Category Archives: Product Marketing

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.

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.

Leading Product Vision

In my post, Essential Pieces for Strategic Product Leadership, I outlined four areas that are paramount for product leaders. First on my list was Product Vision and I’ll focus on that topic for this post. Before I dive in, I want to clarify that when I discuss product leadership, I’m not talking about a title, but contributive role, a mindset and actions that influence the business. This traverses all roles in the discipline of product management.

Joining a new company some years ago, I had the opportunity of sitting with the CEO. As the new senior product leader, I wanted to better understand the company’s vision and what was most important to him.

One of the first questions I asked was, “What’s your personal vision for the company?” His response was straightforward and to the point. “I want to be a billion dollar company by 2010.”

I sat there for a few seconds thinking about his question. At the time, the company was about one-fifth the size. Before I could ask any clarifying questions, he asked, “What would the product vision look like to support this?” It took me a few seconds to gather my thoughts and I said, “A lot more than I envisioned this morning.” 

Over time, I realized that the vision of the company was more than a magical revenue number and a date in the future. It was a living entity owned by several of the senior management team and I was fully engaged in the process.

This example isn’t unlike many organizations. The words mission, vision, strategy and goals are thrown around, confused and co-mingled. While this post won’t delve into this, I will follow on with another post to discuss and demystify the terminology and process.

In a recent post entitled, “Why Should Anyone Trust Your Vision” by Harvard’s John Kotter, he shares; “Almost all managers have been brought up in a world where small-numbers decide, large-numbers execute (after the large-numbers are “sold,” which is almost impossible if the small-numbers are not trusted). People continue to think and act this way, often unconsciously.”

How can product leaders influence product vision in conventional decide – execute organizations?

John explains, “The conventional decide-execute model handles large changes very poorly. Let’s just say that success comes from a lot more people getting involved in the decision-making process.”

I believe a key part of the decision-making process comes from the bottom up, and every product leader has an opportunity to influence in some capacity.

Influence from the Bottom Up – product leaders who consistently build, communicate and collaborate with market data, current trends, competitive knowledge, customer feedback and data points developed from daily activities have a higher probability of impacting their organizations product vision. 

Why? When you have a strong understanding of market problems, know buyers and users, and can articulate stories in common terms everyone including users, sales and executives understand, you create a valued relationship. 

CEOs and executives seek trusted advisors and reliable sources. If those don’t exist, others will be found and used. Don’t ever under-estimate the power of bottom up influence and the value your  information and knowledge provides.  

Influence in the Middle happens when product management teams unite to collaborate for the common good of products or services. This type of collaboration fosters thought leadership and alignment. While reading Get Your Ducks in a RowJennifer Doctor shared, “While having independent thought and avoiding group think, all personnel in the organization need to be following the same vision and product road map.” 

In his post 5 Steps to Building a Great Product Management Team, Saeed Khan  shares, “Too often technology product management is viewed as the requirements collector, or keeper of the product roadmap, or an adjunct to Engineering. But all of these sell short the value and impact Product Management can have on a business.”

“Thought leaders embrace and extend the information found in their daily lives that reveal directions, trends and future states” said Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing

Executives often are looking for the direction, trends and future states that create or refine vision. As a team do you create, communicate and provide measurable value to the executive team? If not, get the team together and discuss what’s missing and then create an action plan of how you’ll begin to correct this in the next 30 days. Use each others talent, skills and experiences to reconnect with the executive team.

Guiding from the Top – is easiest when you’re sitting at a vantage point that’s across the table from the executives. While a seat at the executive table is desirable for product management, it may not be feasible in your organization. While you may not have a permanent seat, having an open invitation to join them is a great start.

How can product leaders gain access to the executive table? It all starts with TRUST.

Trust, the Foundation – A CEO friend of mine recently shared, “The single largest excise tax in organizations is TRUST. However, there’s a vacuum of trust in many organizations. At the end of the day, those willing to fill that vacuum make my decisions more tolerable.”

Michael Hopkin shares in his post Three Winning Words, “The word trust has bi-direction meaning and only works when flowing both ways: you have to depend on other people to do what they say they will do; and you have to work, act and believe so that others will confide in and depend on you. People who live and behave in such a way that others can confide in them understand the importance of trust.”

If trust is established between product leaders and executive management, a Vision of Influence will emerge. From the bottom up, product leaders can infuse direction, trends and insight that influence vision. 

I’ve seen this vision of influence firsthand and its great to hear executives say, “We don’t do anything without product management’s endorsement. They own product vision.”

Leading product vision and creating influence takes time, patience and focus. It requires an organization where each person is a product leader. In a future post, I’ll discuss structure, alignment and how to build product leaders into your organization.   

Feel free to post any comments and retweet the post on Twitter. If you’d like to connect via email, I can be reached at jholland(at)missioncreekpartners(dot)com.