Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Technology is not enough

Just because you port or transition your product (software, hardware, etc.) to a model that is new/up-and-coming/exciting/proven/<fill in the blank>/ you have no guarantee it will succeed; technology is not enough to make a mediocre idea succeed. You must understand the market. If your product or idea is not what potential customers are looking it does not matter what technology you use to roll it out. If the market you are seeking to service has no need for what you are rolling out, the technology irrelevant.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is now a proven way of providing software to companies. SaaS is gaining increasing acceptance and viability for many software companies, and customers appreciate the fact that much of the work and worry of software management  is now handled by the vendor. However (and this is a BIG however), if the ideas you are promoting and selling as software are not needed in the market — i.e. if the software is not market-driven — porting it to SaaS (or any other model/technology) will not save it; in fact it will complicate it.

Last year Steve Johnson wrote an excellent article called Stop Perfuming the Pig that goes in-depth on this topic. Steve says: “No amount of perfume can overcome the stench of a technology product that people don’t need.” Amen. You have to understand the market and make sure the market needs what you are building.

The Product Management Perspective: These ideas fit squarely in the realm of product management; after all, the product manager is the voice of the market. One of (if not THE) most important responsibilities of a product manager is to have a profound understanding of the market, customers and potential customers his or her software targets. If you are not spending time doing market sensing, take a close look at where you are spending your time, clear up your calendar, and schedule time to understand the market. There are many effective ways to do this and they vary by industry, so you will need to figure out what works.The important thing is that you do it.



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!


The LOVE of leadership: Listen

As discussed in an previous post, it might make some uncomfortable to use the word ‘love’ in the context of leadership. However, the practice of love in the context of leadership is both powerful and necessary. Steve Farber describes this clearly in his audio book Extreme Leadership: In Pursuit of the OS!M. What does it mean to love the people you lead? Many applications exist and all are important. My definition for the acronym LOVE embodies the actions necessary to cultivate positive behaviors that lead to successful results, and includes the following actions:

  • L – Listen
  • O – Observe
  • V – Value
  • E – Experience

The action word listen holds the key to understanding other people. By listening to others you appreciate what they are going through and in time learn to identify with them. When you listen with real intent, people start to trust you and they open up. Listening opens up the portals of communication and exchange through conversation.

Crucial Conversations

The book Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high — written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler — provides excellent direction on the importance listening has on effective dialog. They advocate the following actions to improve the effectiveness of listening:

  • Be sincere: To discover important facts and stories you need to invite people to open up. When you invite people to share their views, you have to be sincere. When you ask people to open up, be prepared to listen.
  • Be curious: Regardless of the behavior others exhibit, you need to show interest. If they are mad, ask questions (in a nice way) to try and get to the root of the problem. When tensions are high let curiosity, not adrenaline, shape your behavior.
  • Be patient: As a leader you encounter many different personalities; some are easier to get along with than others. Exercise patience when dealing with other people. Encourage them to share their feelings and ideas and show genuine interest in who they are and what they believe in.

Effective listening requires effort. It’s an important step in understanding others and convincing them you truly care. The 2:1 ratio fits nicely: listen twice as much as you talk, and listen with twice as much intent.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to love their customers. One of the best ways to show customers you care about them is to truly listen to them. Too often product managers hear the words coming out of a customer’s mouth and immediately start talking about how their product will solve the problem, rather than listening to find the root of the problem and seeking answers. Most product managers understand that customers are not always right. However, it is always in your best interest to listen to them and understand what they are saying.