Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Embrace, then apply

What was the last training or career development session you attended? How long did it take to put into practice the things you learned? Conversely, how long did it take to forget the details of the information conveyed in the training?

No matter how good a training session or how compelling the information conveyed, if you do not apply what you have learned the value will be lost. The concept of embrace, then apply is critical to the practical application of any training or educational programs. To convince participants to embrace the ideas taught in a training session, the instructor has to deliver compelling content that is applicable to their daily lives. The presenter must establish credibility with the attendees and deliver the content effectively, thus creating a need for them to adopt it.

Once participants have embraced the concepts taught they need to apply them to their work; the more quickly the better. If possible the company or people responsible for the training should have a follow-up mechanism through which they can provide additional services and direction. Many companies are skilled at delivering compelling training, but lack the resources or abilities to help their customers implement the training they have received. In such cases the participants are left to their own to implement what they have learned or to find another company/person who can help them implement it. Helping others implement what they have learned presents a great opportunity for individuals and services companies to increase the value of their training.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers play a key role in helping their teams to embrace product vision and direction. In many cases they also have to help executives do the same. They must learn to present their roadmaps with passion and work to convince their teams they are headed in the right direction. When the teams are on board they will apply their efforts to creating and launching successful products.


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.


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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Fixing the conversion-poor company

Conversion-poor companies, as defined in The Innovation Value Chain, most often generate good ideas but they do not screen or develop the ideas properly. Great ideas often die in the budget process due to fear of the unknown. Managers hesitate to take risks and instead emphasize the incremental and certain, not the novel. The inability to convert ideas into products/services can create a risk-averse and bureaucratic process that slows or stops execution.

Companies that lack the ability to move ideas forward to the next level should focus on two innovation practices: multichannel funding and safe havens. Creating multiple channels for funding will help companies avoid the situation where a good manager doesn’t like a particular new idea or doesn’t consider it good enough to use his or her resources to fun it. Other business units can use their funds to open up different options–from discretionary seed money up to full-scale venture funds.

Safe havens provide a way to shield new ideas and potential businesses from the short-term thinking and budget constraints that occupy many organizations that focus on short-term gains. Safe havens can be critical to the conversion of good ideas into profitable products and services.

For more information on this topic, see Leadership and innovation and Identifying the weak link in product innovation.

The Product Management Perspective: Much of the ‘meat’ of converting ideas into products comes in the form of features and requirements, the building blocks of products. The extent to which product managers understand and articulate ideas effectively will determine, to a large degree, the success of their companies. Major ideas are often driven at the highest levels of the company; however, success comes as a result of implementing the correct steps along the way.