Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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One Compelling Question for Innovators

Guest post by David Sturt for Lead on Purpose blog

I recently came across a story in Wired magazine about a radically new technology being developed for heating and cooling. Aside from the exciting product idea to heat and cool a person rather than a place, I was intrigued by this statement about how the idea germinated:

At a point when humans need to take a sober look at our energy use, we’re poised to use a devastating amount of it keeping our homes and offices at the right temperatures in years to come. A team of students at MIT, however, is busy working on a prototype device that could eliminate much of that demand, and they’re doing it by asking one compelling question: “Why not just heat and cool our bodies instead?” (emphasis added).

Asking the right question is one of five key skills that predict great work, as identified from a sample of 1.7 million instances of award-winning work. Continue reading


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Key elements of leadership and product management

Most technology companies are comprised of people and teams that discover, define, design, develop and deliver products to the market. Their success depends largely on how well these teams work together to produce great products and services. The role of product manager has become increasingly important to the success of the products and the companies; it has become increasingly strategic.

One aspect of the role of product management that makes it both enjoyable and difficult is the fact that, in most companies, the people on whom product managers depend to successfully release products do not report to them. Product managers have to act as the catalyst to drive unity and direction on the team without having management authority over the people (from other teams) they depend on for their success. This situation requires product managers to be leaders.

The following quotes by great leaders — while not written specifically to product managers — shed a light on key elements of leadership and product management:

Customer visits: ”A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” – John Le Care

Product direction: ”Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” – General Colin Powell

Responsibility: “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” - John Maxwell

Team leadership: ”All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common; it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people…. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

Time management: “Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.” - Dee Hock

Not all product managers will one-day lead their company in an executive roll. However, to increase the likelihood for success (with both products and careers), product managers should work diligently to become leaders in their organizations.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you have the opportunity to build great products and have a very positive influence on your overall organization. Your influence can go a long way to building a great company.


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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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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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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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Three P’s of business success

What is required to create a successful business? The answer to this question varies greatly depending on experience, industry and many other factors. Achieving business success seems highly complex at face value. However, the principles that lead to success are not necessarily complex or difficult. When you focus on the right areas and create a culture to support them, success comes naturally. Lee Iacocca, a business executive best known for his revival of Chrysler Corp. in the 1980s, put it this way: “In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. People come first.” With the right ‘business operations’ in place, your company will achieve success:

  • People: In any company or organization, the real assets are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization. When you regard the people as the true assets of the company, and treat them accordingly, they will respond in ways that will surprise and delight you. As the leader of your company, put the people first and you will reap great benefits.
  • Products: Compelling products (or services) create success. To the extent you create great products, that people want to buy, you will achieve success. Creating compelling products comes back to the people. You need people who focus on getting the right products to the right market at the right time. Successful companies establish a product management/marketing role (or group), empower them with the ability to make decisions, and hold them accountable for their actions. This role is critical to the success of any company and according to Steve Johnson should have a seat at the executive table.
  • Profits: Without profits, nothing else (in your business) really matters. The efforts to hire the right people and create convincing products and services lead to profits.

Whether you are starting a new business or working to improve your current company, focusing on people, products and profits will lead you to success.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager, do you feel responsible for the success of your company? You no-doubt spend a lot of your time focusing on your products. You work with different people every day and have found some easier to work with than others. How much effort do you exert in building relationships of trust with the people on your team? These relationships are key to your success.

Of the three P’s listed above, the one that typically receives the least focus by product managers is profits (or perhaps more clearly stated, revenue). Too often we leave the worries and cares about money to the CFO’s office. We worry about getting requirements in place and making sure products releases meet their schedules, but we neglect the most important reason we create products…to gain profits.

Do revenue and profits factor in to your decisions as a product manager? How would your product requirements change if you focused more on profits? Please leave a comment and share your experiences.

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