Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


How do you develop product leadership?

One of the most challenging aspects of any product organization is knowing what products to build or services to provide. There are so many ‘voices’ and distractions vying for your attention that make it difficult to know where you should put your time and efforts. Ultimately, every product leader wants to create products their customers will buy, so cutting through the clutter is a critical to your success. Continue reading


Creating value

What are you doing to create value for your organization? What significance do you bring to the table? As a leader, how do you inspire your people to give their best to your cause? Take a minute to answer these questions.

The following quote from The Artist Farm links earning money to creating value:

Next time you are stressed out about money be self-reflective. Rather than stressing about how you can get more money for money’s sake, focus instead on how you can provide more value to more people. All sorts of wealth will flow from this mindset.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are in a prime position to provide value to their organizations. One the most effective ways to create value for your company is to become an expert at market sensing. To the extent you guide your company to create and sell the right products and services for your market, you will become the hero of your organization.


Guest Post: Market Sensing is not Crop Dusting

Today’s post comes from Jim Holland. Jim’s passion is enabling product marketing teams. With a lifetime of  experience, he has a fresh and unique perspective in guiding and managing product teams and has a knack for sensing markets, synthesizing ideas and turning them into reality. Enjoy the post and don’t hesitate to tweet your comments to Jim directly.

Crop DustingRecently while traveling to a new fishing spot, I had an experience that could only be replicated in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller “North by Northwest.” While driving along a rural highway, a crop dusting plane dropped in from nowhere, passed over the car and onto a field dusting everything in sight. If you’ve ever seen an actual field being dusted, it’s an amazing feat. Imagine flying a single engine plane at extremely low altitudes, maneuvering into position, as you dive over treetops, houses and power lines dropping a fine mist about 30 feet from the ground at precisely the right time and then, throttling yourself to safety avoiding the same obstacles and more. Can you image the rush? What type of training and preparation does it take?

If you compare the skill and precision of crop dusting to market sensing techniques, shouldn’t product management employ similar planning, preparation, techniques and proper ground support before taking off?

Think about it. When product management and its leadership jump into the cockpit of market research to better sense markets, is there a flight plan that will result in delivering useful information? What market problems are you discovering or need to understand?  What artifacts and information currently exist? You can’t overlook the treetops, roof line and the power lines in order to dust the fields. Market sensing plans and preparation are only complete once you’ve had a safe landing with your research and credibility intact.

While planning and preparation are basics for any product management activity, do you find yourself missing the target and spraying the wrong field due to incomplete techniques or lack of ground support? If so, are you setting realistic personal and team goals that include measurable milestones? Make your goals achievable and prioritize what’s most important. For example, if you lack real information on why sales haven’t materialized, try conducting win/loss analysis. For some insights on win/loss see the Strategic Product Manager and On Product Management. If you aren’t connecting with economic buyers, are you sure who they are? David Meerman Scott wrote; “Basing your work on buyer personas prevents you from sitting on your butt in your comfortable office just making stuff up.”  In both of these examples, discussing the right approach is what’s important.

Finally, ground support (a.k.a. internal resources) is key to supporting your efforts before and after market sensing. Do you regularly connect with sales engineers, customer support, client relations, development and others to include all aspects of those who interact with your customers, prospects and market? Do you ask for their input in reviewing your plans? As time and resources are always a factor, product management should be creative in finding ways for team members to share the experience.

As product management and its leadership adopt precision in market sensing, they will build internal and external credibility and provide a softer landing when credible market information is used to make product decisions.

If you like the post, please comment. If you’d like to connect with Jim, he may be reached on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jbhprivate[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Providing value

Previous posts have discussed the word ‘value’ as a verb — the act of appreciating, respecting or esteeming others. However, when it comes to providing value, words like worth, importance or significance apply.

What are you doing to provide value to your organization? What significance do you bring to the table? As a leader, how do you inspire your people to give their best to your cause? These questions should coarse the minds of all leaders, especially during difficult times.

This topic is admittedly broad reaching and sufficient answers are well outside the bounds of one blog post. However, when it comes to providing value from a leadership perspective, my good friend Art Petty takes this complex topic and simplifies it into 5 Simple Rules To Be A Great Leader:

  1. Surround yourself with great people
  2. Provide them with challenging opportunities
  3. Expect the extraordinary
  4. Work like crazy to provide support
  5. Stay out of the way until you’re needed.

You have a great opportunity to add significant value as a leader in your company. Look for ways to put these rules into practice today.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are in a prime position to provide value to their organizations. One the most effective ways to be the star of your company is to become an expert at market sensing. To the extent you guide your company to create and sell the right products and services for your specific market, you will become the hero of your organization.


Understanding your market

Is the discipline of product management relevant outside the sphere of technology products? How big does a company have to grow before it needs a product manager? Do organizations that create products — but do not sell them — need product management? My answers: yes, one and yes respectively.  The following recent experiences illustrate my answers (please pardon my excessive use of first-person narrative):

  • Non-technology: I had a conversation with my brother — a cattle rancher — about a major change he’s considering with his operations. We talked at length about the changes he’s contemplating, why he wants to change and the potential roadblocks he will face. We concluded that before he makes the final decision he needs to understand how the changes will affect his operations and make sure they point toward a viable market. Personal note: My father (also a cattle rancher) spoke often about the importance of “hitting the market.” Even though he sells cattle (a commodity) only a few times a year, he appreciates marketing. Happy birthday Dad!
  • Company size: During a long drive this past weekend my wife and I had a great conversation about a new business she’s considering. She asked me questions like “how will I know there’s anyone to buy the product?” and “how do you find out what people really want?” After miles of engaging conversation I smiled at her and said “honey, you need a product manager.” We talked about what we will do in the next several weeks to gain insight and gather data about this new market she wants to pursue. I told her it’s called “market sensing.” It’s clear to me that no matter the size of your company, you need someone who listens to and understands the market.
  • Non-profit organizations: Groups, institutions and organizations that create products and services for the benefit of others need to understand their markets even if they do not sell their goods. Yesterday I was talking to a good friend of mind about his experience with helping his church. He told me he uses a product management tool to get feedback from others to improve their programs. His service has had a positive effect on his congregation. My church has a significant product management team working on products and services that will never be sold but will have a major impact on millions of people throughout the world. In both instances, understanding the market (though ‘market’ is not necessarily the term they use) is key to their success in improving lives and enriching individuals.

If you 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 instilled in product management. To succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, you need to understand your market.

The Product Management Perspective: As product managers you already know the importance of what I’ve written here. Help me spread the word!


Guest Post: The Yin-Yang of Product Management — Market Sensing

Today’s post comes from Jim Holland. Jim’s passion is product management and product marketing. With over 20 years of technology industry experience, he has a fresh and current perspective in market sensing best practices, with significant experience defining and launching products in the application lifecycle, mobile, and enterprise software markets. Enjoy the post and don’t hesitate to tweet your comments to Jim directly.


I am going through the steps of entering the blogging community with my own blog. Michael knows this and asked if I’d like to test that waters with a guest posting. As a product management leader, I have learned that everything great about product management starts with Market Sensing.

To me market sensing is more than market research or analysis, digging through data, customer call reports, sales requests or analysts notes. For me, Market Sensing is “a process of planning, discovering, organizing and internally understanding market insight to validate decisions based on real evidence and market need.”

Market Sensing is the balance and unification of a product’s beginning, life and success.

yin-yangTo illustrate the balance that each product manager should undertake, let’s compare it to the concept of Yin-Yang. Found in numerous cultures throughout the world, Yin-Yang represents the ancient Chinese understanding of how things work. The outer circle represents everything, while the two inner shapes within the circle represent the interaction of two energies, called yin often depicted in black and yang usually in white, which cause everything to happen. Just as things in life are not completely black or white, neither is product management and the leadership it provides.

Using this analogy, Market Sensing is the outer circle. Many product manager’s fixate on the outer circle and how or what a product should be. We treat products as if they require perfection to be accepted by the market. If not, we think it reflects on us and our inabilities. We chase elusive feature thoughts, and use gut instinct in its pursuit of perfection. In looking for answers, we often overlook or place a limited value on Market Sensing. Product management must acquire a Yin-Yang founded on Market Sensing. I believe there are two components that drive market sensing success.  One part is proactive, the Yin, and the other reactive, the Yang.

To create a Yin–Yang in Product Management, we have to balance the proactive and reactive elements of what we do each day. Some of the proactive processes I’ve used to keep the Yin in place include:

  • Customer interviews – are a great way to connect. Kristin Zhivago’s article on how to interview customers adds some insights that you may have forgotten.
  • Virtual focus and advisory groups – Here’s a list of the Top 10 Things to Do when conducting a virtual session.
  • Surveys – provide insight, but go a step further asking for real customer feedback. Ideascope is a great tool to capture, rank and prioritize what’s important to customers.
  • Win/Loss Analysis – if you do it well, it goes beyond all the sales stuff and gets to the heart of what a customer or non-buyer thinks. Stewart Rogers from Ryma has some great ideas.

As a reminder of the Yang, try to limit to the following:

  • Development generated requirements – are nice, but if you aren’t leading the development of all requirements as a product manager, someone else will.
  • Chasing Sales – if you are chasing the latest big deal, you’ll never win unless that’s your business model.
  • CEO epiphanies – if your boss says, “The CEO had a great idea on the way to the office.” Respectfully ask if the idea is founded on market evidence, and was validated by those in the daily commute.
  • Gut Instinct – as a product management leader, guessing, ideas, opinions, and other randomness won’t work. You need market-based insight and facts.

How can Product Manager’s and the leader do a better job at Market Sensing? By creating an approach similar to Yin-Yang.

As a leader in product management, it is your obligation to be the leader for sound decisions. Market Sensing best practices provide the foundation of sound decisions. Creating a market sensing process takes time and effort, both of which will pay dividends as you engage in your role as product manager and leader.

If you like the post, please comment. Until my blog www.marketsensing.com is launched, please tweet at Jim_Holland or drop me an email at hollandj[at]rymatech[dot]com. If you’d like to hear and see what I’ve shared in the past, please view Market Sensing – Anticipating Market Problems and Market Sensing 201 – What Processes Work for You?

The Product Management Perspective (as Mike would say): As the product manager who uses a balanced market sensing process, you will create and sustain products with a Yin-Yang like focus. It will amaze you as you create a new level of credibility internally, and confidently deliver to the market those products founded on real market evidence and information. Create and use your Product Management Yin-Yang as the foundation to strengthen your leadership.

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Market Sensing survey

How well do you know the markets your products serve? What methods do you employ to gather market inputs? Does your market sensing process measure up?

Market Sensing is the process of gaining a profound understanding of the market by capturing market input such as enhancement requests, win/loss reports, analyst reports, market research, competitive analysis, etc.

You are invited to take a survey that asks key questions regarding effective market sensing. The results of the survey will be shared at a webinar scheduled for January 14th where you will have the opportunity to learn more about effective market sensing.

The Product Management Perspective: Capturing market input effectively is one of the most important roles for which product managers are responsible. The survey provides an opportunity to give your feedback this important topic. It will take you less than five minutes and the composite results will provide useful information for the product management community.


Solving problems – creating opportunities

Think about someone for whom you have a tremendous amount of respect. What are the characteristics that draw you to that person? Most likely he or she has the ability to plow through difficult circumstances and come out on top; to learn from mistakes and create successful outputs. Successful people solve problems and create opportunities.

When times get tough, and problems seem to abound, remember these cogent words of Thomas Edison: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

The Product Management Perspective: A central component to solving problems is problem statements. Well-thought-out problem statements have the potential to create new and exciting opportunities for your products. The interesting thing about problem statements — as compared with inputs (Enhancement Requests, Call Reports, Market Research, etc.) and outputs (Requirements, MRD/PRDs, etc.) — is that product managers are left to do these on their own. They do not have pressure from sales people as they might with capturing some of the inputs. They do not get feedback from the development and QA teams as they do with requirements and MRD/PRDs.

Problem statements might be the only output from product management that is truly their own. Product managers who understand their markets well, filter the inputs effectively and create compelling problem statements will increase their success at producing great products.

Disclosure: The ideas for this post came from an invigorating conversation this morning with my friend and colleague Stewart Rogers.

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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.