Automating Product Management

Who says where product people have to begin their careers? Passion and the desire to improve and create products can come from anywhere… such as a tech writer. Nils Davis’ journey is one of a tech writer crossing over to the product side, and doing so superbly.

In the fourth part of our series speaking with Nils Davis, we take a peek into a mind very much focused on the future of product management, from its challenges to the exciting events shaping the many years to come.

Looking forward…

> What trends do you see in product management? positive trends? any negative trends?
The rate of failure of new products coming into the market suggests that the new product development process – from ideation to portfolio planning to requirement management to development – needs to get better. The first three phases I list are not automated in most companies, and I think we’ll see much more automation of the new product process in the next few years. Of course, that’s where my products sit, so this will be good for me. But product managers in particular have been “making do” with MS Word and Excel, which have a whole lot of problems in terms of being effective enterprise management tools – no central repository, no ability to create explicit relationships between elements (requirements to customers, for example), no planning-specific analytics. So there’s a massive opportunity to get much more powerful management and analytic capabilities into the hands of product managers and product planners, and that should go a long way to improving the success of product launches in the future.

> How do you see product management evolving over the next 5 years?
Recently CNN Money did a slideshow of the top paid professions that showed product managers have slid to the top of the high-tech pay-scale over sales. Obviously, that’s good for our pocketbooks, but more importantly, it shows that innovation and product superiority have been recognized by the C-levels as the next (and perhaps last) area of competitive advantage – there’s an increasing realization that superior products – not just superior sales – are key to revenue growth.

So overall, the business focus is going to be on ways to get better products to market faster – meaning that product management, and product managers, will see
increasing prioritization on products, better funding, and improved C-level support. To get better products, PMs are going to need to be linked into the market better, whether through social media-like online tools to collaborate directly with customers in new ways, voice of the customer capabilities, or just getting out to the customer more, and they’re going to need better tools to help them make sense of all the market information they’re getting.

As a result, there are some particular areas of change we’ll see:

  • Product management as a role will have to get more professional, and product managers will be better and better trained on product management per se. I think you’ll see a proliferation of “Product Manager Boot Camp” type courses offered by business schools, for example.
  • Automation, as I mentioned above. Today, you couldn’t hire a software developer if you didn’t have a lot of tool support for him or her – an IDE, a source code control system, a build system, a defect tracking system. In the future, product managers will demand the same level of support – there will either have to be the capability already in house, or the PM will have to be given the opportunity to implement one.
  • Incorporation of new technologies and approaches into the product process. As I mentioned above, game mechanics and social networking are new technologies that have the potential to drive a lot of change in how the product teams interact and collaborate with each other, and with the market itself. And as new technologies for collaboration arise, the product management function will become a leader in use of those technologies – they’ll need to in order to meet the priorities of the business.

In a few years, collaborative online communities, sophisticated analytics tools and more involvement from the CEO may all be the norm. Comparatively, we’ll look back at today, where half of new products fail, our most sophisticated technology tools are Microsoft Office programs, and company leadership is hands-off about the products that drive revenue and today’s standard will feel archaic.

BTW

Over the next few weeks, I will share more of my interview with other fascinating product people!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

Who says where product people have to begin their careers? Passion and the desire to improve and create products can come from anywhere… such as a tech writer. Nils Davis’ journey is one of a tech writer crossing over to the product side, and doing so superbly.

In the third part of our series speaking with Nils Davis, we look at valuing focus and greater advice for all varieties of product people.

Advice…

> What is the best career advice you received as you entered product management?
The best advice I’ve heard about succeeding in a creative organization like a software company is from Robert Sutton at Stanford – “Strong opinions, weakly held.” In other words, have an opinion about what needs to be done, but be prepared to have your mind changed by a good argument. This is a critical skill when you’re working with smart and creative engineers, marketers and managers.

> What is the hardest lesson you learned as a product manager?
That I can’t get everything I want! Also, just how difficult it can be to communicate a vision to a development team (especially offshore) or, sometimes, to a management team.

In Addition

Over the next few weeks, I will share more of my interview with Nils Davis, as well as other fascinating product people!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring Nils Davis, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

A Pair of Billion Dollar Shoes

Who says where product people have to begin their careers? Passion and the desire to improve and create products can come from anywhere… such as a tech writer. Nils Davis’ journey is one of a tech writer crossing over to the product side, and doing so superbly.

In the second part of our series speaking with Nils Davis we take a look at what constitutes today’s efforts and desires of this amazing product person.

In the now…

> Whose shoes would you like to walk in for a day? why?
My experience has been in startups. I would love to stand for a few days in the shoes of the product manager for a billion dollar product and learn about the issues and realities of running a product like that. At this rate, one day our company will be that big and I’ll have that experience.

> What excites you about your current products?
I am one of the target end-users for our product, so I use the product myself daily and that’s honestly very thrilling to use your own product. I also think that the opportunity to really improve the world by reducing the waste and errors in the new product development process is within our grasp as a company, and our vision for doing that is compelling and powerful.

> What do you like most -and least – about being a product manager?
As a product manager the role is very diverse, with lots of things to do every day, always switching gears – between customers to brief, sales people to help out, white papers to edit, demos to create, and features to prioritize. This environment of rapid-fire interactions makes it harder to get into the mindset for doing “longer form” type of work. I love doing that longer form stuff, but the structure of the PM’s day makes it hard.

Also, as a PM I have a lot of power and influence as to what will go in the product, how we talk about it, and where we focus our time. But at the same time, my wishes and dreams for the product far exceed my resource capacity to execute, so I have to have a lot of patience, which is not always easy.

In Addition

Over the next few weeks, I will share more of my interview with Nils Davis, as well as other fascinating product people!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring Nils Davis, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Nils Davis’ Journey from Tech Writer to Product Person

Who says where product people have to begin their careers?  Passion and the desire to improve and create products can come from anywhere… such as a tech writer.  Nils Davis’ journey is one of a tech writer crossing over to the product side, and doing so superbly.
 
In this first part of our series speaking with Nils, let’s take a look into where his journey began… Tech Writer.

Getting to here…

> What key people helped shape you into the product manager you are today?
At a previous company I found a good role model in the VP of Products, who had also founded a company before. Even well after he had a big staff of PMs doing the day to day work, his command of product details, competitive positioning and the vision for the product continued to inspire me.

> How did you decide to become a product manager?
I was working as a tech writer for a software company, and I kept seeing ways that we could improve the way the product worked, how we talked about it in the market and the way we sold it. When the current product manager left, I moved into that position. My career transitioned into product management because I saw a need that I wanted to fulfill. It took several years for me to figure out what being a product manager actually entailed “officially”.

> What inspires you in your day-to-day work?
As a product manager, I feel my #1 allegiance is to the product itself – to make it as good as it can be at solving customer problems. My inspiration comes from the knowledge that customers, the market, and the company are benefiting from having a terrific product.  And because I’m in the target market for my product (it’s for product managers and planners) I get a thrill from using the capabilities on a day-to-day basis that we have spent months and years developing.

In Addition

Over the next few weeks, I will share more of my interview with Nils Davis, as well as other fascinating product people! 
 
Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring Nils Davis, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.
 
Enjoy!
 
Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

More Openness and Other Product Manager Trends

Paul GrayVery close runner-up to The Best Product Person of 2010 was Paul Gray. Paul Gray has spent ten years working in the entertainment, media and communications industries within Australia and Europe. Paul worked in both B2B and B2C roles for organizations including Disney, Foxtel, and British Telecom.

In consideration as The Best Product Person of 2010, I interviewed Paul about all aspects of Product Management, from his own career path, to advice, to trends he now sees emerging.

This week, let’s look at the trends of openness Paul is seeing.

Looking Forward

> What trends do you see in product management? positive trends? any negative trends?
With the rise of Web 2.0 and consumers gaining more visibility, influence and even control in the development and distribution of products and services, I think product managers will find their role become increasingly more customer centric. It won’t be possible to “stay in the office” and “work on market requirements”.

There seems to be increasing board awareness of the role of product management and I think this will continue. But product managers must work hard to ensure that the rest of the business they operate in understands what it is they should do and what they should not do. This is necessary to help product managers focus on the strategic work rather than get bogged down in operational or tactical tasks.

> How do you see product management evolving over the next 5 years?
Product managers in are already navigators and facilitators – working with customers directly, as well as their colleagues in sales, operations, engineering, marketing and customer service. But as we see increasing globalisation, more openness within organisations and power shifting to the customer, product managers will have to step up and take responsibility for the entire experience. This presents an excellent opportunity to make truly amazing products and services, but it also threatens organisations that are slow or reluctant to open up.

More to Come

TBPP2010_altabrv114_thumb244

Over the next few weeks I will share more of my interviews with other fascinating product people I met in my product person journeys!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring The Best Product Person of 2010, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

A Little Product Management Advice

Paul GrayVery close runner-up to The Best Product Person of 2010 was Paul Gray. Paul Gray has spent ten years working in the entertainment, media and communications industries within Australia and Europe. Paul worked in both B2B and B2C roles for organizations including Disney, Foxtel, and British Telecom.

In consideration as The Best Product Person of 2010, I interviewed Paul about all aspects of Product Management, from his own career path, to advice, to trends he now sees emerging.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing portions of this interview. This week, let’s look at some of the best advice one can receive from an outstanding product person.

Advice

> What is the best career advice you received as you entered product management?
Most advice I’ve received regarding my career has been pretty much what you’d expect: Read, listen, learn. Challenge yourself. Ask why? Ask why not? But the best advice I received was from an old-hand, traditional sales director. He was looking at some collateral I’d prepared about a new product and he simply read out each feature then stared me in the eye and said “So what?” He challenged me to go beyond describing what the product was and to describe what it did for the customer. He focused me on experience and outcome driven product management. Even to this day, I still challenge myself when articulating information about products with the “So what?” test.

> What is the hardest lesson you learned as a product manager?
I’ve learnt that you can’t please everyone all of the time – and more importantly, you shouldn’t even try to do this. Part of effective product marketing and product management is properly identifying the customer that you’re seeking to serve. This should be as focused as possible – on a customer segment that has a clear problem, need or want. This segment also must be willing to pay for a solution and further, it shouldn’t be already well satisfied by competitors. Aiming too broadly, or ignoring competitive threats or the costs involved with solving a customer problem is a sure fire way to fail.

Remember

TBPP2010_altabrv114_thumb24Over the next few weeks I will share more of my interview with Paul Gray, Runner-up to The Best Product Person of 2010, as well as other fascinating product people I met in this journey!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring The Best Product Person of 2010, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Strategic Function of Product Management

Paul GrayVery close runner-up to The Best Product Person of 2010 was Paul Gray. Paul Gray has spent ten years working in the entertainment, media and communications industries within Australia and Europe. Paul worked in both B2B and B2C roles for organizations including Disney, Foxtel, and British Telecom.

In consideration as The Best Product Person of 2010, I interviewed Paul about all aspects of Product Management, from his own career path, to advice, to trends he now sees emerging.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing portions of this interview. This week, let’s look the strategic function of product management.

In the now…

> Whose shoes would you like to walk in for a day? why?
I think I’d learn a great deal from walking in the shoes of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. He seems to embody traits of a great product manager. He is intensely focused on his customers. He doesn’t dwell on products or features, rather he seeks to understand and deliver the outcomes they want. His approach has been mocked and belittled by everyone from Blockbuster to Time Warner, but he has shown that his approach not only works, but works really well. I’d love to see how he created this culture and spread these great product management principles throughout his entire organization.

> What excites you about your current products?
As I work in product management consulting, I’m able to work across multiple products in diverse industries. In 2010, I worked on Pay-TV services, insurance, online communities, health services and innovative startups. I enjoy this breadth in scope, having the opportunity to bring a fresh pair of “eyes” to a product and suggest new ideas and insights to help ensure that it is aligned on meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

> What do you like most and least about being a product manager?
I’d echo the concerns I’ve heard from many other product managers that I work with – that the role often ends up taking on too much tactical responsibility, from reporting to customer service resolution, sales support and even help with the actual development of a product. In my view, product management is a strategic function that touches multiple parts of an organization and while product managers should have input into, and be available to support other business functions, it is important that the product manager’s main efforts and responsibilities are directed towards crafting and executing strategy.

Remember

TBPP2010_altabrv114_thumb2Over the next few weeks I will share more of my interview with Paul Gray, Runner-up to The Best Product Person of 2010, as well as other fascinating product people I met in this journey!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring The Best Product Person of 2010, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Paul Gray TBPP2010 Runner-up

Paul GrayVery close runner-up to The Best Product Person of 2010 was Paul Gray. Paul Gray has spent ten years working in the entertainment, media and communications industries within Australia and Europe. Paul worked in both B2B and B2C roles for organizations including Disney, Foxtel, and British Telecom.

In consideration as The Best Product Person of 2010, I interviewed Paul about all aspects of Product Management, from his own career path, to advice, to trends he now sees emerging.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing portions of this interview. This week, let’s look at the key influencers in his product person journey.

Getting to here…

> What key people helped shape you into the product manager you are today?

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with great people in product management teams as well as those partner business units such as sales, customer service, marketing, engineering and operations. Each has helped provide me with a view of how product management ‘fits in’ to the overall picture and has helped me understand the critical strategic role product managers play in making a product or service successful. Above all however, I would say it’s the customers that I’ve been able to speak to. I’ve worked in B2B roles and B2C so have dealt with everyone from C-Suite executives through to six year old kids. Regardless of who your customer is, I think you gain the most insight, ideas and inspiration from going out and speaking to them. For this reason, I’d say its my customers that have shaped me the most.

> How did you decide to become a product manager?

I think my interest stemmed quite simply as a customer and user of products. I’d often marvel at how bad some products and services were. You’d have a great service let down by a terrible retail experience, or an interesting idea hindered by bad positioning and messaging. Then I noticed a few standout products and services. These were able to deliver their target customer the experience and outcomes that he wanted, and they did it in a way that was original, differentiated and profitable. This made me wonder what part of a business was tasked with this job – and I discovered it was product management.

> What inspires you in your day-to-day work?

Seeing how ingenuity, passion and creative thinking are helping to reshape traditional rules and structures in business, government and communities. With the rise of Web 2.0, we’re seeing new organisations emerge that do things differently, offering products and services that customers have been crying out for years. I think this bridging of ‘the gap’ between product people and customers and really getting to listen to customers and seeing their faces when they’re happy or satisfied make for most of the inspiring elements of my day.

Remember

TBPP2010_alt-abrv-114Over the next few weeks I will share more of my interview with Paul Gray, Runner-up to The Best Product Person of 2010, as well as other fascinating product people I met in this journey!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring The Best Product Person of 2010, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

TBPP2010: Giff Constable on "Advice & Looking Forward"

TBPP2010_altabrv114556Giff Constable, The Best Product Person of 2010, is the subject of our first series of 2011. Over the coming weeks I will be sharing a Q&A session I had with Giff — and lending some insight into why Giff truly is The Best Product Person of 2010.

Who wouldn’t want to gain some great advice and insight from The Best Product Person of 2010 In part 3 of this series, let’s do just that.

Advice

> What is the best career advice you received as you entered product management?

Surround yourself with people who are better than you are at something, and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

> What is the hardest lesson you learned as a product manager?

Lack of focus is a product and startup killer.

Looking Forward…

> What trends do you see in product management? positive trends? any negative trends?

I see many positive trends: more up-front customer development (thanks to folks like Steve Blank and Eric Ries), more iterative development from a streamlined foundation, more analytical rigor rather than design-by-HiPPO (highest-paid-person’s-opinion), and the appreciation of simplicity and great UX.
The primary negative trend I see might be too much of a pendulum swing towards metrics and quantitative obsession — sometimes forgetting that at the end of the day the user is a human being and the best thing to do is go watch them and talk to them.

> How do you see product management evolving over the next 5 years?

Product managers need to be truly multi-disciplinary and this is only
becoming more important. One needs to be adept at business,
technology, psychology, leadership, art/design and analytical rigor.

And more…

Over the next few weeks I will share more insights from some other outstanding product people I had the pleasure of speaking with in my search for The Best Product Person of 2010!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring The Best Product Person of 2010, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

TBPP2010: Giff Constable "In the Now"

TBPP2010_altabrv11455Giff Constable, The Best Product Person of 2010, is the subject of our first series of 2011. Over the coming weeks I will be sharing a Q&A session I had with Giff — and lending some insight into why Giff truly is The Best Product Person of 2010.

In part 2 of the series, let’s explore where Giff is now.

In the now…

> Whose shoes would you like to walk in for a day? why?

If this means actually *being* them, so that I could get a glimpse into motivations created by their lifetime of experiences, then I would say Vinod Khosla (because the actions and decisions of VCs are relevant yet constantly puzzle me), Kelly Wearstler (because it would be amazing to create with a 3D paintbrush of beautiful objects), and lastly my wife (because it would help me become a better husband and father).

> What excites you about your current products?

There are two reasons why I love Aprizi (http://www.aprizi.com): 1. I love supporting independent designers, who are creative souls pursuing their passion just like me but with different mediums; 2. I love the concept of shaking up the world of fashion and design products with a brand new tech-and-data-driven way of doing retail.

> What do you like most -and least – about being a product manager?

Most: I love a happy customer.  And I love the push-pull of working with engineers to distill the possible and the potential into something achievable and useful. Least: Fighting with a lack of resources to bring a great idea to life in the time one has allotted.

And more…

Over the next few weeks I will share more of my interview with Giff Constable, The Best Product Person of 2010, as well as other fascinating product people I met in this journey!

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring The Best Product Person of 2010, or any other of the upcoming product person interviews, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy