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Effective Product Management

Let your customers lead you to success.

If you want to be an effective product manager there is one thing that you desperately need to understand. See, most product managers come from either marketing, or the sales engineering parts of an organization. Frankly this does not give you the tools necessary to become an effective product manager. It gives you product understanding, but not the whole picture.

Now the concept I am going to discuss is not original, and it is the main focus of the Product Management classes taught by Pragmatic Marketing. If you are looking for a Product Management class I can't recommend their classes highly enough. Some of it is just good common sense, but the rest of it is just pure gold. So much so that I am of the opinion that it should be a required class for all executives, whether they are in product management or not, because the class really teaches how to make sound business decisions.

Now the concept of product management is simple and elegant, yet ends up being made far too complex by most. The sole job of a product manager is to 'own' the product from a business stand point. This means that the life cycle decisions on the product belong solely to the product manager. In some organizations the product management can be handled by a team, looking at things from an inbound (dealing with product developers) and outbound (dealing with customers, sales, analysts etc.) perspective. In general this methodology is usually not the most effective. This is because of that oh so important thing.... as a product manager you need to understand that "your opinion, all though interesting, is irrelevant." This is also true of the executives, sales staff, and everyone else 'inside' the organization. Frankly, the answer for what's best for your product does not lie within your organization, it lays outside the organization.

Now I am not saying that there shouldn't be inside an outside product managers. What I am saying is that the decision should be made by one person, and that person needs to be as close to the customers as possible.

The concept here is really simple, the product manager simply must get to know the customers. The product manager needs to walk in the customers shoes as much as possible. Dropping in on your whale customer to do a road map presentation doesn't count. How can a product manager learn and understand how the customer uses the product if all they do is present slides to the customer and listen to minor gripes.

The effective product manager understands that he/she can hear "opinions" about the product. But the true product manager sits down and watches the customer use the product as part of their daily life for hours, a day or several days if you can manage it. It is only then that you can truly see that perhaps there are too many clicks in your UI, or the ergonomic design that you spent $4 Million developing gets in the way of it's most common use. Quite simply, the customer can't tell you what you product needs, they have to show you. Remember, your product has to effectively solve a problem for people to want to spend money on it. For them to keep using it, it has to continue solving the problem without frustrating them in the process. This means understanding the developing needs if your customer over time.

So now you know, the salesman's opinion doesn't matter, the executives opinion doesn't matter, the product managers opinion doesn't matter. The facts that you learn from the customer are what matters. But how does the product manager tell the CEO that his opinion is irrelevant. Quite simply, with facts. Instead of saying "Well I think that...." the product manager should say "On my visit to 5 customers I learned that..." Just the facts. A product manager should never say "I think that..." See by visiting the customers and getting to know how the customers live with your product, you as a product manager know the facts about how your customer uses your product. How is any executive going to argue with facts like that. Facts can limit (and hopefully eliminate) executive meddling in your products.

Lastly, fear the committee. Product decisions should never be made by a committee. It is okay for the product manger to have an internal product advisory committee, and to take feedback from other product managers. But ultimately there should be a single product manager making the decisions about the product. The product manager that spends the majority of their time interacting DIRECTLY with the customers. That product manager will, of course be making those decisions based upon knowing how the customers use the product. Knowing what the customers need from the product. Solving the customers problems. Because ultimately sales (and the entire organization) is successful when the product manager listens to, and understands the customer, not their own opinion.


Acknowledge Your Limits

There is nothing more frustrating than encountering someone who holds a job/title/position that is outside of their capabilities, and then doesn't acknowledge their limitations.

Listen, I get it, good for you, you are making the big bucks, or at least bigger bucks than you would be. But when you have to work with other people that are relying on you to be able to do your job, just come clean and tell them that you are struggling or that you don't know how to handle the situation.

By shrouding the fact that you are limited, you are doing 3 things

  • You are making everyone's job harder
  • You are losing credibility with the people you are working with
  • You are missing out on an excellent opportunity to learn

That last one is really the key point isn't it. No one is going to bother to teach you the stuff you need to learn if you never acknowledge the fact that you need help. In most cases it is simply a case of saying "Hey I am a little confused on what I should be doing here, it's a litle outside my expertise. Can you help me with it?"


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Hello world!

It is 8:36PM Pacific on 3/29/2011. I am entering my first blog entry. All things considered this is rather uninteresting. I do intend to do something interesting with it. But that will be later, much later. I do have comments currently disabled, will enable them in the future.

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