Category Archives: Agile

Losing Product Leadership

Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing how product management and product marketing loses and regains leadership with Scott Sehlhorst and Joshua Duncan.

From a previous post, That Sucking Sound, I described a recurring problem I see.

Namely, that product leaders are being pulled in all directions and subsequently the pressure builds to where they describe themselves as product administrators or product janitors.


As you savor some needed downtime, link to The Product Marketing Podcast – Losing Product Leadership and listen to what we have to share.

Once you’ve listened to the podcast a few times, find some time to look at how you will change your direction in the near year and focus and execute on the things that are most important to product management and marketing.


The Evolution of Sales Enablement

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades, sales reps have become more adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them solutions  – generally complex combinations of products and services” confides Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon and Nicholas Toman in The End of Solution Sales.

Let’s face it, buyer’s have become better prepared and use every available resource before calling you as a vendor. “In fact, a recent Corporate Executive Board study of more than 1,400 B2B customers found that those customers completed, on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision – researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking pricing, and so on – before even having a conversation with a supplier” shares Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

I can validate this as I speak with dozens of buyer’s each week and when I ask, “How did you find the vendors to short list or talk to?” I hear a wide range of response from, “We Googled some phrases associated with our problems...” to “We had a set of requirements and an approach that covered technology, companies, price and other key areas and we researched from there…” or “We know other companies and we called a few to see what they’d done and what vendors they reviewed.


Let’s face it, the buying process will never be the same. Sales enablement is evolving and product marketing, has to evolve with it.

“The best salespeople are replacing solution selling with insight selling – a strategy that demands a radically different approach across several area of the purchasing process” shared Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

Product Marketing has a great opportunity to evolve as sales evolves and continue to refine its planning, delivery, style and process to impact traditional sales teams. If insight selling emerges, will your traditional tools and efforts be viable?

Adamson, Dixon and Toman further suggest that high performing sales reps will:

– Look for agile organizations in a state of flux, rather than ones with a clear understanding of their needs.

– Seek out a very different set of stakeholders, preferring skeptical change agents over friendly informants

– Coach those change agents on how to buy, rather than quizzing them on about their company’s purchasing process

As solution selling evolves into insight selling, product marketing has to establish itself as the body of knowledge and this knowledge has to be based on an outside-in view.

How will you be able to tell stories and share market insights in support of sales if you don’t understand buyer roles, the buying process, personas and what change agents are influencing the buying process.

“Unlike traditional solution sellers, these star performers lead with insights meant to upend a customer’s approach to its business, and they aren’t afraid to push customers out of their comfort zone” confides Adamson, Dixon and Toman.

It doesn’t matter if it’s solution selling or insight selling, product marketing has to coach sales and potential buyers on how to buy. Remember, if you aren’t enabling sales, sales will enable themselves.

I acknowledge Harvard Business Review and the authors for their contribution to this post. The opinions are mine and do not reflect those of HBR. To read more on insight selling, please follow this link. Looking for new ways to enable sales? Check out the New Rules of Sales Enablement, by Jeff Ernst.

I welcome any comments, opinions and feedback on how sales is evolving and what product marketing is doing to keep pace.

That Sucking Sound…

While we all know that product leaders in product management and product marketing can be pulled in all directions, I’m hearing more and more sucking sounds that indicate it’s more of a pull than I thought.

Recently, I was talking to a product manager and he said, “Man, it’s been a tough week. I’ve been designing the new user experience for our product, I’m a referee for the product team and I’m trying to manage my day job at the same time.” Immediately, I heard the sucking sound.

You know. The sucking sound that’s made when product leaders forget to lead and other priorities and disruption suck out what’s important in product leadership.

Just like the example of my friend, I recognize that product teams are sucked into inside out thinking, are pressured into becoming the UX guru, but when did it become fashionable for product management to become the delivery person for user experience and not customer experiences?

When did product marketing become the referee for inside-out thinking and not the leader of outside-in views and what’s really going on in the market.

Not too long ago everyone said “Product management is the CEO of the product.” Now, we’re lucky if product management is recognized as an extension to an administrative function in the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, the life of a product leader isn’t easy, but if we don’t get back to our true roots and bring an understanding of the market and customers in from the cold, the sucking sounds will continue, until your organization starts believing you are sucking at what you do and are expendable.

It’s not time to stand up and shout, “I’m a product leader,” it’s time to show up.

So, what’s it going to be product leaders?

If you like, dislike, agree or disagree with the post, please comment.

If you’d like to share it on Twitter, feel free to use, That Sucking Sound, a new post by @jim_holland – Time to step up #prodmgmt, #prodmktg, leadership

Want to share it on LinkedIn or Google+? That Sucking Sound… A new post and call to action by Jim Holland @jim_holland

Politics and Product Teams

Recently at Seattle Product Camp 2010, I led a discussion with Jennifer Doctor, a senior product marketing professional from Sage on the topic of Politics and Product Teams.

Jennifer and I knew there would be a mixture of product management and product marketing professionals, both leadership (manage teams and portfolios), and those who contribute (manage products and strategy). It was our goal to represent both and offer a top-down, bottom up view of how politics influence product teams.

The discussion was excellent, and the feedback from the standing room only crowd was very lively and engaging. At the beginning of the discussion, we all agreed that politics don’t always have a negative side and quite often provide a platform for improved communications, working relationships and changes in organizations.

In this post, we’ll look at the warning signs and maneuvering through politics from a leadership perspective. Jennifer will discuss the issues from a contributors perspective.

What are the warning sign of politics in your organization? Those at the product camp shared:

“I see the empire builders working on their agenda and not what’s important.”

“Disruptive innovation surfaces with no alignment to the company vision.”

“There’s visible  favoritism that impact decisions.”

“When communications go dormant or there’s too much useless noise, I’m suspect.” 

“We hear executives openly disagree with peers on key issues.”

“Individuals often have personal agendas and disregard team or company dynamics.”

“People hoard information on a consistent basis and won’t provide key data for decisions.”

“It’s evident that there is a  fear of turf wars.”

“A lot of conversations and decisions happen through back channels.”

“There’s visible tension and internal competition across stakeholders.”  

“There’s a lack of trust in key areas of the company or with key leadership.”

“Inefficient analysis is used to rush decisions and it’s rushed by a few.”

No matter what warning signs you see or hear, product management leadership has to constantly be aware, prepare for and effectively maneuver teams through any situation. 

Maneuvering through Politics  

Before product camp, I asked several senior executives from different industries to share some ideas on how product management can effectively prepare and maneuver through politics. Here’s what they said:

“Don’t get sidetracked in your day-to-day activities and forget to use your product management radar. You have to keep your head up and listen constantly.”

“Align yourself with strong senior leaders who are connected and can provide you with current information on the political climate.” (Read my prior post on The Executive of Influence.)

“If possible, maintain a seat at the executive table or have a strong advocacy with someone who does.”

“Make sure your team is accountable and measurable, and executive management understands and values what’s being measured.”

The executives I spoke with really value product managements leadership and want you to be more active and visible. The outside-in evidence and market validation often dispels any political related actions. How does product management build value and use this to counteract politics?

Building Value in Product Management

From my experiences, product management’s value increases when the following happens:

  • Product management has an established set of methods that the team follows, aligns to and uses. The methods don’t need to be complex, but simple, actionable, repeatable and measurements created, communicated and managed.
  • Product management must be a consistent resource that relies on real data and not gut instinct.
  • Product management must be measurable and the team knows how it is being measured, executives and other stakeholders are made aware and the team is rewarded for its positive contribution.
  • Product management must be nimble in its actions, organizational structure and willingness to lead change. We’re you first or last to know your company was going Agile?
  • Product management must be resolute and committed to develop and grow each member of the team and find ways to improve its execution.

A Few Last Words

While politics won’t go away, product management leaders must be prepared, actively work to understand what’s going on, and maneuver their teams through the process. To do this, I would recommend the following:

  • Avoid open forums where ideas and people are criticized. Make meetings purposeful and constructive.
  • Avoid conjecture, speculation and misinformation. Don’t start the conversations, STOP them. 
  • Avoid being the gridlock. Product management is the solution, not the distraction.
  • Avoid gut instinct. Product Management is in a unique position to make decisions based on real customer/market data. Data can squelch political situations. Invest in the facts.
Please leave a comment or share the post with someone in product management. To view the complete product camp presentation and notes, go to the SlideShare link.

Product Management Poker

I’m not a poker player, don’t claim to be one, but I do admit that I’ve seen a few rounds played on TV. I find the strategy, tactics and pressure of a high stakes event interesting and wonder how much time is spent practicing, assessing personal skills, watching other players and creating strategies. 

If you think about it, Product Management is a high stakes event

Two recent experiences prompted the following thought: “What lessons could product management and marketing learn from playing poker?”

I recently participated in Mike Cohn’s Certified SCRUM Product Owner workshop. While all of the workshop was great, the product planning and prioritization exercises were exceptional. I realized this could be adapted to product management and used by leaders and contributors to identify and improve their contribution and value.   

The second experience was a recent meeting with a technology executive. I was invited to talk a company about their product marketing strategy. With limited information about their goals, current state, and needs, I had to quickly ascertain where they were, surface critical goals and provide advice.

I designed the following to guide the conversation and surface the real issues. This is how Product Management Poker surfaced and worked for me.  

  • I created a set of index cards (like the ones below) defining key product marketing activities. If you need some inspiration or ideas, take a look at the Pragmatic Marketing or ZigZag Marketing framework as a guide. For early stage companies, I’d recommend April Dunford’s Marketing Framework.
  • I took a deck of Planning Poker cards to the meeting to support the conversation and stage the prioritization.
  • With the index cards placed on the table in random order, I asked some leading questions such as, “Tell me about your product marketing goals?” “What challenges are you experiencing?” “In your opinion, what areas need the most improvement?”
  • I then passed out a set of planning poker cards (see below) and asked them to prioritize the areas they had identified. While these cards are for estimating, they have the same effect when assessing product management and product marketing effectiveness. (If you aren’t familiar with planning poker, here’s a link)

  • In listen only mode, I watched as they prioritized what they felt was needed. At that point we discussed some approaches and I shared some ideas for their consideration.

The result were immediate and they recognized what was important, where they need to be and a sense of how to get there. Can Product Management Poker work for your organization? Here are a few ideas.

  • Surface team challenges. Do you know if there are challenges with one person or the whole team?
  • Assess your individual skills. Do your capabilities align with organizational goals? 
  • Identify inefficiencies. Do you know what happened with the last product launch? 
  • Guide training. If you had a prioritized list of areas to address, what could you accomplish?

Hopefully, you can envision numerous ways to use Product Management Poker. I’d like your comments, feedback and ideas on how this could improve product managements value. I may be reach at jholland(at) or on Twitter at jim_holland.