Category Archives: product management, product marketing, leadership, technology leadership,

‘Tis the Season… for Conversations and Listening

I was talking with a client this week and when I asked how she was doing, she responded, “‘Tis the Season.” Now we all know that the holidays are around the corner and a New Year upon us. But the “season” she was referring to is the typical mad dash of month-end, quarter-end and year-end. Sometimes all three rolled up into one. For product management and product marketing, it can be a really quiet or crazy time of year. I asked her how the “season” was going and she said, “I’m getting  so much done and I’m finding there’s a lot of people available to talk to.” WOW. Did you hear that product management?

So, in the spirit of the season, here are my gifts to you.

  • Before the end of the month contact a new customer or one coming up for renewal. Let them talk, rant, wish and tell you what they like, dislike, love and despise about your product, support, account representation or company. Have three questions in mind and then call. ~ The outcome will be amazing. Who knows what you will hear and what innovation or changes it will inspire.
  • Take a development counterpart to lunch. Ask them what’s worked this year and what frustrates them most about product management. Listen, don’t debate and see what you hear.
  • Call one customer who has defected. Before you dive into the diatribe of why your product is better, ask them to honestly tell you why they left. Ask them how it’s going and offer a listening ear in the future. Wish them a Happy New Year and be sure to ask what top 3 things are on their list to accomplish next year. ~ You’ll be surprised what you hear.
  • Buy a salesperson a cup of coffee or favorite drink and then ask them what messages they heard and which ones resonate the most. Is it the same positioning you’ve labored over with marketing? ~ You might find a new way to enable sales next year.
  • Schedule 30 minutes with a junior product professional and ask them what they’ve learned this year and how it’s influenced their product management or product marketing success. ~ What can you learn from someone newer to product management?
  • Spend some time with your product management mentor. Ask them to share where they think product management is heading in 2012. ~ Then ask yourself if you’re heading in the same direction.
  • Contact a friend or family member not your age and ask them about their most recent product purchase, what they liked and disliked. Ask them why they bought and the steps they went through. ~ You’ll experience a buying process you weren’t involved in and personas that are new too you. You might use that information next year.
  • Contact a C-level executive over the holidays and ask if you can talk to them about the challenges of 2012. Create 3 questions and then listen. Write (yes, with paper and pen) a note of thanks. ~ See what you learn.
  • Schedule a face-to-face customer meeting out of the office. Now you’re thinking everyone will be on vacation. They won’t be and won’t it be nice to have a conversation while you’re both not looking at your mobile devices. Let them ask questions about your roadmap, product direction and see what happens.

I’d love to hear what you’d add to the gift list of Conversations and Listening. Feel free to share this via Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.  ‘Tis the Season for Conversations & Listening – a new post by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership

Product Management, the New Executive of Influence?

I’ve practiced the discipline, art and science of product management for over twenty years and have personal experience with the good, the bad and the ugly. One of the good things emerging from the profession over the past five or so years has been its executive influence.

What is the Executive of Influence? My personal definition is the person(s) in your company owning or driving strategic influence and possessing certain ownership over its direction. It may be one or more persons and they may be highly visible or someone flying below the radar. No matter who they are or their role, product management and product marketing needs to know and understand these influences, their styles, how to adapt and how to build trust.

Where’s the Influence? – In a poll I conducted earlier this year, I asked a range of product management professionals, executive management (CxO’s) and others, “Who’s the Executive of Influence at Your Company?” The participants could choose from answers that included; CEO, CTO, VP of Engineering/Development, VP Product Management, or Other. The other group is general, but supports important influencers such as a co-founders, architects, board members, etc. While I didn’t ask how many executives of influence were in their organizations, hopefully, you recognize there’s always more than one.

71% of respondents said the CEO was most often identified as the executive of influence. The other 29% were key influences you work with each day including the VP of Product Management. I believe several contributing factors and drivers place product management and product marketing at the forefront of influence.

A Desire to Produce – In Patrick Lencioni’s Five Temptations of a CEO, the most important principle conveyed was “executives must embrace a desire to produce.” By default, CEO’s have the influence, often possess the desire (even a passion), diverse supporting leadership and the supporting cast to produce. How CEO’s manage or delegate this influence depends on their style, background, market-orientation and the trust built with members of the team. Throughout the past decade, the discipline of product management has grown from a contributing position into one of influence within many organizations. As a product professional, have you elevated your contribution and established yourself or your team as an influencer with the CEO?

In the Secrets to Market-Driven Leaders, co-authored by David Meerman Scott, we often see the influence shift. “Evidence shows that entrepreneurs who started the company and who understood buyer problems soon become occupied with the details of running their organization. They no longer focus on buyer problems and building products the market wants to buy, but rather they obsess about the details of managing an ongoing business.”

As product management and product marketing are you the influencing factor who understands buyer problems, can translate, articulate and own this on behalf of the CEO or executive of influence?

The Shift of Influence – Over the past 10 years, it’s become clear that product management has gained more visibility and influence within executive management. In its most recent Annual SurveyPragmatic Marketing reviewed a ten-year trend of where product management reported.

The trend analysis indicates that product management has established influence and visibility and is five (5) times more likely to report directly to the CEO than ten years ago.Another point is product management is an established organization and does not report to sales, marketing or development as it has in the past. Additionally, product management continues to flourish within the organization, where in many situations, it has a seat at the executive table. In his article, “Where does Product Management belong in an organization” Steve Johnson shares, “Many CEOs realize that product management brings process and business savvy to the creation and delivery of products. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen a shift over the years of where product managers report in the organization.” Has product management and product marketing finally established a level of executive influence? If so, how do we sustain and grow this influence?

Building Influence – During a conversation with a CEO and COO recently, the COO said, “To me product management is all about trust and validation.” He then said, “If product management will bring a strategy forward that’s founded on validated information, it creates trust. From that trust, credibility is established.” While we might know this, it’s great the hear it directly from two CxO’s.

How do product professionals capitalize on the opportunity to better influence the organization? You have to refine the way you think, act, adapt and build influence through credibility. If product management and product marketing has established credibility by using repeatable methods, communications and evidence found outside the building, the influence will come.

It’s product management and product marketing’s time to prove itself and stand as a new executive of influence. I welcome your comments, insights and experiences and how you’ve seen product professionals become a key influence.

If you like the post, please share it on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn.  A new post “Product Management, the new Executive of Influence” by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #prodmktg

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.

Essential Pieces for Strategic Product Leadership

In conversations with executives over the past year, I repeatedly hear stories or experience product managers who lack essential elements of product leadership. Not the person leading the team, (although that’s another blog post), but those who lead products.

Whether you manage a single product as a contributor, guide numerous products in a portfolio, or lead a team and strategy for a product line or business unit, product leadership counters most of the tactical issues that surface in product management.

What are the essential pieces in building Strategic Product Leadership? Below are five areas I believe are the pieces to every product leadership puzzle.

 Product Vision – is first on my list. While many executive teams have a high-level vision, it’s product leadership that guides the how, why, when and where of product strategy and makes the vision a reality. Product management has a great influence on product vision. Driving strategy as a leader begins with knowing your markets, defining a product vision that’s realistic, communicating this vision and investigating what you don’t know.

Market Authority – is second on my list of essential pieces. Without it, product management’s value is relegated to tactical tasks related to product definition and delivery. Market authority is a continuous action and is built from many sources including; customers, industry events, analysts, focus groups, online information and social media. You can find limitless information with the right plan in place. It’s interesting to note that in a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center about  Twitter use:

  • 62% of users post work updates on a daily basis.
  • 12% of users post work updates more than once a day.
  • 72% post personal updates.
  • 19% of users post personal updates more than once a day.

Why is this important in becoming a market authority? Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn groups have become the common platform for open dialogue. I have read product management rants about lost deals, delays in product releases, ineptness of development, company turmoil and other topics that provide competitive insight. 

Having an intimate knowledge of your product(s), other products inside your organization, markets, competition, buyers and users, the buying and sales process all strengthen your effectiveness as an authority that senior management will rely. Remember, If you aren’t the market authority, someone else will be.

Product Planning – falls next on my list. Most product managers gravitate toward more tactical and short-term measurable aspects of a product’s life and often feel a natural connection with the development of a product. Leading products requires a balance of strategic and tactical and often the details of the next release overshadow product planning. When product management looks at product life more than life-cycleit will add another piece to the puzzle. 

Product Leadership – the personal side is next on my list. In Michael Hopkin’s recent post on Leadership and Product Management, Mike shared, “The key to successful product management is working well with other teams. Product managers hold a unique position in the company: they depend on people from other groups, but they do not have managerial authority over those people (in most cases). Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the other team members to do great things. Therefore, a product manager must earn the trust of people in the organization and influence them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.”

Measurement – while last, this may be one of the most critical pieces of strategic product leaders. When measuring impact, most organizations rely on revenue and financial metrics. It’s interesting to note that these are not leading, but lagging indicators. Think about it, sales revenue, profitability, cost of sales and profit margin are not known until the end of a cycle.

Areas carrying operational influence provide current and leading indicators. Indicators such as market sensing, speed to market, product launch and others may offer more leading information than their financial counterparts and better alignment to product management and its leadership.

I welcome any comments will continue to develop additional content surrounding the strategic pieces of product leadership. If you’d like connections via Twitter you can find me @jim(underscore)holland.

Inside Product Management Politics

In my post Politics and Product Teams, I received a comment from Justin Smith asking, “I’d love to see an expansion on your thoughts around politics in product management teams.” 

Over the past several years, while attending product camps and working with product management teams and their leaders, I’ve often asked, “Are their politics in your product management team? “The responses vary, but almost every contributor or team member says, “yes,” while the leadership usually responds, “not really” or “I don’t think so.” 

This post will take an inside look into product management team politics, dynamics and suggest how leaders and teams can use politics to improve credibility and reduce negative impact. 

A Look Inside – By virtue of the role, product management is often involved or dragged into some political situations. Whether you like it or not, your company reorganizes, product(s) are acquired, leadership changes, development has a great idea, a new competitor enters the market, a new channel partnership is formed or the CxO spoke to one of your most important customers. 

Each of these examples intersects with product management and if not managed, may drive negative wedges into the team. Leaders have to be cognizant of all the moving parts within a company and vigilant in staying current and on top of things that may or may not impact the team. As an example, a few years ago, I was leading a product management team for a very acquisitive company. It wasn’t uncommon for the company to acquire several companies or substantial products each year. I recall two senior product management leaders debating, and then arguing over who would own an upcoming acquisition. The product portfolios aligned with each business unit and would fill competitive and roadmap gaps while adding revenue growth to each.

A political tug-of-war emerged and the situation began to drive wedges between the two senior leaders, two product management teams and other stakeholders became concerned. How did we resolve the conflict? I asked each group to present a business case on how we could create a new business unit. Each team was asked to work with each other to fully investigate technology, resources, market dynamics and how this could succeed. Together, we reviewed the business cases and during the session, I found the communications barrier was fixed, several solutions were proposed and the two teams better aligned. Privacy was replaced with transparency and it was evident to the teams that their business unit should be merged to create a new one. 

While it wasn’t a perfect exercise, it moved the negative into positive energy and refocused the teams on the business and not individual agendas and creating new wedges. 

The Good Side of product management politics has several upsides. Teams that practice positive influence, build credibility and share authority within their teams create an atmosphere that is recognized by other organizations. 

In their four-part series on “Politics are Necessary, but Not Necessarily Evil” by Jane Perdue, Susan Mazza, Mike Henry Sr. and Jennifer V. Miller  they shared, “Truly skillful execution of the behaviors associated with politics is usually perceived as genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective. Politically skilled managers are masters of four behaviors: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity.” 

If product management and its leadership builds a foundation on the four areas outlined, its creates stronger business-orientation and reduces political battles with other stakeholders. This creates a confidence in many executive teams and provides product management with a seat at the executive table. 

While positive political skills may create the strategic and visible element your product management team desires, leaders own the responsibility of developing and strengthening teams. At a minimum every product management team requires:

  • Defined product management charter stating teams values, goals and deliverables
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities
  • Organizational structure aligned to team strengths and experience
  • Sustainable and repeatable processes that everyone knows and uses daily
  • Common product management language aligned with goals and stakeholders
  • Measurements and metrics that are clearly defined and communicated
  • Ongoing team and contributor assessments and education
  • Opportunities for team growth and career movement

In organizations where a product management foundation is present, I find teams establish a cadence that’s repeatable and actionable. It eliminates negative politics, dispels the unknown and sets a course for each team member. 

The Ugly Side of product management is loaded with personal agendas, privacy and personalities that don’t gel. Leaders who fail to recognize these attributes often do irreversible damage to the team, its credibility and value to the organization. 

In a series of posts on The Good, Bad and Ugly of Product Management by On Product Management, Saeed Khan asked a series of questions to his readers and those in the product management community. There were many good things that surfaced, but participants stated that negative politics occurred when:

  • Product management lacked authority.
  • Product management was inefficiently organized.
  • Product management has poorly defined roles, process and tools.
  • Company culture didn’t believe in good product management.
  • Product management lacked resources, education and time to do a good job.
  • Product management leadership was weak or inexperienced.   

To combat the negative politics within product management teams, leaders have to look inward. Assessing the teams capabilities, watching team interaction and dynamics, and reviewing each individual personality with other non-product management stakeholders are a few ways to gain insight into potential issues.

Finding new avenues to communicate, educate, engage and reward your team will build confidence, trust and eliminate political unrest. In the past I’ve used offsite meetings, small group lunches, outings,  team meetings, and lunch and learn sessions to build personal and product management skills. 

Please share any ideas on how you’ve addressed product management politics, whether the good or the ugly. Your comments are alway welcome.