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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Key takeaways from 2013

2013 has been great. It was full of challenges, learning and rewards. Today at fag-end of 2013 what else could be better than writing about top 3 things that I did better in 2013 than in my previous years and have made be a better professional. While I have always believed and practiced these but in 2013 they came out loud and stronger than in past. So here I go with this simple post from my personal experience and practice.

  1. I called a spade a spade; It is easier said than done, without hesitation and without worrying too much about consequences. I believe this helps in positioning oneself as a strong character, a no nonsense professional to whom organization can bank upon in tough hours.
  2. Recruited people whom I believe are going to help me improvise further; created a team of performers, individuals who create healthy competition and created opportunity for me to improvise. It is important to have good company as it is this that defines your personality and character, so never compromise on people quality.  
  3. Never compromised with expectations; things in past were always business driven, if business is 'ok' than the product is 'ok'. This year though was different as I refused to lower the bar, expectation were high and they remained high. Quality is first step towards success and only fuel to maintain success.
I hope to continue with my learning of 2013 and make 2014 a better year, more successful and more rewarding.



Friday, November 29, 2013

Product Manager @ various phases of PLC

In the context of 'Product Life Cycle, priorities of product manager varies depending on the phase in which the product moves in. Narrowing down this post to my experience in technology companies (enterprise software, SaaS, B2C and automation domain), at times product phase also does influence the positioning of product management group within the organization. I am referring to the functional department to which product management is housed in, marketing, engineering or as an independent wing.

Here is a quick snapshot of my running thoughts. These post is largely influenced by simple thought of 'how do I make product management most effective to ensure engineering and market success of product?'

I look forward to your views and suggestions on how best can be we make product managers effective. There is hardly anything to disagree that a product cannot be successful if its CEO is not effective. Looking forward to your comments.


Monday, October 28, 2013

5 things that Scott Cook looks for in a Product Manager

23rd October 2013, date I will remember for long. I was among lucky few to get invitation from Intuit Bangalore to participate in "The Power of Product Experiments - insights " session conducted by none other than Scott Cook, founder of Intuit.

While there was tons of learning and insights shared by the champion on product experiment, there was something in particular for product management professionals that I wish to share with you all. Answering to one of the questions from audience on "What traits does he look in a product manager?", he said;

  1. Passion
  2. Problem solver
  3. Learner (absorb all like sponge)
  4. Someone who gets things done
  5. Subject Matter Expert on something and is willing to learn more
cross posted on : Product Mantra 


Sunday, September 29, 2013

UX for New Product

Quick one for this month. Once again from my personal experience. A well defined UX can hide poorly defined workflows, on the other hand, a bad UX may raise serious doubts on even a optimally defined workflow. Cutting the short the long story, focus on user experience as it matters most when it comes to acceptability of your product. 

In this post I have covered some simple steps that from my recent experience of designing and developing something out of nothing, in other words, developing a new product from zero base. 

There are simple points to keep in mind while designing for 

  1. Scope out purpose
  2. Define flow
  3. Design HTML
  4. Visuals
  5. Actual pages

at each step, have multiple rounds of feedback session with key stake holders, user groups and engineering team. It is always good to have mock-ups, a flash demo, or clickable visuals etc to help stake holders understand the flow.

everyone will have a brilliant idea on how to improvise a HTML, do not run like a headless chicken, draw lines and take calls when you want to say enough of inputs. The message is simple, if you are someone who is working on a new product than make sure you have taken care of all your UX needs.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Where is Product Management placed?

Once again quick one, this one is again from my experience of working as product manager in various organizations. While the role has been of product manager, responsibilities and priorities varied depending on where the product management was hooked.

Yes, this often looks like a bad joke but it remains a fact that product management is often ping-ponged between various departments of an organization. 

Product management key focus areas.....

  1. as part of marketing team
    1. Responsible for market success of the product
    2. Largely work as strategic arm, supporting sales and marketing
    3. Reports in-to VP marketing
    4. Driven by sales priorities
  2. as part of engineering team
    1. Responsible for engineering success of the product
    2. Works with engineering on release strategy
    3. Reports in-to head of engineering
    4. Driven by technology
  3. as an independent organization
    1. Product management is product owner and is responsible for both engineering and market success of the product
    2. Product strategy is the primary responsibility
    3. Reports in-to VP Product Management
    4. Driven by market research


Monday, July 29, 2013

Product Manager: building blocks

Unlike marriages (as many say), product manager evolve from experience. So here are some running thoughts on what constitute a good product manager or what really helps in building a strong character of a product manager.

Product Manage: Building blocks

Level 1: Fundamentals:
  1. Project intrinsic: Aspects of project management like development process, project RAID, critical path, resource optimal utilization, release milestones etc. These are important to judge the feasibility of timelines and deliverable.
  2. Stamina: ability to put in long hours and does not constraint to 9 to 6 / business hours. For a product manager there is no stat or finish line, life moves in circles with new milestones in each lap. Another way of stating this is leading by example on how hard (detailing) a individual can work and how much could he/ she deliver.
  3. Articulation: One of the most desired aspect or quality that is expected in a product manager is the ability to express oneself easily in clear and effective language. This is aspect that has maximum influences on effectiveness of a product manager. Remember effectiveness of a team directly depends upon the effectiveness of the product manager. Also, good articulation requires good observation skills and this is what helps in drafting clear and elaborated requirements.
  4. People management: Critical and most challenging aspect of product management. A product manager must learn to get the work out of a team that does not report into him. Influence  or use authority or may be by showing some carrot, whatever it takes get the work done.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Product End of Life.

Product managers are very passionate about their product. They by their DNA can only envisage success and fame of the product they own. Rarely would you see a product manager  talking passionately about declaring EOL of their product. However there are situations wherein it becomes important to think of alternates, situations where limiting the losses takes higher priority than enhancing product features. Here are few signs of aging product that might be causing similar situation in your organization, and if you happen to observe similar behaviors / patterns with the product that you own than it may be the time to initiate EOL

Thursday, May 30, 2013

5 quotes for product managers

In their role, product managers perform many important tasks, they interact with almost all the functions within the organization and deal with customers and competitors in the market place. 
A product manager is expected to drive product strategy that will help accelerate new customer acquisition and in retaining the existing customer, in-turn improvise top and bottom line. In a nutshell, their performance matters a lot when it comes to success of the product. Person performing this role must have strong character and must always focus on strengthening it further. Here are 5 quotes that a product manager can work on to be on the top.

  1. Precision and not approximation is what should drive your decisions.
    Taking decisions in favor of product is top priority of the product manager. Product success and failure depends on decisions that a product manager takes throughout the life-cycle of the product. It is his decisions that would influence  product success or failure in the market place. So why take a chance, work hard on collecting data points, process them to get right information, and analyse the information accurately to take a wise decision.

  2. Suggestions are welcome, for considerations and not as direction.
    Everybody has ideas, mostly from their experience and pain points. Product Managers are often bombarded with such ideas with expectations that they would be implemented on top priority. Listen clearly, understand nicely and follow wisely. Listening is important and so as it understand. However, 'I understand' does not mean 'I agree' and 'I agree does not mean 'I am on action'. Do not set wrong expectations in your discussions and do let yourself be driven by someone else's sentiments. Be open to hear but be strong to disagree.

  3. Surprises are not good for owners, be prudent in knowing what else.
    Count the number of times you were surprise to learn something post event. For example, we lost the customer since we did not build something that they were looking for, or how could I know that this was needed. These are signs of bad habits that you have started nurturing in you. Situations like this are alarming bells that you have started your end as a successful product manager.

  4. Choice of words are reflection of character and not merely your vocabulary.
    Being product owner is a serious business and one of the ways in which your seriousness about your profile is sensed is by your choice of words in your talk. For example, on learning expectations from some body in executive team, you may chose to respond as, "I will do that" or "I should have done that, how could I miss it". Confidence, sincerity and most importantly reliability is often judge by such simple choice of words. They reflect your attitude towards the situation, something no one should take lightly.

  5. Ideas alone do not work, excel in execution as well.
    Ideas are good asset with notional value. Product managers are expected to materialize this notional value by executing a well defined plan. Ideas can be copied but what cannot be is the effectiveness of your execution. So beyond thinking, efficiency is what a product manager must focus on. Knowing what to do is not just good enough, how to achieve is of equal or greater importance. This is where most failures happen and as you grown in experience this where you must continuously improvise on.

Friday, April 26, 2013

First 3 steps towards product management

Aspiring to become a product manager and don't know where to start from? Wondering if a post graduation or Masters in Management will help you get your dream profile or should it be a professional certificate? These are some of the questions that I often hear in conversation with young professionals who see product management as a good career option, but have no clue about the starting line. If you are one of such individuals hunting for start line than you are at the right place.

Journey of thousand miles begins with a single step, and to speed up this journey I suggest first 3 steps towards the successful career in product management. While there are many more such steps, I have put down first 3 which I believe are most essentials for succeeding in the role of a product manager.

One_1: It is little rare that a technical professional or a fresh out of collage management graduate gets into the role of a product manager without any mentoring. Understand, product management is a specialization and to succeed in this role you should have prior experience or exposure of business process. While it may be possible to get a break-through in product management without understanding of business process, it is extremely difficult to excel in this role without the experience or exposure of the business critical functions like sales, marketing, operations, engineering,  finance and customer support. These experience provide individuals a holistic view of business functions and ability to understand customer better. So role up your sleeves and get ready to hit the road to get real first hand experience of business functions. Remember one of the critical aspects of product management is to simplify and improvise these business critical functions. 

Two_2: The greatest ask for being a product management professional is the shift in mindset. Ability to see what many tend to overlook. Whenever you see a successful product or service, or a feature being implemented, ask yourself, 'what problem will this solve?'. Anything around you that you see has been devised and designed to solve some problem, simple or complex but they are in existence because they solve some good problem. Spend more time on problem and less on discussing solution or how well is this implemented. Nurture the habit of getting down to the root cause, the problem. Remember it is solving problem that leads to making profit, so more you understand them better you solve them.

Three_3: Start valuing return on investment. Understand one thing, "A great technological invention is of no use unless it can be monetized." Why should we do this? What if we don't support this? As a habit, try and seek profit and loss for doing or not doing any feature implementation. Product managers are responsible for improving market success of their product which is measured in terms of cash that your product makes for the company. Measure efforts by answering questions like, What will increase sales, bring in productivity, reduce calls to customer care or reduce overall cost of delivery? Why should I take cost of adding 4 new features when 2 are good enough to give me a competitive edge? Remember to link all you see happening to overall profitability of the business.

Well begun is half done, take care of first three steps and you are ON for a wonderful career in product management. Steps mentioned above are simple to understand but tough to follow unless you  practice regularly.  One of them has to do with skills (understanding business critical functions) and other two are habits, and none of the two come easy. While skills comes with experience, habits needs to be nurture. Both of these requires extra effort and time, but once you are into this you will experience a snowball effect in your understanding of the essence of product management, and then it won't be long before you get to hear 'Welcome to the product management'.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Top 3 Priorities of a Product Manager

Once again, quick one from a discussion had with someone walking down the aislel.

Product managers do too many things for success of their product. They work with cross-functional teams, do competitive analysis, author PRDs etc . While all these are important and must be done on time, there are certain aspects of a product manager's life which should always be on the radar of a wise product manager. These are 3 simple things that a wise product manager should always observe and improvise on. 

Understand the market / opportunity

What is in it for me? Knowing market and keeping oneself up-to-date with the developments in the market space is of paramount importance for a product manager. What is your customer doing? how are his / her needs changing? any new technology that might bring in new competition? any significant move in government policies that might impact your business or any change in compliance norms etc.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Is this problem worth solving!

A problem may not be always worth solving. While all problems have a solution it may not be a good idea to always take on problem for various reason, instead at-times it may be better to leave it for someone else to solve the problem. Problems are very tempting, but they can be deceptive too and hence a good product manager should first assess the problem before calling it an opportunity worth addressing.

A problem must pass 4 acid test before it qualifies to be considered as opportunity worth addressing.

Translating problem into opportunity

Alignment with long term Strategic goal
All problems have solution but your product is expected to solve problems that fall on it's path of long term strategic goals. Products are designed to address specific opportunity, they have their own set of priorities and a road-map that govern their direction. Check if the problem falls on the long term strategic path of the product and if not then asses if the problem benefits product by an means in achieving any short term momentum? If answers to both these questions are negative then drop the problem, else move on to next acid test.

Is ROI worth giving the extra effort
If I take on this problem what kind of solution will I be able to monetize. What is the cost to deliver such a solution, what skills set do I need to acquire or build in the team? Is this a short-lived opportunity or something that will earn me regular income over a longer duration. Business runs on profit and low ROI is as bad as NO ROI. A problem that does not offer good ROI should be dropped. So measure the potential of ROI before you decide to give in any extra effort. 

Cannibalization of sister products
All that glitters is not gold. Watch out for such glittering problems that on face value might look like a perfect opportunity but when looked at from the organization's point of view they might be creating a hole somewhere else. A wise product manager will not eat his own peers or sister products to grow, halt before someone else shows you the red light. Discuss strategic goals of both your product and sister product with it's owner to figure out a mutually beneficial way forward.  

What if I decide to let it go
All looks good, the problem meets above three criteria and is ready to be considered as next big opportunity. However, it would be wise to hold on to your horses and play a devil's advocate for some time. What If I do not take on this opportunity? What if I let it go or what is the cost of not doing this. This is the last measurement before you decide to take on or drop the problem. This one is little tricky because at times doing anything extra would usually involve trading-off with something that is already planned, so if losses (opportunity lost) are not much then why get unnecessarily busy doing something extra.

Opportunity identified should be discussed in product council (or something similar platform) and then should be added to the product backlog. Opportunities are bread and butter of the product, so be wise in choosing one as bad diet may often lead to bad health. The message is loud and clear, take problem through all 4 acid test and be sure that your product is having a healthy diet and you know and are sure if the problem is worth solving or not.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Product Managers, value first hand experience

How well does a product manager perform on his job depends upon how much he / she understands their customer and their product users. This understanding is important for building confidence which in turn directly influences performance of a product manager, and hence it is important that product managers get this understanding first hand. This requires product managers to meet customers and prospects on regular basis. Visit production site, conditions under  which users use the product and get the first hand experience of pain and pleasure points.

Plan your visit

  1. Have a single agenda meeting. Do not club meeting  your courtesy visit with any other agenda. Do not pitch in new business ideas, repeat orders etc
  2. Meet the buyer (person taking purchase decision) to understand his/ her satisfaction level. Is the buyer happy about purchase or does he believe that he should have opted for some alternate product.
  3. Spend good time with product user. Observer the conditions under which user is using your product.  Do they take too many phone calls? what other tasks (physical and on computer) do they perform while using your product? etc
  4. Do not ask too many question but instead prefer to play the role of an observer. Observe usage pattern, behavior etc as user works on the product.
  5. Given an opportunity, limited your queries to 'What you like and What you don't like?".

Remember, user often may not be able to articulate his or her preferences, pain points or liking clearly or even if they can they may not know the exact root cause of their liking and disliking. It is important to observe users as accurately as possible to know "Whys?" along with "whats?".

It’s imperative for product manager to understand the customer as they understand customer's requirements. Speak with customers and product users on regular intervals to listen and to understand pain points, newer needs, evolving business etc. A requirement drafted post this effort is likely to be far more accurate and is sure to boost product manager's confidence levels. So meet your customers frequently and get first hand understanding of your customer.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Solution Designing

New solution designing has always been challenging and when the goal is to replace a successful existing solution then the challenge doubles up. It is an opportunity worth million dollar that only few get to experience. Such initiatives  are mostly taken up by the organizations to replace legacy solutions or when they plan to capture new markets /customers.

I was lucky to get one such million dollar opportunity sometime back, learning from which is what I am sharing in this blog post.

Steps for designing new solutions
  1. Study existing solutions: Know what is there already in the market. Study existing products that are being used to provide solutions and have detailed understanding of them before you even think of doing anything else. It is a very important step for the simple reason that you should not end-up designing something that is similar to what is already available to customers. The goal while designing a new solution is to provide something better than what is available. The good and bad of existing solution also helps you in avoiding situations wherein you spend significant part of your time in reinventing the wheel.

  2. Understand pain points: Talk to people who are involved in delivery services using existing product, they could be from operations, sales / pre-sales, customer support or from any other functional arm. Map all process flows in flow charts, identify time consuming process that are large and also under why are they so. Consolidate all pain points and ensure that these pain points are addressed in your new solution design. Understand that the one of the most pressing need of new solution is pain points of existing solution.

  3. Explore limitations: While pain points are to do with core-functions (purpose) of the product, limitations are to do with technology and/ or integration  What extra you could have done if the system supported certain additional features (functional or non-functional). They limit product expansion or they hold solving problems beyond the core functionality of the product, something which might have otherwise given your competitive advantage. This could be some integration or some new emerging trends in existing market. Limitations can also be futuristic, something like, "if this happens then my existing system may not supported the situation". Identify all such limitations (present and futuristic) and ensure that you do not carry them in your new solution design.

  4. Assess Market Maturity Levels: This refers to maturity levels of target market, user community in target market, competition, legal and compliance, adoption and ecosystem. This is very important aspect of new solution design since it decides what is new, what is out-date and what is too early in the solution design. Imagine you are trying to sell a car even before no fuel was invented. In this case though car is a very useful but pulling car with horses or buffalo would not make sense. So do not invent something that cannot be sold or something that is too early in the market. At the same time do not launch an out-dated or out of compliance solutions in existing market.

  5. Competing and Complimenting products: Know your competing and complimenting products. Do not design anything that may harm products that compliment your solution and Do not design anything that gives advantage to your competing products. If these aspects are NOT taken care of, then you are most likely to add more competing products and will have fewer complimenting products. Needless to say that such a situation will adversely effect your market position.

Precautions taken care in conceptualization stage helps in designing a effective solution that in turn enables you to be a market leader in your space. A minor error in doing homework will take your years back, loss of investment and market reputation. A product manager, a product owner must ensure that mentions areas are studied, understood and analyzed to perfection before he/ she takes the brush to design the new solution.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Evaluating New Job Offer

Time for some quick thoughts, this time on what is a good job offer? As a product manager, how do you evaluate the worthiness of a new job offer beyond remunerations.

While the answer to this question will have lots of 'Depends' and ultimately boils down to the choice of individuals, there are certain aspects that a aspiring product owner must not overlook on. These are must to have as part of product managers profile and a product manager must insists on owning these responsibilities. If the new job offer does not include even one of these responsibilities then it becomes easy to take the decision and the decision is a big NO. 

Product Managers avoid taking job offers that does NOT include
  1. Market exposure (instead limits you to engineering environment only)
  2. Customer interaction (instead asks you to depend on internal stakeholders only)
  3. Opportunity to work on problem (instead asks to work on predefined solution  only)
  4. Responsibility for market success (instead asks to own engineering success only)
  5. Access to user community (instead asks to focus on technology aspects only)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Agile Fear

Agile is buzz word in software product development world. Proven time and again by pundits and practitioner as possibly the best way to develop software products, agile is drawing more and more attention from success hunger companies. Displacing water-fall as most preferred way to develop software products, agile is fast become popular but not without a tireless effort from people who advocate and promote agile without which story of agile would have ended long back.

The fact today is that agile still face resistance from various corners and its adoption still being debated in board rooms and on coffee tables. I spoke out my heart on some occasions challenging people to explain 'Why NO Agile?' and so did participants opened up to express their concerns. What followed was a good healthy discussion, results were positive and hear is my learning of why people say 'NO' to agile.

Why they say NO to Agile

Team members / engineers / testers: I will be micromanaged, tracked on hourly basis and my productivity will be questioned. Daily updates and hourly tracking in burn down charts are clear indications of control freak management.

Leads (Tech / Team / Module): This is just another way of cutting down on requirement documentations. Asking me to deliver with fewer clarifications and greater assumption is not going to work out for long. Management is ignoring need to detail out every aspect of requirement only to question me on fag-end of the delivery cycle.

Managers (Dev / QA / Delivery): All seems to be going well, why this change now? Is this another way of cutting down middle layer, get rid of unwanted redundant managerial staff. What will we do if teams are self managed.

Old war horses / IC: it is good when we are in control of our deliverable. However embracing agile now will bring in lots of surprises that we cannot think of. (Largely fear of unknowns)

Product Managers: Agile is good but only when you know what exactly is the requirement. It is not a good fit for first time products and also not a good fit for high stake customer deliverable. Pace of development might effect quality of deliverable.

Business owners: Why should I rock the boat, it is going fine for years now and let continue the same way. This might also call for unwanted training and hiring budgets. We do not have budget for this now, let us continue with the same method as we were doing early on.

Customers: it might be an attempt to make us accountable for their engineering failures, how can they do so.  Let us stick to our original plan.

I have learned this hard way, educate before you recommend. Change is certain but is smoother when welcomed with conviction. Agile evangelist have some tough tasks on hand, and its success will largely depend on how well agile as understood by the masses.