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

Mid-Week Mix: Product Management Politics

Practical politics consist in ignoring facts ~ Henry B. Adams
 
We all know there are politics in every organization. While practical politics may consist of ignoring facts, product management cannot afford to play the ignorance game
How can product management and its leaders avoid politics? Here are three things I believe we can do:
  1. Avoid gut instinct – whether it’s a product, business or strategy decision, you’d better have evidence and validation in hand. Without the two, you’re letting someone else play politics without vital facts.
  2. Avoid being the gridlock – if you or your team lack a common product management language, consistent execution, collaboration and communications, you may be blindsided by “stealth” or unplanned projects by those with other motives.
  3. Avoid being valueless – visible and measurable contribution build value. Value builds credibility in product management. Without value, underlying politics will begin to question your value. 

The list could go on, but there are things we should do. They include:

  1. Find ways to build value and credibility in product management and use this to fight how ignoring facts can damage the organization.
  2. Stay connected. Keeping your head down isn’t a smart alternative to self-preservation.
  3. Keep conversations open, honest and constructive. Every discussion and meeting needs an agenda, purpose and focus.

Jennifer Doctor, Product Marketing Manager for Sage Software and I will be sharing more at the Seattle Product Camp on October 23.

If you can’t make it, we’ll post the session and others will post via Twitter. Next week, I’ll bring more thoughts and insight to The Politics of Product Management.

In the meantime, check out these great links:

The Noble Pursuit of Power and Influence by Art Petty.

The Big Company Survival Kit for Startup PMs by Paul Young

Company Politics are Counterproductive from a USA Today article 1994

Mid-Week Mix

Mid-Week Mash is a new idea. I decided some time ago that I would only blog once a week, and add comments on Twitter and LinkedIn regularly.  The mash is intended to share observations, ideas and suggestions for product management and product marketing. I’ll keep the content to less than a minute read, so you can catch it at lunchtime, a commute home or when you have time. So let’s get started. 

Where do you TOTO (Think Outside The Office)?

I’m a big believer in leaving the office to think. Nothing does more for the mind than walking out of the office to clear the palette. Here are 10 things I use when I TOTO:

  1. Leave the office ALONE. (This isn’t a field trip and going to another floor or building doesn’t count)
  2. Limit distractions.
  3. Leave all electronic devices behind. (That way you won’t be disturbed)
  4. Don’t take any work with you. 
  5. Tell someone you’re leaving the office, but you’ll be back.
  6. Determine how long you can be “unavailable” and truly TOTO
  7. Take index cards or a small pad and a pen or pencil to jot down any notes or ideas.
  8. Find a quiet place, if possible or create one where you won’t be distracted.
  9. Take 2 minutes to clear the gray matter.
  10. Begin thinking…

I’ve found this to be a great exercise and a way to clear my mind, reinvigorate my thought process and tackle some situations. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

The Essential Parts of Product Management

Recently I saw a video posted by www.jalopnik.com, where a skilled team broke down and rebuilt a 1946 Jeep in four minutesIt was amazing to watch the precision and cadence of the team and you knew they had practiced this many times.

The post also mentioned one of the early nicknames for the JEEPJust Enough Essential Parts. 

Thinking about the cadence of the teams actions, I started to consider What are just enough essential parts for product management? 

Below are a few ideas that I believe should be essential parts to product management.    

Team (an action-oriented verb)

While many of us focus on team as a noun, its my opinion that the verb (to participate or assist in a joint effort to accomplish an end) is where product management must excel.

It doesn’t make a difference if you’re a team of one or many, or who you report to in the organization, it makes a difference if you understand:

  • Contribution and value and how it aligns with the business.
  • Actions in your control and what responsibilities make a difference.
  • How you adapt your actions to change
  • Focus on moving your business forward, not just your products. 

What essential parts do you envision yourself contributing as product management? This is a question I have asked myself and those in teams over the years. Take some time to regularly ask yourself how you are participating, supporting and contributing in your role.  Then take a look at the team around you. This is a great starting point.

Technique (the moving parts)

Over the past five years, I’ve personally observed, worked with or interviewed almost  two hundred product management organizations. In all my conversations, one common challenge has emerged. Product management struggles with the moving parts.

Why? I believe it lacks a process defined specifically for product management. Not a process that was handed down or was modified from something previous or prescribed by another organization, but one that aligns to the business execution in place today.

You may be thinking, “How can he say that? We have a bunch of templates, documents and stuff to help us deliver, isn’t that a process?” While these are essential pieces for product management, most are simply conversation vehicles, not a process.    

Then, what are the essential parts of a product management process? I feel there are three key elements that should be considered. They include:

  • Market Knowledge – Things starting with WHY
  • Business Strategy – Things that lead to WHAT and HOW
  • Market Delivery – Things that speak to WHEN and WHERE

While I won’t spend time describing these elements, a simple, well-communicated process creates a viable foundation for product management and the business. It adds new action, predictability and a sandbox for each contributor and team to practice. It also provides a united voice, a basic common language, and a sustainable translator creating authority and credibility for the team. Additionally, it provides leadership with a vehicle to measure value.

In the article Measurement-Driven Product Management, Mike Smart shares, “Success in building high performance teams begins with using measurements that give visibility about the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the team.”

I have experienced the “before and after” effects and influences a process has on product management. It can be quite dramatic if managed and evolved with the team and business in mind. Before initiating a process for product management, leaders should consider: 

  1. Who will be responsible for defining, documenting, communicating and refining the process?
  2. Who will champion and nurture the teams alignment to it?
  3. What measurements will be used and how will they be communicated to the team, executives and peer organizations?

Without an owner and champion (that resides in product management), the moving parts may be assembled like the picture below.

While this is still a Jeep, it’s not not driveable and limited in its actions and what it can sustain.

As you look at what are just enough essential parts of product management I hope you will look for elements that strengthen and build product management contribution and action.

As always, comments and opinions are welcome. You can contact me at jholland(at)missioncreekpartners.com or on Twitter at jim(underscore)holland.

Product Management – Where we go from here survey results

A few weeks ago, I posted a survey for product management and product marketing’s input. This was driven by my desire to better focus on my contribution to the community. With over 100 product management blogs, numerous discussion groups on LinkedIn and a Twitter stream that flows with hundreds of followers (try hashtags #prodmgmt or #prodmktg), I wanted to know what fresh information and experiences I bring to product managements journey.

First, thanks to the 70 people who responded to the survey. The responses were great and I was impressed with the intimacy and detail of information and ideas shared. For those who didn’t take the survey, it’s consisted of several multiple choice style questions that supported multiple responses and several open-ended question where respondent could comment, state opinions, and share ideas. So, let’s review the results and some comments and observations.

Roles and Responsibilities – the percentages don’t lie and it appears there’s a balance of product management and product marketing roles. However, it would be interesting to know what’s driving the dual roles. Is it out of necessity (economic pressures require you to wear more than one hat), organizational expectations (we’re not large enough or understand the role differentiation) or personal desire (I want to contribute more.)  

Connections, Longevity and Value – The next question validated what most of us already knew. Birds of a feather, flock together and product management isn’t any different. We enjoy meeting, learning and commiserating with each other about product management and product marketing. Live events and interaction along with social media are how we expand our knowledge.

While its great to see a large percentage value the community aspects offered product management, I am surprised at the percentage who do not have a mentor or may be searching for one. Why? Perhaps the next question may provide some insight.

Depending on how you interpret the data, approximately 40-45% of product management and product marketing teams have been organized less than 5 years, while 9% responded their organizations doesn’t recognize product management and product marketing.

If your organization is less than 5 years old, who is mentoring product management and product marketing? Does it come from an executive? Is it located in an area where you previously reported such as marketing or development,  or someplace else like the product management community?

If you’re working in the 9% of organizations that “don’t get” (value product management) and you need some points on how to better position your role with executives or other stakeholders, I would recommend reading The Strategic Role of Product Management by Pragmatic Marketing or  Product Management – The Conscience of Every Product Company by John Mansour of Zig Zag Marketing.

Product Management Priorities – to better understand the most pressing issues, I asked, “What areas of Product Management and Product Marketing do you find the most challenging?” This was an open question and the responses varied. The following topics surfaced most often:

  • Managing expectations, limited budgets and no REAL power
  • Building, organizing, mentoring and maintaining actionable teams
  • Guiding product portfolios and communicating roadmaps
  • Stakeholder management
  • Communications – balancing business with technical – gaining consensus

Where Do We Go From Here? – in my post by the same name, I shared that my goal was to provide aspiring and current leaders of the Product Management and Product Marketing with a place to collaborate, read about experiences of others, apply new best practices and inspire action. It’s not my intent to do this alone and I will often ask other experienced leaders inside and outside product management and product marketing to regularly contribute or we’ll collaborate on content with you in mind. As alway, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Product Management Survival – the 3 A’s

Recently, while watching an episode of Dual Survivors, one of the outdoor survivalist, Cody Lundin commented while exiting a challenging survival experience, “there are three things you need to survive any situation.” What can the experiences of two outdoor survivalist teach Product Managment and its leadership? Consider the 3 A’s: Adaptation, Awareness and Attitude.

Adaptation is key to any survival situation. When you think about product management, adaptation is an attribute that’s required. How often have you heard:

The CEO has decided we’re going Agile…

Product management is now reporting to….(fill in the blanks)   

Executive management is asking about product managements value and contribution.

Product management and especially its leadership has to adopt survivalist attributes and  quickly assess the current state, its changes and create an inventory of useable atrifacts focused on skills, talents and actionable methods product management may use to adapt to change.

If you or your team has to adapt to a change with organizational structure, available resources, roles and responsibilities or actionable events associated with product managements, how do you make the change and stay focused on managing the team and its portfolio?

In my past experience, I’ve found there are several things that support product management adaptation. They include:

  • Aligning and growing the “internal network.” Staying connected provides insight and advance notice of potential changes.
  • Analyzing and rating your skills and the capabilities of each team member. Whether you are a team of one or one hundred, be prepared to answer; “How are you (and your team) prepared for the new changes?”
  • Communication and insightful conversation can promote trust, awareness and leadership with you and your team.

Awareness – is not just seeing and hearing, but cognizant that a situation may be or could be present. In any survival situation its perception and understanding that keeps you alive.

Product management leaders and contributors have a responsibililty to be actively engaged,  aware and connected in understanding and acting on decisions that impact them. 

In a recent post on the Noble Pursuit of Power and Influence, Art Petty shares, “Power and influence provide the motive power behind organizations and initiatives and the lubrication that keeps the parts and people from binding and grinding and self-destructing.”

As a product management leader or contributor, are you seen as the power behind the organization and its initiatives, or a binding and grinding hurdle that’s unaware of what’s going on?

Attitude – determines outcomes and outcomes measure success. This applies to how product management rises to any occasion and sets the tone for change.

Lou Holtz, a former college football coach and current sport analyst once said; “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Surviving, thriving and succeding in product management takes more than ability and motivation. It takes an attitude focused on action and sustainability. Product management teams should be the poster for surviving change without interruption.  

From a product management perspective, I’ll look for ways to explore the 3 A’s and hopefully you’ll add them to your survival strategy.