Category Archives: product management

‘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 http://wp.me/pqeWU-mw #prodmgmt #prodmktg #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

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

The Product Management and Product Marketing Backlog

In the Agile world, the key to product success and a driving cadence is the product backlog.  If managed well, the backlog balances strategic initiatives and tactical features. What would happen if product management and product marketing professionals adopted and used backlogs?Will a backlog drive strategic thinking and provide clarity?It’s my hypothesis that product management and product marketing teams can be more effective, increase strategic actions and build cadence when they identify, prioritize and build a backlog focused on their roles.

From a Historical Perspective

Whether you work in an organization where Agile or Lean principles (SCRUM, Kanban, etc.) have been adopted, I’d bet most of your product management and product marketing thinking is still list or task-driven or formulated on-the-fly.

And forget about priorities. They change with the whim of the organization or the latestFlying Monkey.

Most product management practices, training and tools are focused on non-iterative actions. While their tenants and intentions are good, it’s been my experience that product management and product marketing mask their organizations engineering process and it cascades into their thoughts, actions and focus.

The Hypothesis
My hypothesis was to test this with a diverse group of product professionals (preferably ones I didn’t know) and together surface where we’re spending our time and build a backlog of new thinking.

I attended the DFW Product Camp and led a session of 26 people. The session was represented by the following categories:

  • Product Management (8)
  • Product Marketing (4)
  • Marketing (8)
  • Those leading Product Management and/or Product Marketing (3)
  • Other (Included a CEO and consultants) (3)

The Exercise
With limited time, we decided to choose Product Management to test the hypothesis. In a PowerPoint-free zone, (thanks Seth Godin) we began by identifying four themes that included:

  • Planning and Strategy
  • The Now Product
  • Communications
  • Tools and Process

In each of these areas, I asked the group to identify and write down topics where they spent most of their time and post them under the themes.

It’s no surprise that topics such as; Crisis Management, Tools Implementation, Sales Demos, Customer Issues and Product Features surfaced most often. The picture below represents the number of items that appeared.

I then asked the group to think about and prioritize the areas they would (and should) spend more time. From the image to above, it’s evident that more strategic areas focused on Strategy and Planning, as well as The Now Product were desired.

The highest number of votes included:

  • Strategy development and alignment
  • Market definition
  • Clarify strategic vision
  • The Compelling Why
  • Market Research
Creating a Balanced Backlog
In his article Product Backlog Rules of Thumb, Chris Sterling describes several rules for successful backlogs. For product professionals, I would recommend the following:
  • Keep your backlog simple
  • Define both strategic and tactical areas
  • Prioritize your backlog (The most important is where you start)
  • Select one to three items to focus and work on
  • Infuse these in your daily schedule (If you have to block time, do it)
  • Look to peers for knowledge and help
  • Infuse your strategic actions into your culture

The Results

While the hypothesis is yet to be validated in a live organization (I’d like to hear from the attendees in the future), it shared consistent ideas and challenges, with a desired improvement. Product Camps are a great place to gather input and test ideas like this. Have you committed to attend a PCamp in 2011?

As a product professional, would a prioritized backlog improve your thinking and execution?

I welcome any experiences as well as comments. If you’d like to post this on Twitter or LinkedIn, please share:

Tweet or Link this: The Product Management & Product Marketing Backlog a new post for #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership http://wp.me/pXBON-2yK

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.