Surviving Product Management


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Product managers, through their efforts, have great potential to make a lasting impact on companies and entire industries. Exceptional product managers are marked by a passion to make their products, engineering staffs, and sales persons the stars of their companies. They are content to be the enablers of accomplishment and the “backstops” of products, so to speak. A great product manager is like a terrific coach; they orchestrate people, resources, and strategies to make their teams successful first and always.

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Surviving Product Management

  1. 1. SurvivingProduct ManagementLet’s face it. Managing products is hard work. By Louis ColumbusPersonally, I always marvel at the people who justnail product management jobs and make it lookeffortless. There is something alluring about productmanagement. It is the chance to take concepts fromthe abstract to the concrete and see the impact in themarket. The opportunity to own a product and makeit successful is alluring, too.For all the goodness of product management, thereare the challenges too. This article offers some ofthe lessons I learned through a career that includesproduct management roles at several high-techcompanies. Few jobs will keep you humble morethan product management, and I hope myexperiences both good and bad are usefulfor surviving product management.  •  Volume 4, Issue 2, 2006  •  1 1
  2. 2. Surviving Product ManagementEssentials of Resolve to know your competitors strengths and weaknesses, developproduct management better than the industry analysts. alliances, and set expectations for Become an expert in every the next year or two. It is criticalPassion for your products and aspect of their business. during this time to avoid beingtheir success matters more than isolated and getting buried in emailsorganizational power. The role of a and distractions. The best productproduct manager is full of opportunities • Get 10Qs and other filings from the managers are those who interact withto find passion for the product today, its SEC for publicly available companies. the departments they will need to workfuture roadmap, sales strategies, finding • Run a D&B report of all competitors with in the future, build alliances, startand growing a sales champion, and every three months to see how to earn trust, and get to know the trueworking with and supporting service. their business is going. role of Product Management and whereIn short, the best product managers it is positioned within the company.have a passion for their products’ success. • Take the hardest-hitting During interview cycles, you get theThey rarely coerce cooperation through competitive points and publish organizational chart view, but nowformal power by invoking a VP or them to your direct sales force, is the time to get the real view—byC-level executives’ name or position, including inside Sales. reaching out to departments you willbut their passion and intensity earn work with includes Sales, Marketing,them respect. Passion is the fuel of the • Distribute the trending data to Service, Engineering, Production,best product managers; it propels them your indirect partners and keep Operations and the customer base.beyond doing “just enough to get by” the best competitive analysis If you can, get out and see at leastto delivering exceptional work, projects for your direct sales force. three to five customers, coordinatingand results. • Publish how-to-sell-against papers on this with Sales, and also spend time each competitor every six months to with your internal “customers,” going capture the current knowledge for as far as to publish your project listAggressively manage expectations. for everyone who relies on you.In some companies product managers both direct and indirect channels. Work to deliver projects before theirare considered the final authority on Pricing competitive analysis deserves deadlines, and ask frequently forfuture product enhancements, current its own effort. When managing high- feedback. The goal during this firstand future pricing, launch dates, PR and volume products, such as PCs, laptops 90 days is to become part of thelead generation efforts to which even or accessories, it is easy to have a fabric of the company and to spendanalyst firms subscribe. With this much constant view of how your pricing as much time as possible learning theauthority, Sales, Channel Management, measures up relative to competitors by organization and its most pressingOperations, and Production—in short simply checking competitors’ and their needs before going after huge projects.every affected group in a company— channel partners’ websites. Trackinglooks to Product Management to make your competitor’s price relative to yourproduct commitments, to respond to own on a daily basis delivers the data Grow sales champions, even if it meanscompetitive pressure, and to capitalize necessary to fight for price moves and you do pre-sales support. Sales andon market opportunities. If your lower per unit costs from Purchasing, Product Management often have acompany has an intranet, post the Procurement or Operations. Consider cordial yet distant relationship becauseproduct roadmap and product hiring a few interns from a local Product Management needs Sales tomanagement plans, in detail by university to do the daily analysis raise the most critical metrics there are,product, for everyone to view. and to establish trending graphs and and Sales needs Product ManagementDeviating from the product roadmap presentations. I recommend the interns for market and product information.for special orders needs to be work twenty hours a week, the first Many product management groupsaggressively communicated to Sales, half of each weekday. Pricing from avoid pre-sales support because itChannel Managers, Operations, competitors is typically re-vamped becomes all-consuming. But structuringEngineering, Finance, Services and nightly with website refreshes, so having pre-sales support in terms of escalationmany other organizations affected by interns capture this data during the first of the best opportunities coming tothe product introduction, as do pricing hours of the day gives you immediate Product Management for face-timemoves and product direction. visibility into pricing moves. with product experts is critical to fostering a relationship with Sales and to eventually grow a sales champion. The first 90 days in a product Just manage your time to ensure this management role is critical. This is does not become an all-consuming job. the time the best product managers get their reputations established, start delivering on projects, show their1­ 2  •  •  Volume 4, Issue 2, 2006
  3. 3. Surviving Product Management Look for as many ways to connect with feel they must be the instant expert a wide geographic region, use the outside world as possible. There for their products, when building meetings and conference calls is a tendency in Product Management credibility is much better accomplished for exceptions and have the just to live inside the company’s by admitting what you do not know workflows on the intranet site four walls and only occasionally go and asking for help. Humility and handle the routine tasks. outside for channel partners, resellers, honesty gain respect, as does asking salespeople, and customers. A big part for help and being reciprocal about of what makes a great product manager sharing thanks for getting it. Be sure Create a buzz around new product is the reverse; They know the world to serve up plenty of recognition to introductions by creating Champion of their salespeople, channel partners those that help you too, copying their Awards. In one PC company that had and customers better than anyone managers on thank-you e-mails when to rely on engineering resources from else because they work very hard to members of other departments go another project to get its product line break down the barriers that separate out of their way to help you reach built, tested and ready for launch, them from what is really happening. your goals. Start laying the foundation Product Management created Champion Consider doing a blog to bounce for positive relationships where you Awards signed by the Directors of ideas around and learn about what get the reputation for sharing credit Engineering, Marketing, General is going on outside your company. and thank you early and often. Manager for the Division and CEO. These were personalized and framed by product managers, then presented Making Replace the frequency of the same week a member of Engineering cross-functional cross-functional meetings with completed a task that was above and an intranet site. Respect the time beyond their primary job in support teams work of cross-functional team members of the product launch. These Credibility is the capital you trade by distributing marketing, sales were presented at cross-functional with, start with humility. Passion and and business plans, specifications, meetings by Directors of Engineering credibility go hand-in-hand. Building and documents via an Intranet site. and Marketing. credibility starts with a focus on Distribute links and ask for feedback, earning respect from Engineering, and only have cross-functional meetings Product Marketing, Sales and other when there is enough to discuss and it Under-commit on launch dates and departments you regularly interact warrants everyone’s time. You can also over-deliver on them. Product with. Building credibility starts by use an intranet site for managing the introductions are when companies building trust. Trust comes from being approval cycles for documents as well, signal to the outside world just how transparent. Building credibility takes and if you have an organization that coordinated they are—or not. There time, and so often product managers is comprised of team members across is major pressure to move launch dates up from Sales, Channel Management, Marketing, and at times from Operations andThere are literally hundreds of blogs written by product managers, Production as well. With as much pressure as there isbut these few stand out as both entertaining and insightful: to move up a launch date, AlwaysOn™ build at least 20% of extra time into schedules because delays inevitably occur. Creating Passionate Users Guy Kawasaki’s Let the Good Times Roll Seth Godin’s blog is full of great marketing ideas Geoffrey Moore’s blog on innovation Of course, is also a great resource devoted specifically for product managers.  •  Volume 4, Issue 2, 2006  •  13
  4. 4. Surviving Product ManagementLessons learned Lessons learned Managingfrom working with from working with new productEngineering Product Marketing development andThere is the roadmap, and then there is the Get on top of lead generation performance introductionsschedule. If there is one painful lesson I for your products. Marketing may not havelearned when I was a product manager, it this data, but actively get this information Managing new productis that there is a major difference between from the sales department for all product introductions is the mosta product roadmap and a launch schedule managers so you can start building your strategically important task productfor new products. Price adjustments are products’ sales funnel and how many managers undertake. Accordingmade based on existing products’ current leads are needed at the wide end of the to research completed by thepricing levels, margins and discounts funnel to result in closed sales. Then Corporate Executive Board*,in addition to product cancel dates, or work with Marketing to understand the 20-25% of companies rely ondiscontinue dates. In short, even the best sales funnel for your products. See if new product introductions for thecompanies have trouble meeting launch you can create the sales funnel for your majority of their revenue duringdates, holding to commitment dates products using their data, and see why every 36 months of operations.for product enhancements, and even some leads drop out of the pipeline. Corporate Executive Board alsoproduct discontinuance dates. This is not reported that in a recent survey,a criticism of Engineering because delays 43% of executives said that newin product introduction, pricing, and product Create a Google™ AdWords strategy for product introductions are theretirements happen for a multitude of your products. This is very economical single most important strategicreasons. Staying as connected as possible as a lead generation strategy, so push to tool with the highest impactto Manufacturing, Engineering, and pricing get AdWords created for your products. on total company performance.managers can make your product launch Define the specific keywords to include Product managers are often calledmore effective by orders of magnitude. competitors and their products, as on to be the project leads for their well. The cost per click can be well product’s introductions. This under $1 and the leads finely tuned. role takes the most amount ofShare product ownership with your coordination, effort and timeproducts’ engineers. Partner and team with investment.Engineering, and specifically spend much Have a constant stream of white paperstime understanding their perspective on and knowledge going to prospects. Thisyour products. Share ownership for the is doubly true in emerging markets where The steps required for launchingproduct and its future, and work to create a prospects are looking for guidance and a new product vary significantlycooperative environment with Engineering. insight into which new technologies by company and industry. The are reliably working. Prospects want to Corporate Executive Board defined understand what new technologies mean a generic product developmentRelentlessly pursue product expertise. to them; they do not want messages and launch process, which includesBecoming a product expert starts by slammed at them. Educate and be the following steps. Keep in mindrealizing that there is no such thing the trusted advisor in new markets, many companies tailor these stepsas an “instant expert.” Working with and you will sell more. for their specific needs, yet theEngineering to appreciate which decisions progression is a good indication ofthey made on your product and why what needs to be done to developgoes a long way towards giving you Use industry analysts often. In certain and launch products:a solid foundation to manage your software segments, industry analysts areproducts as effectively as possible. relied on for guidance by IT buyers, and as a result they have insights into what is being purchased and why. Get industry * Corporate Executive a Marketing Checklist for New Board, Marketing LeadershipBe a de facto leader of development via analysts to visit your company and present Council. Developing Product Launches. August 2003. Washington, D.C.customer and competitive intelligence. competitive updates once every three toThis takes much effort, and it is worth six months. Also get their insights intoit for any product manager to establish your product roadmap and direction.their role as delivering in-depth customer Ensure an non-disclosureand competitive intelligence. Often agreement is in placewhen the next generation of a product as part of youris being developed, Engineering needs company’s overallinput on what customers are looking relationshipfor. By committing to be the leader with terms of customer and competitiveintelligence, you can that much moreeffectively guide product development.1­ 4  •  •  Volume 4, Issue 2, 2006
  5. 5. Surviving Product Management I. Idea Creation II. esign and Development I D VI. Product Launch a. Teamwork with RD, Marketing, a. Physical design of product a. Development and implementation Product Management and or definition of service of marketing launch plan Engineering (product positioning, advertising/ b. Prototyping (physical or computer promotional strategy, final pricing) b. Voice of the Customer Programs representation of the product) are also included in this step, b. Sales force training which focuses on bringing c. Alpha testing (batch testing to in insights from customers confirm product requirements, c. Development of sales and that potentially re-define the trial production to confirm product support materials direction of the product and assembly and manufacturing suitability) d. For a great drill-down on this service strategies. step, consider these following c. New product ideas are d. Detailed marketing and books. Catherine Kitcho’s book prioritized during this phase and operations plans High Tech Product Launch has a decision is made about which good insights into launching e. Updated financial analysis software applications and products to monetize. f. Key deliverables from this high-tech products in general. phase include extensive testing The book New Product Launch: II. Concept Definition of the product concept against 10 Proven Strategies by Joan a. Feasibility analysis completed market, financial, technical, Schneider and Jeanne Yocum (technical requirements; detailed and physical criteria. is also a must-read for any financial analysis; materials, product manager having to human resources and production IV. roduct Service P do a product launch. requirements; post-company Validation support) a. Beta/gamma testing with existing The above is meant only as a high- b. Detailed market study and potential customers level overview of the steps involved (market definition, assessment in new product development and of competition) b. Trial production run product introductions—clearly each of c. Identification of legal/patent/ c. Resolution and negotiation of these steps could be drilled into with copyright issues legal/patent/copyright issues much greater granularity and depth. d. Key deliverables from this d. The key deliverables from phase include the initial business this step include validated, One of the most popular approaches to case, technical specifications pre-production products managing new product development and of the product, and a project available for the market introductions is the stage gate process. management plan that includes Dr. Robert G. Cooper’s book, Winning roles and responsibilities. V. roduction and P at New Products: Accelerating the Process Distribution from Idea to Launch, is a must-read for a. Final assembly line tooling and any product manager who works in in the case of software products, an organization that has standardized feature freeze and gold master on stage gate steps for launching CD created new products. Even if your company b. Securing distribution channels is not using the stage gate process, including value-added reseller this book has some great pointers on recruitment and selection. developing and launching products. Summary and wrap-up Louis Columbus is Senior Business Development Product managers, through their efforts, have great Manager, Cincom Solutions. Formerly a potential to make a lasting impact on companies and entire Senior Analyst at AMR Research, his career industries. Exceptional product managers are marked by has included senior management positions a passion to make their products, engineering staffs, and sales persons the stars of their companies. They are content where he served as Vice President, Marketing and Business to be the enablers of accomplishment and the “backstops” Development. Louis has published fifteen books on a of products, so to speak. A great product manager is like variety of technology areas including Microsoft operating a terrific coach; they orchestrate people, resources, and systems, peripherals and the application service provider strategies to make their teams successful first and always. arena. You can reach Louis at  •  Volume 4, Issue 2, 2006  •  15