright" - most of us are very positive about next 5 years
  10. Believe that they as community will drive the next phase India Product story
Good to see so many people actively participating to build a much needed eco-system for Products and Product companies in India. Thanks and congratulations to organizers for initiating and successfully completing one year of IPMA.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Interviewing a Product Manager

Abstracts from an interview of a candidate for the post of product manager. Feel like hiring him, though not after my manager gave me staring looks on this candidate. Interesting interview conversation though.

Your experience is largely into Project Management. What convinced you to change your career path?
Yes – I have done project management for 8 years now and I happened to visit product camp in Bangalore, I guess it’s called pcampblr after which I thought it was good to be in something less pressing job. So I requested my VP and they agreed to move me to Product Management department. So for over last one year or more I am doing product management for the same product that I managed as Project Manager.

Interesting , though not fully convinced. And you are liking the job?
Yes – I am.

How different is it from project management?
Well somewhat. As project manager I was involved in full deliverable cycle, now I just author requirements, explain them to engineering and then I am busy attending customer calls and sales calls and escalation calls.

So you do not actually participate in engineering process?
Occasionally I join bug reviews and answer mails from engineering.

What’s the most interesting part of your profile?
I learned this at pcamp that product managers are owner of product something like CEO of product line they manage. I like to be a CEO someday and really feel I am one right now for my product line.

Interesting and what is one thing that you would like to change about product management?
I read lot on Product Management on web, blogs to be precise. Really feel that the role of product manager is not understood by people across the community.

Oh! Wow. Which blogs do you read?
Many, I remember few though.,, blackbolt, the rich mironov and few more.

And what’s so confusing about the job?
I see many people drawing the circles overlapping like that in Venn-diagram, circles are marked sales, executive, engineering and the overlapping area is Product Management. And then there are circles which has Engineering, UX team and marketing and overlapping areas is Product Management. Are product managers just in those overlapping areas? I thing we have our own circle, part of which is overlapped with engineering, part with sales, part with strategy and part with project management. We are lot more than those overlapping areas.

Interesting thoughts. Let me understand how do you prioritize features and bugs for engineering? How does your prioritization matrix looks like?
Nothing rocket science in it. Do what sales and customer support is most cribbing for, rest designing matrix and putting weights against each item is like waste of time. Actually we never get a chance to think so much. On most occasions sales people would have already committed something on behalf of the organizations and then all department heads come running to us and I am left with no option but to get that feature or bug fix deliver in current release or worst case in patch release. It never goes to next release, all project planning does not hold good here.

I thought you wanted to be a CEO and learn how to negotiate on such critical things.
As a CEO I would rather prefer to focus more on business strategy, board of directors and mergers rather worry about what features goes in when. I thing I am doing right by not putting lots of time on which feature and when.

Good. So why are you looking for a change now? You are just little over a year’s experience in Product Management, maybe you may want to continue and get some real good insight of the role and then plan to move on.
I guess it will not help. Product managers job is great and if I stay back I will just repeat my experience. I rather move on and understand different products and business models before applying for a CEO’s post. Staying for long on a job as product manager will not help me grow faster, after all release after release its same stuff.

Great. Have you worked in agile methodology.
Yes and I like agile.

What’s the best part of agile?
I do bare minimal paper work, attend scrums as and when required which allows me to focus on customer care and sales meet, where I spend my most time. Agile really makes me free of unwanted silly documentation. Beyond this, it’s just another way of saying engineers, ‘Please deliver it fast and good’.

Good. Do you have any questions for me.
None. I always have answers to questions and never let any question remain open for long for others to answer.

Thanks for your time. We will get back to you.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ensuring Success: Top 10 Priorities of Product Manager

Managing opportunities is top most priority of a Product Manager, and a professional who does this religiously wins success. While there are many aspects of taking care of opportunity, I suggest following 10 as most important pieces that will ensure a complete picture of success. Having continuous focus on these 10 points is a must for any product manager who wish to get branded as success manager.
  1. Problem to address / solve (why customers need you)
  2. Habit to nurture (get customer used to you)
  3. Customers to win (your bread and butter)
  4. Technology to bank on (your weapon)
  5. Team to trust (your confidence)
  6. Regulation that guide (cop that guides you)
  7. Competition to beat (your source of improvement)
  8. Positioning to lead (your deadly move)
  9. ROI for investors (your dharma / religion)
  10. Feedback to improve (for you - must)
While all that I have mentioned above is not directly owned by a Product Manager, but if you are a success manager you would not like to let any of these go lose. Own or co-own, a success manager will always have above mentioned 10 points in his to-do list.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Traits that Creates a Success Manager - V

Trait V - Be up-to-date, the control system

How often do you re-visit the product plan? What's your control system that helps you correct the course that you have decided to take your product on.

As a product champion you are responsible for the result, responsible for effectiveness of the team that works on your course and responsible for ROI that investors expect from you. Being a Product Champion is a tough responsibility and how you manage it demonstrate your maturity. While there is no escape to being up-to-date with customers and partners on requirements, there are four critical areas that a success manager is always up-to-date with. 

I suggest you monitor these four corners on continuously to ensure that your control system has right set of inputs required to take a bold decision;

Regulations: keep track of regulatory compliance that governs key design and feature implementation of your product or service.

Technology trends: Keep an eye on emerging trends in technology that my impact (adversely or positively) need of your product / service.

Competition announcements: Your competition is the greatest reason why your company needs you - to stay ahead of competition, that right. Always remember your competition is your bread and butter - focus, focus and focus on your competitors.

Executive vision: Most CEO are entrepreneurs, they have more pair of arms than octopus - more eyes than Ravana and a brain that's larger than that of a white whale. Be up-to-date with their ever evolving thought process.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Brainstorming: We did it differently

I am working on designing our next generation service delivery platform that will help us enhance our capability and add dozens of new features on fly. Wow! That sounds interesting, and to begin with I organized a series of brainstorming sessions. In all we had 7 sessions that were conducted over a period of 12 days. Each day, we picked a module (sub-system) and discussed it thoroughly. Our discussion of these modules covered purpose served (with inputs, outputs & interaction with other modules), pain points, existing process, limitations, customer dreams, sales team wishes, delivery team hurdles and management desires.

It was important for us to have quality time in brainstorming sessions and get the best out of people from various responsibilities, and this is how we decided to go;

  1. We will have brainstorming sessions in first half of the day, preferably start within 30 minutes after reaching office. Advantages – participants are fresh with no backlogs in back of their mind.
  2. There will be at least one day gap between two sessions to allow participants some time to think and perform better in next session. Also, this helped us in ensuring that brainstorming session don’t get monotonous.
  3. We ensured that we don’t go for an over-kill. Brainstorming sessions were limited to a max of three hour with first check-point after 90 minutes and then subsequent checks at regular interval of 30-40 minutes – or as when arrived at logical closure on any topic.
  4. We recorded all session (audio) and also took notes during running session. Idea was to ensure free flow of thoughts without missing out noting any key point. This worked very well as everyone could playback the session for better understanding and feature reference. We recorded session in multiple files ensuring non-crossing 35 minutes mark – this is helping us in tracking back specific discussion.
  5. Following brainstorming session, in shoe of product manager, my responsibility was to come out with requirement specs specific that module and submit requirement docs for review to other stake holders.

So far this is running great, I will be back here soon with more learning.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Identity of a Product Manager

What's in the title? - yeah, that's not that easy to let go.

My title is my identity in my organization - well said by someone whom I meet 4 years back in mirror, while combing my hair. I was curious to know if my title truly justified that I do, and equally curious was the guy in mirror to answer me, hmm but then what does Product Manager mean, and is this the title that truly justifies my duties?

May be yes, if just look inward and focus on my product as my core karm-bhumi (area of duty) and consider sales, technology, engineering, customers, market, competition & policies as input points to manage my product. But is this what I and many other product managers do worldwide? Hmmm not sure if that’s the right way to go ahead.

The other approach that I could think at that time was something like this. Any product (let’s limit to commercial products for now) that gets developed is aimed to either address a need or create a habit, and the sole role of that product then is to remain focused towards fulfillment of the reason of its existence – and that is to address the need or create a habit. Wow, that sounds interesting. So now, what should be of paramount importance for a product manager? I guess the very reason that cause the birth of the his product (or solution in some cases), a product manager then in true sense is suppose to manage this reason or opportunity (I learned it long way) using product as tool. Product Manager must be faithful to this opportunity and not just to product that helps tackle him the opportunity.

So what’s the call? – as far as title is concern, I give a damnn, but identity!! You can’t ignore it - think over it and maybe you may like to comeback and read this blog once again.

I am back

I have been guilty of abandoning  this blog for quite long now and believe that my absent from blogging is an injustice that I did to myself. I am back here now, with an open commitment to myself that I will be regular on content and fresh on thoughts – I will be committed to my blogging as I have been to my personal and professional life. So no more looking back. I am back and am here to stay……..