Every week is SHARK WEEK in Product Management

I love SHARKS! They are fascinating creatures and are often misunderstood and maligned. This week is one of my favorite times of the year. The Discovery Channel runs all types of shark programming featured as SHARK WEEK. There’s analysis, interviews, conjecture, conversations, education, entertainment and amazing film footage that makes you rethink a day at the beach.What do sharks and product management have in common? While we may think that sharks swim in other areas of your organizations, sharks can teach us a lot about our profession.
Inquisitive – Unless you’re own the menu, shark attacks occur more often out of curiosity or mistaken identity than anything else. As product management or product marketing are you inquisitive and willing to step outside of your comfort zone and the office to really understand customer problems and their needs?While we all know it’s important to get out of the office and connect with customers and the market, do you possess an inquisitive nature that will push you out the door?In his post Explore your curiosity, Jeff Lash shares, “If you want to be a good product manager, be curious. Product managers need to have a genuine interest in learning more about the market, customer needs, new technologies, and other trends. It’s not a question of whether or if these will impact your product, it’s a question of when. Product managers need to constantly be learning, adapting, and evolving. They need to keep current with changes in everything from society and government to technology and innovation.”

Adaptable – A few years ago, Shark Week featured a segment on Great White sharks that become airborne in pursuit of it prey. Like great white sharks, product professionals have to be adaptable. Are you adaptable to change and willing to take on new responsibilities, projects, innovation ideas and willing to look beyond your title or role? It’s my opinion that product management and product marketing has to maintain an adaptable, start-up mentality, no matter how large the organization.

In the article, How to maintain a start-up mentality as your business grows” by Jennifer Wang, she shares, “Start-ups are often spearheaded by individuals who have experienced a common problem and have come up with a solution that is meaningful to themselves and their customers. The founders and initial employees are in-tune with customers and can nimbly respond to changing customer needs.” Are you the adaptable, nimble and in-tune product professional?

Hungry – While most people think all sharks eat non-stop, each variety has it’s own preference of how, what, where and when it consumes. Product management and product marketing should be the same. We don’t all learn the same, implement the same best practices at the same time, use the same methods or have the same roles and responsibilities. However, when you have the appetite or hunger to continuously improve, extend and expand, you’ll find that new opportunities and activities to satisfy your hunger will be there. When was the last time you woke up in the middle of the night with a great idea on how to improve product management and product marketing in your organization? Are you hungry?

Product professionals must maintain a few shark-like qualities including being inquisitive, adaptive and hungry. While Shark Week may be over in seven days, product management and product marketing will be here next week and next year only if you evolve with your organization.

If you can think of a few more shark-like qualities that product management and product marketing should possess, please share them. If you like the post, please share it with the following link. Every week is Shark Week in Product Management – a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pXBON-2NJ #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.

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Managing Product Management Distractions

Last week while reading email, answering IM , viewing Twitter stream, looking at a text message from my son, reviewing a clients LinkedIn profile, answering a call and trying to focus on product management tasks, Bob Corrigan, sent a response to an earlier tweet I had posted. “Does technology distract (#prodmgmt & #prodmktg) from being effective? via @BrightInnovate http://bit.ly/npMUNJ #business #success,”

Bob responded with the following: “There’s not enough characters in a tweet to document the distractions that plague product management. Twitter is one.”

In thinking about his response, How can product management and product marketing manage distractions?

Information Overload – in their recent post The Age of Distraction, by Bright InnovationsCathy Davidson, a professor at Duke University was highlighted. Watch the video in the post, then link to her interview in Fast Company.  Dr. Davidson shares, “Going all the way back to Socrates, attention is the problem people most become aware of when a new technology arises. There’s no such thing as lack of distraction — we’ve always been filtering. But new technology puts stress on our old, automatic ways of paying attention.”

Placing your smart device aside for a minute, product professionals must find new ways to learn or re-learn how to pay attention, cope and deflect the onslaught of new technologies and information that distract us. As “product” oriented creatures, we grasp and often drool over the newest innovations and usually jump on-board and test drive new solutions. By a show of hands or a +1, how many of you are using Google+ ? Add one to your count for me.

Like a moth lured to a bug zapper, product professionals are often consumed with the latest and greatest gadgets. Why? I believe it’s a combination of our technology heritage, our desire to associate with innovation, our need to understand and validate markets, our willingness to test positioning and find new ways to sift through the daily noise to truly collaborate. Or perhaps we just want to hang out with the cool kids. Either way, how do we manage the onslaught and use this to our advantage?

(Re)Learning and Adapting – Every time a new technology emerges, I evaluate how it will impact me personally and what benefits I see. While I don’t perform a personalSWOT, I do consider my current and future needs, habits, desired changes, interest, working environment and how it could influence and improve collaboration.

Dr. Davidson argues “that we’re at the perfect moment to begin re-imagining our institutions and developing practices to deal with the onslaught of information, the reality of constant connectedness, and the challenges of global collaboration.”

While some of you might question technologies role as we adapt and change, the business world we live in continues to move from it’s industrialized heritage to one that is formed on collaboration, openness and information. These three elements can guide and influence better decisions, but only if we manage the distractions they present. Product management and product marketing have to transition with it or lose credibility and value because of it.

Grasp Collaboration, not Technology – While technology can be a vehicle for collaboration, there’s a larger processor in the world (our collective knowledge) that will guide this change. To make and support the transitions to a collaborative state, the following questions should be considered:

  • Does my business style and personality lend to or take away from a collaborative culture?
  • How do I currently collaborate?
  • What styles and methods of collaboration does my organization use and does it complement or hinder mine?
  • Do I value technology over conversation and collaboration?

By honestly asking and contemplating these questions, we can relearn and adapt to manage day-to-day distractions and improve as product professionals through collaboration.

Dealing with Distractions – I’ll be the first to admit that I overuse and often abuse collaborative technologies. Whether they’re in my hand, sitting on my desk, in my home, the solutions I use should have a dual purpose. One is to support me internally. This is the work and business side. The other is the external. The connection that allow me to share ideas, express my thoughts, collaborate with professional peers, ask questions and learn. If used correctly, one will benefit the other. So, what can we do to better manage the distractions? Here’s some things I do:

  • Limit the amount of time spent on non-work collaboration. I schedule blocks of time.
  • Be “out of the office” or “offline” when you really need to limit distractions.
  • Practice the Art of Saying No.
  • Forward my office phone to my mobile phone and silence the ringer of turn it off.
  • Skip a meeting and see if anyone notices. If they don’t, unofficially un-invite yourself.

Some other ways to limit distractions from Dr. Davidson’s book, “Now You See It” include:

  • Plan offline interruptions into your day, whether a walk at lunch or a face-to-face meeting.
  • Within your workplace, colleagues should have the ability to “hole up” solo or together on a project, free from constant connection to the rest of the world.
  • A tip from designer Aza Raskin: Try reserving separate screens, or even separate devices, for Facebook, Twitter, and other distractors. If they’re in separate rooms, even better.
  • Get into the habit of tagging complex matters to be discussed later, in real time. Davidson sends her colleagues emails with the subject line “Agenda”; at their weekly conference call, she’ll search her email for the term and — presto! — a list of items to discuss pops up.
  • If chronically distracted, look below the surface. “We complain about email interference,” she says, “but the two most distracting things in any human life are emotional upset and physical discomfort — heartache and heartburn.”

At the end of the day, we have to decide if the distractions will manage us or if we will manage them. Feel free to provide some insights and experiences on how you manage distraction. If you enjoyed the post, please share it:Managing Product Management Distractions – a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pXBON-2Jz #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership #in

Expectations and Product Leadership

I sat there listening as a director of product management vented about the lack of expectations set by his executive leader. Have you ever been in this situation? Were you on the listening or venting side?

Either way, setting clear expectations is essential to those who lead products and those who lead product management and product marketing teams. To read the rest of the post, click here.

5 Practical Ways to Improve Executive Communications

Everyday, product management and product marketing are barraged with data and information that finds its way into competitive intelligence, innovation, better requirements, insights into the buying process and more.

In his book, Strangers unto OurselvesTimothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia shared, “The human mind can take in 11 million pieces of information at any given moment.The most generous estimate is that people can be consciously aware of forty of these.”

With that in mind, How can product management and product marketing improve executive communications?

Before we jump into some practical ways to improve communications, you should view Death by PowerPoint or Why Most Presentations Suck. Then read the Top 10 Reasons Your Presentation Sucks, by Geoffrey James. Why should you view and read these? Because product management and product marketing spend too much time over-engineering presentations and content, and often overlook it’s what they are communicating that’s important.

1. Communications Style
There’s a lot written about communications style and personalities. In his post, One more important thing about presenting…” Mitch Joel highlights, “If you need to concentrate on one thing to take your presentations to the next level (once you have hammered home the basics), let it be this: don’t overtly perform. Be natural. Be authentic.” Executives want more than facts. They want evidence delivered with conviction and truth. They desire your expertise, advice and decision-making skills.

In a recent conversation with the president of a technology company, I asked, “What is the number one priority you want for product management? He responded, “I need a strong voice of the customer. I have too many internal ideas and influences and I need product management to be that sane, reliable voice.”

2. Speak the Language

Depending on your background, business heritage, past roles and organization, you may be comfortable in speaking the multiple languages of business. However, I’ve noticed product professionals that only speak one language. Remember, you are the dynamic translator for your organization and as such you have to understand, decipher and communicate what’s really being said. Reading the list below, which languages do you speak?

TechnoBabble – a dialect formed in the halls and labs of computer science programs and information technology labs, this is often confused with Engineeriam and includes binary bloat at frequent intervals.For those from technical disciplines, the language flows and sounds wonderful when you gather with others who have a technical background, but does your executives speak the same language?

Executive often wrestle with TechnoBabble and appreciate stories that relate to business problems. These are more easily understood by investors, shareholders, customers, analyst or mothers without breaking  sweat. It’s great when you share information in a conversational way and witness the impact it has on customers, users and perhaps your competition.

Sales-a-Coming: is formulated with maps of territories to conquer, treasure to obtain (quotas and revenue). It begins with a quest and often ends with tribal chants when treasure has been found.” Sales-a-Coming is a hunter’s language and is spoken in phrases associated with revenue projections, unit and volume sales, deal closing and the latest hunting tips. An executive with a sales heritage thinks about revenue, growth, volume, earnings per share and the elusive profit. When confronted with TechnoBabble and non-sales oriented communications, executives often tune out before the conversation begins.

To excel in these types of communications, you must have an intimate knowledge of your sales process and how the buying process is interwoven into it. You must own or guide buyer personas (a dialect of hunters) and be known as a sale enabler versus detractor.

Marketing-ese: is a romance language. It’s not built on word count, but founded on stories, conversations and speaking the language of buyers and users without TechnoBabble or dreaded GobbledygookDavid Meerman Scott, author of the Gobbledygook Manifesto shares, “Because writers don’t understand how their products solve customer problems, they cover by explaining how the product works and pepper this blather with industry jargon.” If you are an executive with a heritage founded in Marketing, who do you turn to translate and communicate on behalf of buyers and users? Product management and product marketing will create more value if they can translate and speak Marketing-ese. Once you recognize what languages you speak and which ones you need to learn or improve, what’s next?

3. Objectives
Creating a clear set of objectives that are validated with executive input are ideal. However, if you try to second guess what someone else wants versus asking, you’re possibly failing before you start. If you don’t know, have or understand the objectives of your communications, don’t expect someone to read your mind or organize your thoughts, content and ideas for you. No matter how important the topic is, postpone any communications until you have a set of objectives in place and you are ready for #4.

In the post, “Some simple rules for communicating with executives,” the authors shared; “Executives probably won’t want the same level of detail you might appreciate, won’t have your identical objections, won’t have your passion for your field, won’t have your patience and won’t necessarily prefer the same communication style or vehicles you do.”

To improve your opportunities of communicating, connect with as many people and ask what works and what does not. Discuss presentation styles, and how long will the person listen, before tuning out. If you really want to improve your communications with executives, find someone in your organization whose failed at it and ask them the same questions.

4. Getting Over…Being There
Along time ago, I sat face-to-face with the CEO of a company I worked for. As a young product manager, I had been in other meetings with him, but not one-on-one. About 60 seconds into the meeting, he said, “Did you serve in the military?” I was puzzled and responded that I had not. He said, “You seem a little rigid and tense. I was just wondering.”

At that moment, I recognized that I was overwhelmed at being there. You know. It’s the sensation you get when you venture into uncharted territory. While product management may prepare, have all the facts, figures and data, and rehearsed and reviewed the content many times, there’s no replacement for being there. How can you better prepare for being there?

I’ve learned and continue to apply and refine several questions in preparing. They include:

  • What’s the personality of the executives?
  • What communication methods do they use the most?
  • What’s their threshold for listening?
  • How many points do they absorb?
  • What’s the current political climate?
  • What the best time of the day, week or month to schedule their time?
  • What style of interaction resonates with them?
  • How does my content allow for interaction, acceptance and learning?

5. Delivery

Another important aspect of improving executive communication is, How do you prefer to get information? In the age of mobile connections, with 24 X 7 access, I’ve found in-person communication is the most effective. This is backed up by a plan that offers access via phone, e-mail or collaborative software. When delivering, the questions I want to have answers to and prepare for include:

  • How much information is enough?
  • Do you want empirical market and customer details or market highlights?
  • Do you require a business case or a financial summary?
  • Would you prefer the product strategy before or after the roadmap and delivery plans?
  • Shall I deliver in text (Word), pictures (PowerPoint), or spreadsheets (Excel)?
  • Will anyone be joining us? (Is this a one-on-one communication or a committee event?)

With these simple improvements in place, I know you will be able to improve your value and increase your credibility. Take the first step by selecting one of the areas and implementing it into your next executive communications. I recognize there are other examples and ask that you share them. As always comments are welcome and encouraged.

If you liked the post, please share it. Simply cut and paste: “5 Practical Ways to Improve Executive Communications” – A new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pXBON-2Gx #prodmgmt #prodmktg #in