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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Know your market

If you are growing your company, or are thinking about starting a company — in any industry — you need to understand your market; you need product management. If you desire to improve your company’s success, you need product management. Whether your product is a product, services, solution or other type of offering, you need product management. Whether you call it ‘product management’ or use some other name, you need the discipline to of understanding your market instilled in the company. To succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, you need to understand your market.

Product marketing makes an important contribution to knowing your markets (for the company) and having success with product releases. My friend Kim Gusta wrote a recent post on the importance knowing your buyers has on understanding the market. She says: “Product marketers have the buyer knowledge to create really good content…. Without this essential knowledge, the organization creates generic content that doesn’t engage anyone.”

Regardless of how you go about it, you have to know your market and message your product in a way that compels customers.


The Product Management Perspective: As product managers you already know the importance of understanding your market. Get involved in your local product management association and/or product camps, and help spread the word.


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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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Building your position

I picked up the book The Sticking Point Solution: 9 Ways to Move Your Business From Stagnation to Stunning Growth In Tough Economic Times by Jay Abraham to give me something to read on a flight today. Given the book’s title I wasn’t sure what to expect (‘sticking point’ and ‘stagnation’ are not words I use very often). However, it didn’t take me long to realize this book has great content for taking yourself and your company to new levels of leadership.

I’ll do a full review when I finish, but for now I want to share Abraham’s fifteen ways to build your position into a strong brand. “These points are personality building blocks that will help you position yourself, your company, and/or your product as a preeminent persona in your marketplace.”

  1. Attach the suffix “In your service” to everything you do for your clients. You are their trusted advisor for life.
  2. Don’t be afraid to say what your competition won’t. In any transaction, tell your client, “Here’s what you’re not being told.”
  3. Don’t hesitate to extol your own achievements and value — but do it in the context of the benefit it brings to the client. Practice at it, do it with humility and humanity, and make it heartfelt and graceful, not overbearing.
  4. List your flaws. Your clients are human, and so are you. So acknowledge it. Doing so makes you real and honest in their eyes.
  5. Cultivate the habit of looking at each relationship as a long-term investment you’re making in the marketplace. It’s not a one night stand. It’s a total attitude shift.
  6. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and play to the former. The task is simple, but most people don’t do it; they get caught up trying to improve their weaknesses. No leverage there.
  7. Control your risk. But always point out the overlooked risks and dangers your marketplace is exposed to, and help your clients reduce or eliminate them.
  8. Use as much research and data as you can to make your point, prove your advantage, and demonstrate your performance. Just be sure to summarize, compare, interpret, and analyze this information so that people can appreciate and act on it.
  9. Challenge status quo thinking with a sharper, fresher perspective, a better strategy, or a clearer game plan for your market to follow.
  10. Continually add to your brand equity by doing more, caring more, contributing more.
  11. Form alliances and advisory boards.
  12. Use endorsements and testimonials properly and often. You can garner these from buyers, community influences, and press articles.
  13. Hire the best. Pay them richly. But pay them mostly on performance.
  14. If you’re invisible, you can’t become the go-to source. Make yourself, your product, or your company known. Do it impactfully. Do it with the right people. Make the impact worth the effort.
  15. Learn to project the image of true success — long before you’ve fully achieved it. It’s only a matter of time before it will occur.


The Product Management Perspective: Most of the fifteen points apply nicely to creating great products that people want to buy. Look through the list carefully and pick out three or four points where your products are the weakest. Make an effort in the next few weeks to improve in those areas. Over time, taking these specific steps will make your products preeminent in their marketplace.


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Messengers to the market

Product managers are the messengers to the market for their companies. In the latest episode of the Product Management Pulse podcast I interview Steve Johnson, a top thought-leader in product management. Through his years of experience as a software developer, SE, sales rep and then product manager, Steve has gained a deep understanding of technology products, from idea to release to success. Steve shares his experience in his typically humorous and instructive manner.

You can read about Steve’s latest ideas on his blog and download his eBook The Strategic Role of Product Management from his web site.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think about this episode.


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The pace of change

Thanks to Dan for pointing me to this video about the fast pace of change. It takes about 5 minutes and will cause you to think differently about the world we live in. Hold on tight and pay attention!


The Product Management Perspective: The world of product management is changing too. Just when you think you understand a market or a product or a buyer persona, you blink and it changes. Product managers need to be engaged in learning. Keep learning; be happy for the things you have learned; don’t beat yourself up for the things you don’t know.

Take to heart the advice of Eric Hoffer: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned usually  find themselves equipped to live in a world  that no longer exists.”


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Know your market

Knowing the market and understanding customers requires getting out of the office. You need to listen to the people who are in the trenches using your product or perhaps your competitor’s products. Understanding their needs, their pains, their ideas for doing things better help product managers tune into the market. After all, it’s the people in the market who become the customers that pay for the products and services they need. To understand how products will be successful, product managers will know the target customers and what drives them to buy their products.

The work of interviewing customers is a critical aspect of knowing your market. Customers respond positively to one-on-one interaction with product managers. They appreciate feeling like they have a role in setting product direction.  They want to be innovative, and the act of a product manager taking time to listen to them talk gives them a feeling of empowerment that they are really making a difference. They also like to talk about themselves. Tuned in product managers take time to listen to and really understand their customers. They ask well-thought-out questions to lead the conversation, but let the customer do most of the talking. They listen to what’s being said and ask pertinent follow-up questions to confirm what they heard. They visit with customers at their place of business (and without the sales rep). Customers will gladly show how their company operates and how they use products if their input will be used, and if they feel they are not being ‘sold to’ by the people onsite (for this reason it’s best to go without the sales rep).

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