Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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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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From idea to strategy

Every product and service we have today was once an idea. Even the most basic items did not exist before someone (or ones) came up with an impression of a product or service that would be useful in some way. When you stop and think about it, the number of incredible products and services available today is truly amazing. In many cases, these great products have developed into product lines, companies and even industries. All from one idea.

Ideas need development to become strategies. The development of ideas is not an easy undertaking. In fact, most of the great ideas took a long time and a lot of hard work to develop into the useful products they are today. This is the primary responsibility of product managers.

Yahoo’s new CEO Carol Bartz has shown the need to drive ideas to strategies from the highest levels of the company. In the Fortune article Yahoo’s taskmaster, John Fortt describes Bartz as one who has “shown she can jump-start ailing companies.” At Autodesk (where she was CEO for 14 years) she delivered annual sales growth of 13% and increased the stock value more than eight times. She’s accomplished this through, among other things, focusing on product management:

Bartz transformed Autodesk through a series of smart acquisitions and by encouraging new product development. Autodesk’s software and applications became must-have tools for designers and manufacturers alike, thanks to Bartz’s insistence that the company methodically roll out new features based on customer feedback.

She also wants to prevent more space debris [Bartz's term for ailing products] from launching in the future. ‘Yahoo was amateur hour in the past when it comes to product management,’ she bluntly told business partners last month; groups haphazardly released things without a clear sense of whether customers wanted them. From now on, she has promised, products will arrive on a schedule so that customers can offer feedback, with the best ideas appearing in the next version – a formula that worked well for her at Autodesk.

So how do you go from idea to strategy? One step at a time. This topic is, of course, way too broad and deep for one blog post. I’ll leave the deeper discussion to the many books and blogs written on the subject. The point is to get you thinking about the ideas you have and hopefully encourage you to do something to develop them.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager, you share responsibility to develop ideas into strategies. You have a great opportunity to become the strategic link from nascent ideas to full-blown product lines. Never discount your ability to make a major difference in your organization. I recommend Stewart’s blog for more details on becoming a strategic product manager.


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Successful personas

A common practice in marketing and product management (and other disciplines) is to create personas to capture behaviors, patterns, goals, skills, attitudes and environment of people. The personas — though fictitious in nature — represent potential buyers and users of their products; they guide professionals to design the right products for the right people at the right time.

Personas can also be useful in helping you map your own behaviors and attitudes. How do you react when facing difficult situations? What behavior patterns or attitudes drive your behavior? What qualities do you look for in the persona you wish to emulate? People who thrive in difficult times tend to pursue one of at least two persona types:

The Adapter: The term ‘adapter’ describes a person who is willing to change with the  times and meet the difficulties that come. As an adapter you do not shy away from difficulties, but face them head-on and find ways to persevere and progress. You do not hold on to old habits or tools that worked last year but are not applicable now. In a recent post on moving forward in tough times, the legendary businessman Donald Trump makes the following observation:
Innovation is the key to finding successful opportunities in a recession. While no one wants to build success on the misfortune of others, opportunities to improve a process, start a new trend or re-invent the wheel are everywhere. In fact, some of the most well known brands in the globe were founded during hard times.

Adapters find new ways to succeed and they bring others with them on the journey.

The Persistent: The persistent person continues forward regardless of the difficulties he or she faces. You know you are persistent when you do not give up in any given situation. You may need to change course or do things differently than you had anticipated; however, you press forward with a firm conviction that what you are doing will achieve the results for which you embarked.

Though the adapter and the persistent may seem somewhat contradictory attributes for a persona, they actually are supportive and complimentary. Adapting as you persist is key to progress and success. The ability to move consistently through life’s roadblocks develops common people into leaders.

The Product Management Perspective: As product managers you are accustomed to using personas for the users involved with your products and services. You should also model your own leadership behaviors with personas whom you want to emulate.


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The power of the right product (or service)

What is the most important role in a company? That question has been debated endlessly, and as the idiom goes, the “jury is still out.”

If you think about this question not from the perspective of the role, but from the perspective of the outcome, you start to shape opinions that at least get you closer to the answer. Successful companies sell the right products and/or services to their markets. Think about how having the right product (or service) affects every part of your business:

  • Sales: The sales team has no problem convincing prospective customers to buy. When prospects learn about the benefits they will buy right away. The sales team’s job is straight forward.
  • Marketing: Getting the message out about your company’s offerings is easy because the products meet the needs of the target market. The marketing team does not have to worry about perfuming the pig and can concentrate messaging greatness.
  • Accounting: The CFO’s job is easy; he or she can focus on investing for the future and not have to worry about making the quarter or how many employees to lay off.
  • HR: Hiring great people is easy because of the reputation of the company.
  • Engineering: The architects and developers love coming to work every day. They continue to release high-quality products and love every minute of it.
  • CEO: The happiest person in the company is the CEO. He or she understands the value that comes with the power of the right product (or service).
  • etc.: Every function in the company runs smoothly.
Which role is responsible for the right product? It varies from one company to another, and depends on the size of the company and the type of business. In today’s technology-rich companies the role of getting the right products (and yes, services) falls to Product Management.

If you don’t have product managers in your company, get them. If you have them, treat them well. If you are an executive, put your best leaders on the product management team, build it out, empower the people on the team to do great things. You will benefit every other part of your organization by putting your money and your confidence behind the product management team.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers, do you agree with my take on the importance of your role? Does your management understand the value you can bring? If they do…excellent! Keep moving forward. If not, send them a link to this post and start educating them about the power of the right products and services.


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Market sensing

A recent post introduced the concept of market sensing as the process of gaining a profound understanding of the market. To truly succeed you need to get customers, or more importantly potential customers, so excited about what you offer they will want to pay you for your products and services. To do this you must have a deep understanding of your buyers.

If your organization succeeds at market sensing, congratulations! If market sensing is not a strength, you have an opportunity to learn tips and tricks from an industry leader. On Wednesday Jim Holland will present Market Sensing 201, the second in a Product Management View webinar series that focuses on helping you define a simple, repeatable process for understanding your market(s).


The Product Management Perspective: The webinar will focus primarily on the application of market sensing to product management. Understanding the market is the first step to launching successful products. You will be well-served to participate in Jim’s webinar.

Disclosure: I work with Jim at Ryma Technology Solutions. Jim has tremendous experience and I am thrilled to be learning from him on a daily basis.

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