Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Three Keys to Product Management Success

As product managers you have a significant responsibility for the success of your company. It’s easy to get bogged down in the countless tasks that are thrown your way every day. With all the meetings, floods of email, and requirements to manage, the thought of spending time on areas of strategic focus can seem overwhelming. However, with planning and a little effort you can make the difference. Start by focusing on three simple, yet powerful, keys to success:

  1. Know your market: Get a clear understanding of the market where your products compete, and work diligently to stay out in front of new trends and technologies. Make customer calls and customer visits often. Work with the sales team; understand how they sell your products. Know what works. Know the weaknesses of the products (and take action to correct them). Understand why people pay (or don’t pay) for your products. Be the voice of the customer to your company.
  1. Provide clear direction: One of your key directives as a product manager is to provide clear direction to the engineering/development teams. Spend the time to write understandable and timely requirements and prioritize them effectively. Provide solid product design (with the help of good designers). Give clear direction and project confidence and your full support to the work the engineering is doing. Earn their trust. Inspire them to do great things. “Have their backs” with the rest of the company (i.e. be their outspoken supporter).
  1. Launch successfully: You are in a unique position to facilitate successful product launches. Start with a tight, focused beta program; learn from the testers and change accordingly. Help product marketing set the proper tone for the launch by understanding the new product’s strengths. Work in tandem with the customer support teams to monitor product acceptance and make changes where necessary. Work with the sales team to make sure they understand the new product and hit the ground running when it releases. After a successful launch, monitor the product’s uptake and financials and make sure it continues to succeed. This, of course, loops back to knowing your market and making sure your product meets the needs of the people in your market.

These three practices cover the most important bases for creating successful products. You should plan time to focus on these elements on a daily and weekly basis. If you are in a leadership position in product management, take time to evaluate your team and make sure they are focusing on these key practices that will lead to product success.


The Product Management Perspective: see above


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Technology is not enough

Just because you port or transition your product (software, hardware, etc.) to a model that is new/up-and-coming/exciting/proven/<fill in the blank>/ you have no guarantee it will succeed; technology is not enough to make a mediocre idea succeed. You must understand the market. If your product or idea is not what potential customers are looking it does not matter what technology you use to roll it out. If the market you are seeking to service has no need for what you are rolling out, the technology irrelevant.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is now a proven way of providing software to companies. SaaS is gaining increasing acceptance and viability for many software companies, and customers appreciate the fact that much of the work and worry of software management  is now handled by the vendor. However (and this is a BIG however), if the ideas you are promoting and selling as software are not needed in the market — i.e. if the software is not market-driven — porting it to SaaS (or any other model/technology) will not save it; in fact it will complicate it.

Last year Steve Johnson wrote an excellent article called Stop Perfuming the Pig that goes in-depth on this topic. Steve says: “No amount of perfume can overcome the stench of a technology product that people don’t need.” Amen. You have to understand the market and make sure the market needs what you are building.


The Product Management Perspective: These ideas fit squarely in the realm of product management; after all, the product manager is the voice of the market. One of (if not THE) most important responsibilities of a product manager is to have a profound understanding of the market, customers and potential customers his or her software targets. If you are not spending time doing market sensing, take a close look at where you are spending your time, clear up your calendar, and schedule time to understand the market. There are many effective ways to do this and they vary by industry, so you will need to figure out what works.The important thing is that you do it.


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Conversations that win

You want to win. Whether you are an athlete, an actor or a business leader you are “in the game” to win. You might be competing in a major event (e.g. summer Olympics in London) or in a crowded market (e.g. productivity software); regardless, you want to win.

What does it take to set you apart from the competition? In sports it’s pretty easy; you win competitions (ok, it’s not ‘easy’ to win for most of us, but it’s easy to measure). In business it most often comes down to the bottom line; how well your products and services sell compared to your competition. Measuring is not easy, but it’s possible. You need to know how you’re organization is doing and then do what it takes to leave the competition in the dust.

The book Conversations That Win The Complex Sale delves into the practices that lead to successful selling in complex situations. The concepts help you differentiate yourself and your products/services from the competition. “Rather than sell your own corporate story and brand vision, you need to tell customers their story—the one in which they are the heroes and they achieve success.”

The authors of the book, Erik Peterson and Tim Riesterer, are also executives for Corporate Visions, the organization that is “all about helping companies, like yours, be different in a rapidly commoditizing marketplace.” The book and their training (which I attended this week) focus on three key areas that will help you create more opportunities, differentiate your solutions and close more deals:

The Power of Change: Helping you overcome the status quo, your biggest competitor. Focusing on intentions and instincts to help you understand your customers and prospects better. Bringing in “a little bad news” to help them care about what you’re doing. The right conversations help them want to change.

The Power of Story: Everyone lives in stories whether they know it or not. Connecting with your potential customers through stories keeps them engaged through the discussion and helps them see it from their perspective. You learn how to create power positions, engagement and heroes. You’ll learn why “you phrasing” is critical to closing the deal.

The Power of Message: It is human nature for people to be mostly engaged at the beginning of a presentation, mostly asleep during the meat of the presentation, and wide awake when they hear the words “in conclusion” (because it’s about over). The authors call this “the hammock” and give great methods of helping you keep your listeners engaged. You’ll learn why grabbers, big pictures and 3D props help your stories come to life, and how the right conversations pique the most important part of the brain that influences decision-making.

A short blog post cannot begin to convey the depth and meaning of this book, and especially not the value of the training. The training delves in-depth into each of the key areas that will help you win. The average ROI for companies that have gone through Corporate Visions training (which this book is based on) and apply it immediately is really high – so high I can’t bring myself to write it (you wouldn’t believe me). If you’re serious about winning, regardless of your position in the company, this book is a must-read.


The Product Management Perspective: Why is a sales training/messaging book important to product management? You work with sales all the time as a product manager. The principles in this book will not only help your sales team sell more effectively, but they will also help you “sell” more effectively to the sales team. You can plant the necessary information in their minds that will keep your products at the top of their list and help your company increase its success dramatically.


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Book Review: The Coming Jobs War

“If you were to ask me ‘From all your research, what is the best predictor of new jobs?’ my answer would always be new customers.” Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup and author of The Coming Jobs War: What every leader must know about the future of job creation, says that what everyone wants is a good job. He makes the bold assertion that job creation and successful entrepreneurship are the world’s most pressing issues right now. “If countries fail at creating jobs,” says Clifton, “their societies will fall apart.”

To be honest, the first few chapters of the book are quite depressing. Clifton describes how the United States is losing its position, as the world’s economic leader, to China and other countries like Brazil and India. Grounded in findings from the Gallup World Poll, Clifton shows how the current job creation trends could land China as the world leader by the year 2040. Unless…

Unless the United States and other top economies step up and create new jobs at a furious pace, China and other economies will surpass it. Clifton argues that the solution to creating good jobs must be found in cities, not in federal government. Promoting entrepreneurship and job creation must be the sole mission and purpose of cities’ business leaders, government officials and philanthropists.

According to Clifton, cities will succeed by declaring an all-out war: “I don’t use the term ‘war’ lightly. This really has to be a war on job loss, on low workplace energy, on healthcare costs, on low graduation rates, on brain drain, and on community disengagement,” he says. “Those things destroy cities, destroy job growth and destroy city GDP. Every city requires its own master plan that is as serious as planning for war.”

The next big breakthrough, and the one that will help keep the United States on top, will come from a combination of the forces within big cities, great universities, and powerful local leaders:

  • Local leadership: The leadership at the local level is key to creating new jobs. Cities need leaders who will bring in new companies that create new jobs. Companies need to hire the right people. “More money, jobs and GDP turns on who is named manager than on any other decision,” says Clifton. “Fire all lousy managers today.”
  • Entrepreneurial innovation: “Entrepreneurs are the rainmakers,” says Clifton. When enough entrepreneurs gather in a city and create formal jobs, they start a virtuous cycle. Silicon Valley is a great example of this phenomenon. Other cities are showing positive signs of growth. Business leaders who are willing to take risks will pave the way for new jobs and economic growth.
  • Education: A few of the most well known entrepreneurs dropped out of college, and some people believe that college gets in the way of innovation. Not according to Clifton. Great universities are the origin of most highly successful startups. They are a critical part of new-company formation, and America has a decided advantage because its top 100 universities are its most differentiating global strength in the war for jobs.

Clifton concludes The Coming Jobs War with ten findings that are “the most important of literally trillions of combinations of data and opinions Gallup has studied” for the United States to win:

  1. The biggest problem facing the world is adequate jobs.
  2. Job creation can only be accomplished in cities.
  3. The three key sources of job creation in America are: the country’s top 100 cities, its top 100 universities, and its 10,000 local ‘tribal’ leaders.
  4. Entrepreneurship is more important than innovation.
  5. America cannot outrun its healthcare costs.
  6. Because all public education results are local, local leaders need to lead their whole cities and all youth programs to war on the dropout rate, with the strategy of one city, one school, and one student at a time.
  7. The United States must differentiate itself by doubling its number of engaged employees.
  8. Jobs occur when new customers appear.
  9. Every economy rides on the backs of small to medium sized businesses.
  10. The United States needs to more than triple its exports in the next five years and increase them by 20 times in the next 30 years.

I highly recommend The Coming Jobs War to anyone who cares about the future. The book is especially important for every CEO, executive and manager, and anyone who has the seed of entrepreneurism growing within.

The Product Management Perspective: Great products bring new customers, which create new jobs. The role product managers can play in the jobs war is to make sure their products resonate with the market. Clifton writes: “The answer is customer engagement.” When customers love the products we create, companies will grow and new jobs will flow.


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ProductCamp Utah

Holding user conferences is one of the great pastimes of organizations far and wide. In the technology world, conferences have grown into huge events that attract thousands of participants and occupy massive convention centers. Hosting technology conferences has turned into an industry driven by big money and advertising. The value to individuals has diminished as the industry has commercialized. Enter BarCamp.

BarCamps sprouted up in 2005 as the unconferenceway of gathering and sharing ideas. They are open, participatory workshop-like events where the participants provide the content and attendees collaborate to learn and grow in their specific areas of interest. The BarCamp phenomenon has gone viral and spread far and wide.

Leaders in product management and product marketing have extended the BarCamp idea to ProductCamps (or PCamp). PCamps are free, collaborative un-conferences organized to help product people (product managers, product marketers, UX designers, developers, etc.) network, learn and improve their ability to create great products. The first PCamp was held in Mountain View CA in 2008 and has grown into a significant event in Silicon Valley. From Silicon Valley the PCamp wave has spread to Austin, Boston, London, Sydney and many other cities all over the world through blog posts and word of mouth. The ProductCamp growth has been incredible.

After months of planning and preparation, the Utah Product Management Association is hosting the first ever ProductCamp Utah on Saturday, September 10, 2011 in Bluffdale Utah. We invite you to register for this free event and join us for what is sure to be an insightful day of learning, networking and growth.


The Product Management Perspective: Let’s face it, we all need to improve our product management/marketing skills. Product camps are a great way to sharpen the saw and grow your network. I strongly encourage you to seek out and participate in a ProductCamp in your area. Don’t just go there to listen, step forward and host a session. You will not regret it!


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Product leadership

The position of Product Manager is the single most important individual contributor role at any technology (product-focused) company. 

I understand that many of you may not agree with my statement (I invite you to leave a comment and make your case for a more important position). The reason I make such a bold statement is this: If the product manager succeeds, the product succeeds. If the product team succeeds, the product line(s) will make money and the company will succeed.

The key to success is product leadership. Without leadership, products churn, wring out money and waste a lot time. With leadership, ideas flow, solid products are released and sales increase. The following five practices will guide you to become an effective product leader:

  • Build relationships: Product managers depend on others in engineering, marketing, sales, etc. for their success (this is core to my opening assertion). This dependence makes building relationships essential. People are assets; the only way to effectively work with others is to build positive, effective working relationships. Listen to them, consider their circumstances, show empathy, then move forward and make decisions that will be beneficial for everyone in your organization.
  • Develop trust: I’ve written a lot about trust lately. In my experience, trust is the most important behavior for product managers to master, and is summed up nicely in The Speed of Trust: “When trust goes up, speed goes up and costs go down.” The opposite is also true.
  • Improve visibility: As product managers understand their customers and become the market experts, their visibility (importance as seen by others in the organization) increases. Become adept at leading product vision from the ground up.
  • Increase value: Every product manager must know how much his/her products contribute to the bottom line. Quantify the value your products bring to the company and work aggressively to increase that value over time.
  • Create accountability: Product managers are ultimately accountable for the success of their products. Part of being a product leader is not only accepting accountability for your product’s success but also creating accountability with those you depend on release your products. Be decisive: do not shy away from making decisions — it will improve your credibility.

Your decisions — in every aspect of the product management life-cycle — lead to product success. Make decisions, then stand behind them.

The Product Management Perspective: Embrace your “most important” role and be the leader among your peers.


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Leadership and Product Management

The key to successful product management is working well with other teams. Product managers hold a unique position in the company: they depend on people from other groups, but they do not have managerial authority over those people (in most cases). Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the other team members to do great things. Therefore, a product manager must earn the trust of people in the organization and influence them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Product management — at every level — is a leadership role within the organization.

Here are the key roles that are crucial to your success as a product manager, and why they are important:

  • Engineering/QA: The relationship with the engineering/development team is paramount for product managers. Product managers need to provide direction for how a product should be built, and through your understanding of the market, give them assurance they are building the right product. Give them what they need, then take a step back and trust them to deliver.
  • Customer support: They form the front line to the customers and are always the first to know when things go wrong. They get the most up-to-date, critical information from customers of any group in the company. Work closely with the support team to assure your products meet customer needs.
  • Marketing: When most people hear the word ‘marketing,’ the duties of PR and marcom are how they usually interpret it. It’s crucial for product managers to work with marketing to ensure they understand the new product and know what it’s capable of doing. With this information marketing communicates the product effectively to customers and the market in general. Their questioning and probing of a product’s value is important to its success.
  • Product Marketing: This group is responsible for outbound product communication — i.e. they tell the world what the product is, the features it has and the reasons for making the purchase. Product marketing helps product management understand how the product will be received. Working together, product marketing and product management understand the market, build the right product(s) and effectively communicate to the people in the market.
  • Sales: Without a solid sales team the company will not succeed. The relationship between sales and product management is important (though somewhat difficult a times). The sales people who “get it” will feed critical information back to product management to improve the products, but they will not expect things to change overnight or for their next sale. When the PM makes a concerted effort to have a strong relationship with sales, their product success will increase.
  • Accounting/Finance: This group is often completely ignored by product management. Smart product managers know the value of having allies in the CFO’s office. At the end of the day, if the product doesn’t make money, nothing else matters.
  • Executives: A product manager’s relationship with executives varies depending on the size of the company; the larger the company, the more removed. In big companies product managers need to work effectively with the directors and VPs of the groups listed above. They should know these leaders personally and be able to walk into their office and have a discussion. The same holds true for the CEO and executives at smaller companies. The PM needs to work closely with them and provide solid evidence regarding product direction. You need to evangelize product management to executives and show them — with data and continual successes — the importance of sound product management practices.
Product managers who can work successfully with these (and other) groups in their companies will release great products and have success throughout their careers.

What other roles are important for success in product management? What have you found to be important in your organization? Please leave a comment and let me know about your experience working with other teams.


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Three practices of successful product managers

At the most basic level, a product’s success is measured by how well it sells in the market and the profit it brings to the company. A company’s success is ultimately a roll-up of all products and services selling for a profit. This seems straight forward, and yet in my experience company leaders too often lose track of this important goal. They focus on this marketing campaign or that new technology, and lose track of what’s most important. Granted, sometimes they focus too much on profit at the expense of other important directives, but that’s a topic for another post.

In most companies product managers have a lot of products and significant responsibilities. It’s easy for them to get bogged down in the countless tasks that are thrown their way every day. With all the meetings, floods of email, and requirements to manage, the thought of focusing on a product’s profitability can be illusive. It’s not impossible, however. By focusing on three simple, yet powerful, practices, product managers can channel their products toward profitability:

  1. Know your market: Get a clear understanding of the market where your products compete, and work diligently to stay in front of new trends and technologies. Make customer calls and customer visits often. Work with the sales team; understand how they sell your products. Know what works. Know the weaknesses of the products (and take action to correct them). Understand why people pay (or don’t pay) for your products. Be the voice of the customer to your company.
  2. Provide clear direction: One of the key directives for products managers is to provide clear direction to the engineering/development teams. Good product managers write understandable and timely requirements and prioritize them effectively. They provide solid product design (most effectively with the help of good designers). A key to giving clear direction is for product managers to project their confidence and full support to the work engineering is doing. Earn their trust. Inspire them to do great things, especially when developing your products.
  3. Launch successfully: A successful product launch depends on a coordinated launch plan involving many different groups. Product managers are in a unique position to facilitate successful product launches. Start with a tight, focused beta program; learn from the testers and change accordingly. Help product marketing set the proper tone for the launch by understanding the new product’s strengths. Work in tandem with the customer support teams to monitor product acceptance and make changes where necessary. Work with the sales team to make sure they understand the new product and hit the ground running when it releases. After a successful launch, monitor the product’s uptake and financials and make sure it continues to succeed. This, of course, loops back to knowing your market and making sure your product meets the needs of the people in your market.

These three practices cover the most important bases for creating successful products. You should plan time to focus on these elements on a daily and weekly basis. If you are in a leadership position in product management, take time to evaluate your team and make sure they are focusing on these key practices that will lead to profitable products.


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Book Review: Here Comes Everybody

“Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies–it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” Clay Shirky, author of the book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, provides an eye-opening look at how technology is changing the way we think, work and live. The book helped me understand more clearly how the Internet has changed the way we interact and get information. Here are several ideas I found incredibly insightful:

  • “The tools that a society uses to create and maintain itself are as central to human life as a hive is to bee life.”
  • “The basic capabilities of tools like Flickr reverse the old order of group activity, transforming ‘gather, then share’ to ‘share, then gather.’”
  • The Internet is allowing amazing things to happen: “Large decreases in transaction costs create activities that can’t be taken on by businesses, or indeed by any institution, because no matter how cheap it becomes to perform a particular activity, there isn’t enough payoff to support the cost incurred by being an institution in the first place.”
  • “The Web didn’t introduce a new competitor into the old ecosystem, the Web created a new ecosystem.”
  • “In the same way you do not have to be a professional driver to drive, you no longer have to be a professional publisher to publish. Mass amateurization is a result of the radical spread of expressive capabilities, and the most obvious precedent is the one that gave birth to the modern world: the spread of the printing press five centuries ago.”
  • Regarding Wikipedia: “If even only a few people care about a wiki, it becomes harder to harm it than to heal it.”
  • On forming groups: “The net effect is that it’s easier to like people who are odd in the same ways you are odd, but it’s harder to find them.”
  • “The most profound effects of social tools lag their invention by years, because it isn’t until they have a critical mass of adopters, adopters who take these tools for granted, that their real effects begin to appear.”
  • “What is likely to happen to society as a whole with the spread of ridiculously easy group-forming? The most obvious change is that we are going to get more groups, many more groups, than have ever existed before.”
  • “The dramatic improvement in our social tools, by contrast, means that our control over those tools is much more like steering a kayak. We are being pushed rapidly down a route largely determined by the technological environment.”
  • “Anything that raises the cost of doing something reduces what gets done.”

Changes are happening at a breakneck pace; we can either embrace them and use them to our advantage, or ignore them to our peril. If you want to gain a much deeper understanding about how society adopts new behaviors, Here Comes Everybody is a must-read.


The Product Management Perspective: What can you say when your boss walks in and throws a new book on your desk? My answer was something like “sure, I’ll read it when I have some time.” And soon after I started, I found the time. Shirky’s book is an excellent read for product managers. He challenges assumptions such as how you make money on products: “If a large enough population of users is trying things, then the happy accidents have a much higher chance of being discovered.” He causes you to dig a lot deeper to find answers to your perplexing product problems: “In business, the investment cost of producing anything can create a bias toward accepting the substandard.” He tells us (something we already know of course) about our product: “it must be designed to fit the job being done, and it must help people do something they actually want to do.”

This last quote sums up nicely the role of product manager: “Because of transaction costs, organizations cannot afford to hire employees who only make one important contribution–they need to hire people who have good ideas day after day.” That’s our job…good ideas day after day.


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Social media summit

This past week I had the pleasure of attending a social media summit. This half-day event included three speakers: Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation and Julien Smith and Chris Brogan, co-authors of Trust Agents. The presentations were excellent. I had the privilege of spending a few minutes talking with Chris; he was an absolute gentleman. Though the talks were fast and furious, I wrote as fast as I could on Twitter and wanted to share some of my thoughts with you:

From Chris’ talk:

  • @chrisbrogan giving a new presentation: mindset (babymind), business, currencies, trust
  • People who grew up on the “will click anything” web are poised for success – they’re not afraid of breaking things
  • most of us are in relationship businesses but we don’t know it
  • @chrisbrogan “community is my favorite business tool”
  • tell stories, use human interaction to get your message out
  • “stories sell things in a way your stupid copyright never will”
  • @chrisbrogan promotes others twelve times more than he promotes himself; when he needs help from others it comes immediately
  • blogging is @chrisbrogan ‘s way of letting people get into his head
  • One of the biggest mistakes we make on the web is we forget to ask about the ‘other person’
  • from @chrisbrogan “small, private communities are where some really cool things are going to happen in the next few years”
  • The real opportunity is to switch from “recipes” to “restaurants” – take the info you’re learning and put it to work to gain
  • 3 things to pay attention to: 1) mobile (not just a “Foursquare” checkin)
  • 3 things to pay attention to: 2) private networks/communities (cermo, others) – not Farmville
  • 3 things to pay attention to: 3) Social CRM – a real opportunity to get closer to both the dollar and the customer
  • a question to ask yourself: “how can I be helpful faster” @chrisbrogan
From Julien’s talk:
  • Quotes from @julien “The channel is forever” “controlling you future means controlling the channel”
  • “Build a network *before* you need it” “A network doesn’t just help you with jobs, it makes you happy”
  • Networks dissipate over time; you need to be consistently working to improve them over time
  • “Building a tribe is critical” you need to offer people a place where people gather and care - @julien
  • “pattern breaking” every time you create an emotional response people remember you
  • the Internet is the best (only?) place where you can convert social capital to monetary capital … @julien
  • @julien recommends the book Connected - http://amzn.to/aFCKU7
  • More from @julien: “be the lead goose” if you become the lead goose, everyone will follow you; you will help your network #leadership
Unfortunately I didn’t start taking notes during Mitch’s talk (he went first).

My #1 takeaway from the conference was this: the more you give to others and look out for their best interests, the more you’ll get back in return.
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