Category Archives: Leadership

Poke the Box… Product Management

Well, the hiatus is over. While some of you may have recognized that I haven’t blogged in a while and Twitters performance improved without @jim_holland in your face, I’ve been listening, learning and watching the product management and product marketing community at large.

One of the things I’ve learned, is there’s a few of us out there that like to “Poke the Box.” If you haven’t read Seth Godin’s latest rant, I challenge you, like Seth, to pick up a copy and read it.

While on a recent trip, I attended and participated in the Minnesota Product Camp. I spent some time with Barry and Jennifer Doctor while in town and I stole (asked permission to read) a copy of Poke the Box.

It’s a great challenge, rant and manifesto meant for product management and those innovating. So what is poke the box? It’s about producing something that’s scare.

The concept originates from a buzzer box built by Seth’s uncle. It was metal, had lights and switches and begged to be poked and messed with by his young cousin. Seth confides, “Life is a buzzer box. Poke it.”

As I read and absorbed, here’s what I heard and thought.

The Initiator – Product management and innovators at large have to be the initiator and instigator. We know that if you’re not, someone else in your organization is. It may be a group that has clout like sales or an executive. Do you want some other group that has less market awareness and understanding to initiate something new? Are you the initiator in your organization or the person waiting for permission to move forward? As Seth describes, “We can’t wait for initiative to be handed to you, take it.” How does an initiator get started? Seth shares, “Excellence isn’t about working hard, it’s about initiative and deciding what’s worth doing.” Who’s better qualified than product professionals to decide what’s worth doing? Are you initiating or is your organization holding you back? Take Seth’s advice if the organization is the issue: “1) Ignore the book (for now) or 2) Start looking for a new gig. ASAP!”

If it’s not your organization, then what’s the problem?

Product Manager or Product Starter – Recently at PCampMN, John Mansour from Proficientz said, “Product management is not a factory, but you could be outsourced.” I’m sure you’re thinking, “Now hold on John!” Well it’s true and I agree. If you are managing products and not starting products, then you may be outsourced or replaced.

Product starters are the ones that poke the box. “Innovation is mysterious and inspiration is largely unpredictable” explains Seth. Most people think innovation is hard. It’s not. “While there are ideas all around us, we have to replace the fear of failure or rejection and replace it with initiative, innovation and starting. Along with starting comes, finishing.” This includes expressing a roadmap, articulating it, believing it can happen and have some passion about it as you share it. There’s some great post on releases, roadmaps and vision and product managers and innovation by Saeed Khan and Scott Sehlhorst respectively.

Poking the Box – means action. It means that you must “insist, push, create, cajole and launch” and  ask why in internal conversations, and get out of your seat and the office and get face-to-face with customers and others in markets that have the experience or can support the poking process. Using your product starting skills, you will discover, validate, refine and often park ideas. While discovery and validation are the actions that come from any insight and decisions, don’t get caught up in the “never ending” cycle of “have I discovered and validated enough?” It’s a product management trap and will consume your time, energy and damage your credibility if it lingers without a purpose. Once you begin poking the box, set goals, targets for when you’ll start, end and decide or not. “Poking requires tact. Without a why, without an explanation, it’s hard to give ideas the momentum they need to spread” comments Godin.

Product Starting – is a way of life in product management but won’t start without you. Why? You are the starter, owner and finisher. Without your guidance, innovation languishes or starves from lack of leadership. Why does innovation get stuck? Godin confides, “One reason organizations get stuck is that they stick with their A players so long that they lose their bench.”

If you lead product management, are you developing all your talent and utilizing everyone on the bench? Do you spend time expanding the team’s talents or limiting them? Do you use mentors to strengthen and grow your bench? If not, why?

If you’re in product management, are you the “A” player” thought of most often as someone who starts new products along with managing the ones you have? If not, what do you lack that keeps you from starting? Do you sit on the bench hoping the team wins for you or do you get involved and get some valuable playing time and experience?

A number of years ago, I was talking with another product manager about a new product he was leading. I recognized this product would satisfy a series of newly discovered problems in the market at that time if it was coupled with some existing products and we could use some technology from a partner. How did I know that? I had my innovation radar enabled and was willing to ask questions, go beyond my normal boundaries and willing to incite thoughts and actions to innovate a new solution.

As I think about Poke the Box, I recognize that to some extent, Seth is poking at us. Product management has to consistently poke, experiment and experience things to produce something scare. What’s scare? It’s not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of leadership and capabilities to “insist, push, create, cajole and launch.” How will you begin to poke the box? It happens with forward motion.

Thanks to Seth Godin for keeping it real and dishing out some for product professionals. I’d like to hear your ideas and what you do to innovate and start products. Please feel free to comment and share this via Twitter or LinkedIn. Poke the Box – Product Management: a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-md #prodmgmt #leadership

Your Presentation Sucks…

While we all have more to do on a weekend than review blog post and presentations, I couldn’t pass up sharing the classic Why Most Presentations Suck. Many product management and product marketing professionals find themselves fretting over presentations, content and delivery, while that’s not the biggest issue.

Next week, I’ll be posting on Removing the Suck Factor from Your Communications.

Why Aha! Turns into Oh Crap! in Product Management

How often have you heard the following remark? “I stepped out of the shower this morning and…” or “I was walking out of Starbuck’s when I got this killer idea…”

Sound familiar? Were the examples too close to home? As product management and product marketing professionals, managing and translating the “Aha moments” can be a full-time job or at least a full-time distraction.

How do you handle the Aha! moments?

From Aha! to Oh Crap!
Product management and product marketing have to know and understand the difference between the Aha and the Oh Crap.  It’s a fine balance. Great ideas openly flow in companies surfacing from internal and some external sources. While some may have value, what’s the difference and how do I know?

Scott Sehlhorst, author of the Tyner Blain blog recently shared with me, “In product management, you have to see the big picture view. Product Management has to be founded in data, data and more data.”

While Aha’s may be great ideas, ask yourself the following questions to discover if your Aha! is worth pursuing or is headed for Oh Crap-City.

  • Where did the Aha! originate?
  • Does the Aha! have supporting data?
  • Does this Aha! add any value to your product strategy or roadmap?
  • Does it overcome any competitive threats?
  • Who’s willing to buy your Aha?
  • Will this Aha! cause any disruption in the company’s vision?
  • Will the Aha! affect any cadence in teams such as development, engineering and marketing?
  • What monetary or internal business value does the Aha! possess?

Aha! – Not a Replacement for Visibility
In my post, “Was that just an Aha! Moment?” I shared the insights from an interview conducted by Art Petty. Art shared, “Product management leaders often struggle in gaining visibility with the executive team because they have not proven they can lead the products and have relinquished ownership to other departments or even worse, decision by committee.”

I’ve often experienced product marketing and product management folks who get swept up in conversations or what if’s that gain momentum and materialize as Aha! moments.

Without an active connection with customers, markets and fresh data, we struggle to build products of value and gain influence at any level.  With an absence of data, influence and credibility, we often resort to Aha! moments that lack insight and evidence. This causes an Oh Crap scenario.

While product management and product marketing will always work in environments where ideas often overshadow real market value and Aha’s are rewarded as innovation, to gain influence.

“The power of influence is perhaps the most important tool in your professional toolkit. It should be a skill that you are constantly working to improve. It blends in a number of your personal traits including likability, compassion, empathy and understanding. But it also requires that you put the effort on your end to be able to justify anything you might need” shared Stewart Rogers in his post Authority vs. Influence.

 I couldn’t agree more. How have you managed the Aha! moments in your organization? Hopefully you:

  1. Can visualize the Big Picture
  2. Represent real problems for real people
  3. Build the right kind of influences
  4. Keep Aha! in check

Please feel free to comment and Tweet this: @jim_holland -Why Aha! Turns into Oh Crap! in Product Management http://wp.me/pqeWU-ko #prodmgmt #prodmgmt

OnBoarding Product Management – Mind the Gap

Recently I was talking with Michael Hopkin, author of Lead on Purpose. I asked Mike, “How often do you see product management and product marketing leaders doing a good job of on-boarding new team members?” His response, “Not often enough.”
I thought about the signs that emerged on train platforms in the London Underground. How can product leaders Mind the Gap and ensure successful on-boarding of newly hired team members?
To understand your responsibilities when on-boarding new team members, read more here.

Please Check Your Baggage…

I’ve been traveling more and noticed when I fly, that people drag a lot of baggage onto planes. They are overloaded, exceeding size and weight limits, and doing everything within their power not to check baggage and potentially incur additional costs.

While walking through an airport last week, I started to think about how product leaders often carry baggage. When you think about baggage, we should first consider the intangible things that get in the way.

Product leaders deal with tangible (real and concrete) things and intangibles (indifferent or obscured) everyday and should pack their luggage with things they personally and professional value most.  It also has to be of value to their organization as well. Let me illustrate.

Last week, I left home with a few extras items packed in my baggage. I packed some food items that I like. However, when going through security at my local airport, I was asked the infamous question, “Who’s bag is this?” by the TSA officer.

I was moved to the side and politely asked by the officer if they could rummage inside my bag looking for anything suspicious. I agreed and the search began. I had packed a harmless box of Blueberry Pop Tarts (a personal weakness) and the foil wrappers sent the scanner into a frenzy.

The Pop Tarts were removed and everyone in line watched as they were individually scanned to ensure that they weren’t the exploding variety, but the frosted ones.

While I was a bit embarrassed, I still had my Pop Tarts and made my flight without a problem. While fruit flavored pastries may be more desirable, how often do we pack our bags with things that are unnecessary or intangible and of no value as a product leader.

In Stephen Drains post Take Control of Your Own Baggage, he shares, “Leadership starts from the inside – knowing how we’re wired, how we interact with others and empowering and mentoring others to do what needs to be done. But leadership is also about taking responsibility for our own baggage. You know, those issues, whether work or personal that we all carry around.”

I often blog about the strategic elements of product leadership and how we can become more valued and effective. I’ve realized that the “leadership” aspect of product management comes from inside.

Might I recommend the following to help you take control of your own baggage and to better pack what you need.

  1. At the start of each day, find some time to reflect for 15 -30 minutes on what you have packed in your bag and what your missing.
  2. Make a list of what you’ve packed and what you need to unload, add or replace.
  3. Discuss the items with a friend, mentor or peer who knows you well. Validating the contents of your bag is important.
  4. Commit to working on one item this week.

As you take control of your baggage each day, I hope you’ll find things to add, discard or place into it. If you have some advice for other product leaders, please share them via your comments.