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Product Management 101

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These slides are my own point of view on what product management is about, how it works in the real world, what I look for when hiring, and how to land that first gig. …

These slides are my own point of view on what product management is about, how it works in the real world, what I look for when hiring, and how to land that first gig.

I’ve started 3 companies, raised money, and been through 3 acquisitions (on both sides of the table). I’ve got 20 years product management experience in roles from PM to Business Development to VP of Product to Chief Product Person at companies from just me to 100k+, including Oracle, ATG, D&B, NetProspex, and now UpUp Labs, where I work with product management teams to provide coaching and tools to help them with their roadmaps.

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  • 1. Product Management 101 Introduction to Product Management Bruce McCarthy Chief Product Person, UpUp Labs
  • 2. Hi, I’m Bruce McCarthy. I’ve started 3 companies, raised money, and been through 3 acquisitions (on both sides of the table). I’ve got 20 years product management experience in roles from PM to Business Development to VP of Product to Chief Product Person at companies from just me to 100k+, including Oracle, ATG, D&B, NetProspex, and now UpUp Labs, where I work with product management teams to provide coaching and tools to help them with their roadmaps. Today I’m here to talk about what product managers do, how they do it, and a little about how to break into the product management space.
  • 3. When I was a kid, I wanted to write Science Fiction. I still have that enthusiasm for all the cool stuff that technology enables us to do. I gave up my dream of being a writer when I found out how much they generally make.
  • 4. But as a product manager, I get to write scifi anyway. I get to describe things that don’t exist -- and then work with engineers to make what I wrote real. The is the AR Drone 2.0 from Parrot. It costs about $400 and I spent weeks playing with it after my very tolerant wife got for me for Christmas. I even annoyed people at work with it. It isn’t all about what would be cool, though. It’s also about what would be useful to someone.
  • 5. This is what we are all after as a product manager: a delighted customer using our revolutionary product. This is just the best feeling when you know you’ve nailed it.
  • 6. Opportunity Market Needs Technology Business As a PM, you are ultimately looking for opportunities in the overlap of: * Market needs * Technical feasibility * A workable business model So, how do we do that?
  • 7. We talk to unhappy people
  • 8. Listen for Problems Talk to potential customers What do they want? Where are they blocked? 5 levels of “why?” My favorite part of the job is interviewing customers or potential customers to understand their problems. I kind of get into being their therapist. I ask them about their job, what they’re trying to accomplish, and where they struggle to meet their goals. And they seem to appreciate someone listening for a change, instead of just trying to sell them something.
  • 9. Product Managers Listen for market problems Collaborate with Development to solve them Collaborate with Marketing to bring solutions to market Understanding the problems customers have that we could maybe solve is the core value the PM brings to the table. It’s where the conversations with Development and Marketing start. Unfortunately, Marketing and Engineering are not noted for their mutual respect and willingness to work together.
  • 10. Have you heard the one about the lost balloonist? A man gets lost flying a hot air balloon. He spots a man down below and shouts: "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised my friend I would meet him nearby, but I don't know where I am." The man below says: "You are in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 30 feet above this field.” He also supplies the exact longitude and latitude. "You must be an engineer" says the balloonist. "How did you know?" asks the man. The balloonist replies, "everything you have told me is technically correct, but your information is useless. In the end, I am still lost." The man below says "You must be in marketing." "How did you know?" asks the balloonist. The man replies, "you don't know where you are, or where you are going. You have no idea how to keep your promises, and I’ve done everything you asked but, but somehow it’s all my fault." So, it can be a challenge getting these teams to see eye to eye. Fortunately, there is product management to bridge the gap. That role of synthesizing the differing needs of key stakeholders is core to product management. And it doesn’t stop with these two groups.
  • 11. “Did [Previous PM] send you his spreadsheet of [5 trillion un-prioritized] feature requests?” - VP Product Management “We need this to close [big deal] this quarter!” - Key Sales Person “37% of our Support calls are about [oldest, hairiest part of the code]. Can’t we fix it?” - Support Manager “[Shiny tech thing] will make [your top priority] much easier!” - Tech Lead “[Previously irrelevant competitor] just shipped [shiny feature]. How are we going to leapfrog them?” - VP Marketing “We gotta drop everything and work on [meaningless buzzword]. It’s gonna be huge!” - VP Sales “If you don’t support [obscure platform] I can’t buy your stuff.” - Key Customer CTO “You can’t add [my pet idea] without dropping something else? What, is your whole team lazy?” - CEO Everybody wants something from the product manager. The PM is the person in the middle, balancing the needs of customers -- and of different parts of the organization. I showed this to my wife and she said, “I don’t know why you keep doing this job, but it does explain all the beer.” Getting everyone on the same page about product priorities can see a bit like magic. I remember when I had just started as head of product for a new company. They had one successful product and they needed to get serious about branching out. Predictably, though, the executives each had strong and contradictory opinions about where the company should focus. The first thing I did was to sit down with the CEO and ask what our strategic goals were as a company -- not our product goals (that was my job) -- but our company goals. Like any good CEO, he ticked off four SMART goals in a couple of minutes. I spent my first month shuttling back and forth between stakeholders and talking through how each of their ideas did or did not help with our strategic goals. I then had a 90-minute meeting with the executive team where we picked our key initiatives for the year with very little argument. That's when one of the other product people turned to me and said, "That was magic." He had been there for two years and had never seen that group of strong personalities come to agreement so easily.
  • 12. 3 Questions What problem are you trying to solve? Does this serve our strategic goals? Is it more important than what we’re already doing? Of course, it wasn’t magic. It was because I had listened to each of the stakeholders, let them know that they were heard and their ideas were appreciated. If a suggestion or request is not accepted or de-prioritized, the PM needs to provide context for that decision. Whenever someone makes a request or presents an idea, a product manager needs to ask 3 key questions. The answers are where the priorities that drive the product roadmap come from. A concrete example of #1: At one company, we had a frequent request for our search product for the ability to upload a file with long lists of criteria like ZIP codes or company names to search on. As it happens, though, we already had a feature in the works to simply cut and paste lists of criteria like that right from a spreadsheet. Cut and paste could only handle about 1,000 items, but we analyzed the data and found out that people pretty much never had lists of more than 500 items. Figuring out an easier way to solve the problem that underlay the request saved us a bunch of work.
  • 13. A product manager is in charge of the product roadmap. And because they own this, aside from the CEO, they are often the most influential people in the organization. A CEO should articulate a vision for the company, salespeople bring in the revenue, developers create what the company sells, finance people keep the lights on so everyone else can do their jobs. But in many organizations, the ones who take the CEO's vision and map out how the whole team is going to get there are the product managers.
  • 14. Product Managers Drive Consensus Set Priorities Define Requirements Communicate the Roadmap Drive consensus on the strategic goals the product needs to meet Gather data on market requirements Set priorities for what will be built Communicate the product roadmap the company will take to achieve the product vision
  • 15. Project Managers Start with priorities and requirements from product management Schedule resources Negotiate roadmap timelines Manage delivery of the product Project management is often confused with product management, but it is distinct. Not every org has formal project management. Sometimes these tasks are done by engineering or engineering management. And, in smaller organizations, sometimes it gets done by product managers because there is no one else to do it. Hence, the confusion. Project management is exclusively an internal role. It has no say in “what” is being built, only when and by whom.
  • 16. PRODUCT MARKETING PRODUCT MANAGEMENT PRODUCT STRATEGY Partnerships OEMs Acquisitions EOL Analysts Speaking Advisory Boards PricingFinance Product Management is often broken up into separate roles for different people. Larger organizations have more specialization, and smaller ones have more of these rolled up into one. Product Strategy is about what markets are most attractive and align well with the company strategy. Often a VP of Product or Chief Product Officer will interface with the rest of the executive team and then people in product marketing and management will report to them. This role is also sometimes fulfilled by the CMO. Product Marketing works to understand a chosen market, their problems, and how to get the message out to them. They work closely with Sales and provide support for them. They provide the core messaging that Marketing Communications uses to produce materials and promotions. Product Management - or what is sometimes called Technical Product Management - collaborates with Development to figure out how to solve market problems in a way that meets the organization’s strategic goals. A more junior person in this role might be called a Business Analyst. Asking one person to do all of this well is liking asking for a superhero to swoop in and save the day. It’s an extremely rare person that can excel at all three. Even with 20 years experience, I am more on the upper and right side than on the left. So I look for strong partners on the marketing side to complement my skills. And that’s not all! Product people are often asked to handle other areas like...
  • 17. I Look For Communication Skills Analytical Approach Business Sense Market Knowledge Technical Knowledge So that’s what being a product manager is all about. Some of you who have not been product managers would probably like a little advice on how to break into product management. As a hiring manager, there are a few specific things I look for. * In some ways, PMs are translators or negotiators for all of the stakeholders for a product. This means they’ve got to have top-notch communication skills to drive consensus among these disparate parties. For customers, they are often there therapists as well, listening closely and trying to solve their problems. * An analytical approach is critical to understanding the commonality behind many different requests and which align with strategic goals * I look for a focus on ROI - for what sort of work will be worth the effort in business results * Market knowledge is useful - and people often get into product management because of their expertise in a particular business. * Technical knowledge is useful because it allows the PM to have a good collaborative conversation with engineering. OTOH, I’ve listed market knowledge and technical knowledge at the bottom here because - unlike intrinsic things like communications skills and an analytical approach, they can be picked up quickly by a smart person.
  • 18. PM Experience Curious Helpful Analytical Customer Contact The usual catch-22 of getting the experience required for a job before getting the job is even worse in product management. There is no such thing as an entry-level product management position, nor is there a degree program. So people have to get hired into product management from some other job. A man named Tony Lizza moved into a business analyst role from technical support. In his blog entry he cited a couple of key things that helped him get the job. * He was curious. He tried to learn about everything he could in his support job - customers, the product, the underlying technology, company systems - everything * He was helpful to the PM team. Asking if there is anything you can help with is a much easier question than asking for a job. I would add that showing analytical skills is very important. Someone on my own team at NetProspex because she could tell the difference between what someone asks for and what they really need to solve the underlying problem. She was the one that figured out the cut and paste feature would meet the need behind the file upload request. Finally, direct dealing with customers is important. If you have only internal experience, you need to find ways to get customer exposure to be taken seriously as a PM candidate. So how do you get that kind of experience? Well, there are certain kinds of jobs that naturally lend themselves to a transfer into product management.
  • 19. Vectors Customer/Technical Support Technical Sales/Sales Engineer Business Analyst Subject Matter Expert Entrepreneur Look for “tweener” roles that allow you to straddle business, technical and customer concerns. I got into product management via those last two. One question I am often asked is whether you should get an MBA. I don’t have one, but I got into product management as someone who had started two businesses and had bottom line responsibility. An MBA is more often required now, but I would say it depends on your background. People with a strictly technical background would probably benefit from an MBA. OTOH, customer-facing experience in, say, a sales engineer role, would fill some of that gap, too.
  • 20. Positioning Solving customer problems Understanding the market Driving business results Driving consensus Leading projects Gathering requirements If you’ve been able to get some “indirect” PM experience, think about how you can position that on your resume and in your elevator pitch. You want to be able to articulate in a few words how you will leverage your experience in your first PM role. These are the kind of “magic phrases” that will get a hiring manager’s attention.
  • 21. I Help Product People Team coaching via UpUp Labs Tools: Reqqs - the smart roadmap tool for product people Blog: ProductPowers.com Twitter: @d8a_driven Email: bruce@reqqs.com Office Hours: sohelpful.me/brucemccarthy Please feel free to contact me about help for your product team or just for yourself.