Started new gig at Care.com

I started my new job at Care.com this week as Director of Product Management for the International initiative. Had a good 2 year stint at Gazelle before this great opportunity came by.

Care.com enables consumers to find babysitters, nannies, senior care providers, pet sitters, tutors, housekeepers and a lot more. The service has existed in the US since 2006  and has become the largest and fastest growing service used by families seeking high-quality care providers, providing a place to easily connect with hundreds of thousands of care providers, share care giving experiences and get advice. Now care.com is expanding into the UK and I will be leading the product management effort for this initiative. I am very excited to join the company given the stellar management team, sizable marketopportunity and the ability to build something up from the ground floor.

Wish me luck folks since it is going to be busy, fun and challenging!

Senior Product Manager position – New York City

One of the ways this blog helps me is when readers reach out to me asking for advice and also for help. Recently, Jonathan Hoefler, CEO of Hoefler & Frere-Jones (www.typography.com) reached out asking for help in recruiting his company’s first software product manager. Jonathan and I went through needs analysis to make sure I understand where the product manager would fit into their org and also what would be expected of the product manager. I helped Jonathan write up the job description for the position which is given below. If any of you are interested, please respond directly to Jonathan at hr-spm@typography.com. (I will not be accepting resumes or making recommendations to Jonathan unless I know you personally).

This position reports directly to Jonathan (CEO) and is a highly visible role with great opportunities to define product management in a company that was named one of the most innovative design companies in America by Fast Company. Good luck!

Senior Product Manager, Software

Hoefler & Frere-Jones (H&FJ) is a leading digital type foundry with a body of work that includes some of the world’s most famous fonts. H&FJ works with brand leaders in every sector, developing original fonts for print, screen, and mobile applications, and licensing them through our New York office and our website www.typography.com. Our body of work includes the signature typeface of the Obama campaign, the fonts used by magazines from Wired to Martha Stewart Living, the institutional typefaces of the Whitney and Guggenheim museums, and the Hoefler Text font family that has shipped with 75,000,000 Macintoshes. A leader in the industry for more than 20 years, H&FJ’s mission is to enable people to speak in a unique voice across all channels, always with an emphasis on new and emerging technologies. It’s an objective that’s lead us to create new products and services that bring fine typography to websites, mobile apps, eBooks, and beyond.

As our first ever Product Manager, you will work closely with our senior management and engineering teams to develop product strategy and lead its execution. You will report directly to the CEO, making this a leadership role with significant visibility, accountability, and career growth potential. You will lead the enhancement of existing products, and help to develop new products and services. You must possess both business- and technical savvy, a big-picture vision, and the drive to make that vision a reality via superior execution. We’re looking for an individual who is passionate, hands-on, and willing to work collaboratively with internal stakeholders to launch successful and profitable products for the company. As an established and well-respected company, H&FJ is free from startup jitters and management fire drills. And as a small company (a team of 17) with a global reach, you’ll have a real opportunity to make a significant impact.

This is a full-time salaried position at our New York office, open to US citizens or those with authorization to work in the US.

Key Responsibilities:

While these responsibilities are what will keep you busy, H&FJ is a place for people ready to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to make our products successful.

  • Manage the full product life cycle for our web product offerings ranging from strategic planning to tactical execution.
  • Define product strategy and product roadmap for existing and new product offerings, working very closely with the senior management team.
  • Define product requirement documents for current and future products based on market research and competitive analysis.
  • Drive the execution of the defined solutions by working with senior management, engineering and marketing teams.
  • Develop and implement a company-wide go-to-market plan, working with all internal stakeholders to ensure successful execution and product launch.
  • Help create marketing materials such as datasheets and white papers that communicate the customer benefits of our product offerings, and reflect our position as an established industry leader.

Required Qualifications:

  • A BS/BA degree, preferably in a technology field.
  • A minimum of 5 years of software product management experience, with at least 2 years of experience managing SaaS, or software products sold online.
  • A successful track record of achieving results with minimal direction and oversight in a very fast paced environment.
  • The demonstrated ability to deal with both big-picture strategic activities and detail-oriented tactical activities.
  • Superior communication skills: written, verbal, and presentational.
  • Ability to articulate and present problems and possible solutions to internal stakeholders.

Since you’re good at articulating and advocating your position, please write directly to Jonathan Hoefler, Founder and CEO, at hr-spm@typography.com, to explain why you’re right for H&FJ. Please include a copy of your résumé, as well as any other material that you feel is relevant.

Airtel’s Opportunistic innovation

In the past I have written about incremental product innovations that wow you! On my visit to India, I came across such an innovation via the local telecom provider Bharti Airtel. Since the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2004, getting a SIM card for your mobile phone in India requires paperwork that includes your photo, copies of your passport etc. It is doable, but just the thought of paperwork had stopped me from getting a SIM card. Instead, I ended up using my sister’s extra cell phone while I was in India. The only problem with this is that I have to give it back to her before I leave, thereby leaving me with no phone before I arrive home or after I leave home on my return trip. This has been bit of a hassle.

So this time, I am at the Kochi International Airport and wanted to make a phone call letting my parents know that my flight was on time. So I ask someone where I could find a public phone (that vintage one). They point me to an Airtel desk. I walk over and tell the gentleman manning the desk that I need to make a phone call. He had a better offer for me. He asked me if I had a mobile phone on me and I did – but one without a SIM card. He offered to sell me a SIM card for 100 Indian Rupees ($2 USD) and did all the paperwork necessary in less than 5 minutes including using a digital camera to take my photo and copy of my passport. I was just WOWed, because here was a simple innovation that solved a real customer need. And I was not alone, this chap was busy with other travellers either buying new SIM cards or reloading their old prepaid SIM cards with more money. Airtel was gaining customers one at a time, but at a place where there was no competition.

Bottomline, you do not have to come up with game changing innovations like the iphone or the ipad, there are a lot of customers problems that can be solved via simple yet profitable innovations. In fact, I would argue that there are more incremental innovations that are equally effective than game changing ones! Agreed?

Focus is about saying “NO”

It has been a while since I have been in blogging and a lot has happened in the world during that timeframe. My idol Steve Jobs has passed, iPhone 4S is out, Gaddafi is dead, Greece has been in turmoil sending the financial markets on a dizzing roller coaster and the list could go on.

After Steve Jobs death, I have gone through many of his well known presentations of introducing the iPhone and the iPad and many other videos available on Youtube. There have been two videos that are my favorites – one of them is where he speaks about “Focus is about saying NO”. 3 minutes of your life spent watching it would be worthwhile. Watch it once, watch it twice, watch it until you keep repeating “Focus is about saying NO”.

As software product managers, every one of us is faced with the hundreds of things we could do and what others in the company want to do. But what will allow us to succeed is not by building something that does a half assed job for everyone (you will hear this being argued for under the name of flexibility) but by focusing on building something that does a kick ass job doing a few things very well. To do this however, you need organizational support – it needs to come all the way from the top – the CEO.

Thoughts? Do you agree? What have your experiences been?

Where should product management report to?

In an organization, where should product management report to? Sales? Marketing? Engineering? CEO? Customer Support? All of this is possible but where can it be the most effective?

Before we answer this question, let us make sure we are aligned on the role of a product manager.

In my opinion, the best spot for product management is to have it report directly to the CEO. Product is one of the most important functions in an organization because getting the right product/market fit is what brings in the revenues. So I would argue that this needs to be have a direct line to the CEO so that it is not only looked upon as a strategic function but also that it is held accountable for the company results.

Is there a second best place for product management? Every successful organization that I have worked for (B2B or B2C) has had product management report to Marketing. Marketing naturally is an external facing function that is responsible for identifying the target market, figuring out the product positioning and figuring out what will make prospects buy. There is a slight danger here of product management becoming “marketing” driven than “market” driven, but I think with the right leadership this can be avoided.

The slides shown below are my opinions on why it should not report into sales or engineering or customer support.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this via comments. Do you agree?

Product Management Career Tip – Don’t be an “I” or “they” specialist

On Friday, I had to complete my self evaluation of my Q2 performance review. As I was reviewing myself, I noticed that I had to continously mention how “I” got this and that done. Too many “I’s” were making me uncomfortable that I had to pause and think about it, but was soon to realize that it was appropriate because this was my self evaluation – a self reflection on my performance/accomplishments/mistakes and not the group performance.

However, in the normal working life as a software product manager, there is typically no “I”, there is no “they”, it is always “We”. I get quite irritated when I meet such “I” specialists for whom everything is “I said this”, “I did this”. As a software product manager, there is very little that you can do which is not a group effort. Whether it is working with your development team, your marketing team or your finance team or your product management team, your accomplishments are primarily achieved by working with others. Hence, it is typically “We” did this or “We” should do this or “I” recommend that “we” do this.

Then there are the “they” specialists – folks who refer to their employers as “they”. For example, “I” recommended this, but “they” don’t want to do it. You are far better off pitching this as – “I” am recommending this because “we” can get to X,Y and Z. You come across as a true team player in your internal and external conversations. If you do this well and if you had a primary lead on some of these accomplishments, the right people should notice the leadership role you had to play. That recognition is far better than having to promote oneselves at every possible opportunity.

This is especially important when it comes to job interviews. You want to come across as a team player and “we” is the way to go. If all you do is become an “I” specialist or “they” specialist, it does not come across well. Of course, there are instances where you have to talk about what you have accomplished, but you will still be better off if you refer to some of these with a “We”. “They” when referring to an employer is best avoided.

Agree? Let me know.

Humans crave for predictability, are you providing it?

Last week, Gazelle moved its office from Allston to downtown Boston. No move is easy – new desk, new neighborhood, new commute, everything to get adapted to. My commute to the new office is now 1 hour 45 minutes each way. I have to drive to the train station for 20 minutes, take the train that takes an hour and then walk to the office. Sounds like an awful lot and it is – 15% of my day is now spend commuting. My previous commute was anywhere from 50 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. But I enjoy my new commute a whole lot more even though it takes a whole lot longer. For a very simple reason – predictability! I now know that as long as I get to the train station on time, my commute time is going to be 1 hour 45 minutes (barring any train breakdowns of course). Of this time, the 1 hour of the time on the train is actually spent relaxing – whether it is typing this blog post or taking a nap or reading. I enjoy the 10 minute walk from South Station to the office – free exercise. It is 2 hours that I get for myself everyday. Humans crave predictability and are likely to give up things for it.

The same applies for products. Some choose to

  1. Work in larger companies instead of startups because of the predictable hours and also job safety.
  2. Become full time employees than being consultants because of the predictable income.
  3. Buy products from established vendors than fledging startups because it is a safer bet.
  4. Have caps on pay-as-you-go software packages so that they can have predictable expenses for budgetary purposes.
  5. Buy software packages that have more features than they want now, because it is a safer bet to make now.
  6. Buy extended product warranties because it adds predictability that if anything goes wrong during this time, they do not have to spend money.
  7. Pay bills on the same day every month because it allows one to have a predictable cash flow.

In most cases, products are expected to have predictable outputs to given inputs. So, in our lives as software product managers, adding predictability to our customer’s business or personal lives could be a dimension used to enhance our products. And once you do, make sure that this is pitched to your customers – because they may not tell you that they are looking for more predictability, but I will bet you that unknowingly they do.

Makes sense? Let me know.

When does a startup stop being one?

When does a startup stop being one? Is it when:

  • It gets funded – no, can’t be because vast majority of them get seed funding.
  • It gets customers – no, that can’t be it either
  • It gets revenues – no, because customers could be paying for the service
  • It becomes profitable – no, because even profitable companies are sometimes called startups.
So it was something that had been bothering me for a while. I have asked others but never got a satisfactory answer. Then couple of weeks back I attended the simulcast of Lean Startup held in San Francisco – beamed to the Microsoft offices in Cambridge. There I heard the definition of a startup from Steve Blank which makes a whole lot of sense – “Startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model“. That to me gives a very easy criteria to determine when a startup stops being one.
Thoughts? Kindly share your thoughts via comments.
Image: Courtesy of freeclipartnow.com

B2C vs. B2B product management – 16 differences

Most of my product management career has been spent doing B2B product management. For the last year and a half, I have switched over to B2C product management in my current role as Director of Product Management at Gazelle. Last 12 months has been a lot of fun learning a whole lot of new things in the consumer world. Given this learning, I have been able to create a long list of things that matter a whole lot more doing B2C product management that may not be as important doing B2B product management. Here we go:
  1. It is a millions game – Victory is declared when you have million+ customers, not hundreds or thousands (if your goal is to become the “brand” in the space you are in) unless you are in a niche market.
  2. There is one buyer most of the time – no technical buyer, no economical buyer, no user. The consumer is coming to your website with intention to buy something for themselves with their money. (exceptions do exist – for example, if I am buying something for my wife or kids or my mom – though this is not the mainstream use case).
  3. Short sales cycles – Ideally you want every customer to buy from you on your first visit (never happens, but the goal is to get as many to do this). There are no RFPs, no demos, no data sheets, no whitepapers, no lunches with prospects to convince them to buy. Your website is the demo – if they don’t like or understand something, they will leave and may never come back.
  4. Show me the money  – It is harder to monetize consumer products. A lot of apps, services are available for free, and consumers are used to getting products and services for free online. Consider a limited-feature free product or limited-time free trial offer, setting the stage and expectations that they will need to pay. Make sure that the value proposition is crystal clear to the customer.  Remember, they are spending their hard earned money and not their employer’s.
  5. Short attention span – KISS (Keep it simple stupid) principle applies so much in B2C. Use middle-school reading level language on your site – short, simple, easy to digest. None of the gobbledygook you can get away in the B2B world with (the reliable, scalable, innovative, high performance, architecture marketing BS) works.
  6. Details matter even more – Given the short attention span and the high propensity to go elsewhere (one mouse click away), everything from page load times count. If your page takes long to load (read that as more than 2 sec), chances of your prospect leaving go up exponentially, unless you are an established brand (read Amazon or Google).
  7. Product experience rules – Site usability matters a whole lot. There is no consulting, no professional services in the B2C world. Either the customer gets it the first time or by quickly looking through your FAQs or they just leave.  If your product is not easy to use, expect it to be returned (or if it’s a website, abandoned). Consumers rarely RTFM.
  8. Customer experience rules – You need to deliver a “crazy awesome” customer experience to every customer.  Over and above the product experience, you need to deliver an awesome experience at every touch point – whether it is customer care, online content, surveys, newsletters – you need to aspire to beat your customer’s ever rising expectations. Why? See #9.
  9. Social proof is mandatory – Consumers look for social proof – who else is using it, what do other think about it? Is this site real and trustworthy? Again, remember, they are spending their money and not their employer’s. And by social proof, I don’t just mean canned testimonials (which by the way lot of buyers do not trust), but instead they expect to read both positive and negative reviews about your service on the web, Facebook, Twitter etc. If you deliver an excellent experience, they will tell others. And if you deliver an awful experience, they will tell even more people and you will not even know. However, they do not expect you to deliver an awesome experience to everyone – some customers can just not be pleased and no company is perfect – you are bound to screw up at least in some cases. So if all they see are positive reviews, it could be a cause for concern (trustworthy?). So, instrumenting your product to allow your customers to easily share their experiences (good and bad) is important.
  10. Building brand equity matters – You need to appeal to the masses right from the word “go”, but it will take time. There is no fast way to get there. But once you have built and earned good brand equity, you will retain the consumer mindshare for a long time. For example, when it comes to buying books, do you think of Amazon or Borders? When you think about mp3 player – do you think of ipod or zune? When you think about search, do you think Google or Microsoft? When you think social media, do you think Facebook or Orkut? It took a lot of work for all these companies to get to where they are now. Why? Read #1 again.
  11. Web analytics – In the B2C world, you live and breathe “web analytics” – unique visitors, bounce rates, traffic sources, conversion rates, conversion lifts, funnels etc. become part of your everyday terminology. It is all about getting more customer traffic to your website and getting them to buy or do whatever that helps you make money. If you are running an eCommerce site, you want to make sure they find the thing they want and then buy it from you.
  12. Test, test, test – Getting ready for continuous A/B testing and multi-variate testing becomes part of your DNA. Consumers are fickle, they change their mind all the time. Hence, no matter how many usability tests you have done before you release changes to your site, it can never guarantee success. You need a lot of data points to declare a winner. The only way to find out is to release changes to production and then conduct A/B or multi-variate testing before you declare a winner. Be prepared for surprises, because what you think will win could turn out to be a sore loser.
  13. SEO, SEO, SEO – every page you create on your website needs to be SEO (search engine optimization) friendly. Why? Your highly qualified prospective customers will find you primarily via two mechanisms – 1) search engines when they are about to buy what you are trying to sell or 2) by word of mouth. So as a B2C product manager, you need to have a decent knowledge of how SEO works.
  14. Keep them loyal – As I have mentioned before, word of mouth is huge in the consumer world. Because it is not one person telling another, it is one person telling 10 of his/her family or friends. Consumers love loyalty programs – it is your way of thanking them and keep coming back. I still fly American Airlines because that is where I have the most miles. (I hate their customer experience, but I still remain loyal because of the miles).
  15. Respect their privacy – Ask only for personal information that is absolutely needed. If sensitive personal information is asked, explain how you would use it. If a consumer opts out of receiving marketing material from you, respect that.  Do not require them to “register” with your site to use your product/service unless required. Allow for “guest checkout”.
  16. Stay in touch – via newsletters, Facebook. Get them to “like” your FB page – use your page for periodic product updates, contests, relevant news, etc. Remarket to them with relevant content, coupons etc. But never, ever spam your customers.
Do you agree? What else are the differences between B2C and B2B product management that you have come across? Kindly share your thoughts via comments.

Sending LinkedIn connection requests? Avoid using the default text

Every week, I get multiple requests from folks who want to connect with me on LinkedIn. I don’t know 90% of these professionals. More often than not, they are members of product management or other LinkedIn groups that I belong to readers of this blog. I typically accept these connection requests unless your profile does not impress me (typically sales people for products that I don’t have any use for).

More often than not (98.6734% to be precise :-)) these requests use the default text “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”. If you are doing this with people who do not know well, then I think you are making a mistake when you are networking. Why? Here are three reasons:

1) You are a complete stranger to me. I don’t know anything about you and I don’t have the time to do work to find out who you are (remember I have to click on the email link to get to LinkedIn, click on your name to read your profile to find something about you, get back to your request and then accept it). Too many friction points to overcome.

2) I am thinking ROI here and see none when I get a request with the default text. What is in it for me to connect with you? Why should I invest my time? If I don’t know who you are, I don’t know if I can be of help to you or you can be of help to me in the future.

3) If you cannot take 2 minutes to make a sincere networking request and that too to a complete stranger, it tells me only two things – you are either lazy and/or unprofessional.

I may be accepting requests from total strangers (software product managers or readers of this blog), but I think you will be better off not doing this with others. So instead, do the following – Tell me how you found me, tell me something cool about yourself (keep it professional, LinkedIn is nothing but a professional network). Give me something that I can appreciate of you, something that will help me differentiate you from others. For example, often my network connections reach out to me asking me if I know someone who would fit a particular job description they are looking to fill. If I can remember something about you, I maybe able to make the connection between the recruiter and you – which is what networking is all about.

PS: Only time I tend to use the default text in the requests I make is when I know someone very well – a friend or a colleague that requires no introduction. Even in these cases, I tend to start on a personal note with “Hope all is well….”

Do you agree? Thoughts?

My recent Product demo experience – 3 key learnings

In the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to sit through three product demos that were all done using web conference (Goto Meeting and WebEx). Two of these demos went very well, we understood everything we wanted to know and we figured out whether the products will meet our business needs. More on that later.

The third one was an outright disaster. This particular  demo was in an area that not many of us knew enough about and we were looking to educate ourselves with not only on the product but also get a better understanding of the underlying methodology. When the demo was set up, we had clearly communicated to the vendor (at least we thought we had) on what we were looking to get. We had also indicated that time was tight and that we probably had 45 minutes max. To make the whole situation tricky, there was the software vendor, a potential professional services partner and an internal consultant who was introducing us to the software vendor.

Here is how the demo went (remember the 45 minutes equates to about 20 min of demo time if you account for the time needed to answer questions during the demo):

  1. 15 minutes were spent on the corporate slides – here is who we are, when we were founded, we do blah blah blah (nothing I remember right now), here is how much profits we made last year, here are the complex equations that are underpinnings of the technology (I am not joking, there were equations on slides), here are the Fortune 500 clients that use us etc.
  2. Another 15 minutes of the admin console where everything can be looked at etc.
Here is what transpired amongst the audience which btw had all the relevant stakeholders:
  1. In the first 2 minutes of the corporate slides, most of those in audience lost interest and were busy checking their emails
  2. By the time, 15 minutes were up, we had still not learnt anything that we came to learn about. People were feeling cheated – why are we wasting time on this?
  3. What followed was tech focused, nothing addressed the business problems we were looking to solve.
  4. Nothing was professional about the demo, everything looked like a hodge podge.
At the end of 45 minutes, we did not get much out of it. Half the folks had to bail because they had other meetings to go to.
Now allow me to compare and contrast the above experience to the two successful demos:
  1. These two vendors did discovery work to find out the business problems we were facing and they did this directly with me – before the demo. To their advantage, there were no middlemen.
  2. During the demo, they focused on our business problems and not themselves (not one word on who they are, how big they are etc.) until they had completely addressed how their solutions could solve our business problems.
  3. Everything was done in the allotted time. They followed up with emails to check if we had any outstanding questions and enquiring about the next steps.
So what are the key learnings from all of this for those folks putting together product demos. Here are my recommendations:
  1. Do the discovery call before the demo: If you are the one doing the demo, try your best to engage directly with the customer for a discovery call. Avoid leaving this to a third party unless these folks can educate you well on the customer’s business problems. Find out the business issues faced by the customer, how they are solving the problem today, what solutions they are using etc., timeframe they are looking to solve the problem and if they have a budget. Budget and timeframe to purchase are very important – if there is no budget, it is a lot harder to sell.
  2. Business problems first: Your prospective customers don’t care who you are, how big you are or how great you are, unless you can solve their business problems. The only reason they are engaging with you is to find out if you can help them. Satiate that need first, nothing else. Everything else can wait. Stuff for the economical buyer (financial viability, your revenues etc.) or for the technical buyer (technology underpinnings etc.) can come later – not in the first demo. Selectively disclose stuff – peel the onion one layer at a time – don’t bury the customer with information, keep it simple.
  3. Respect the customer’s time: Find out ahead of time how much time you have and who will be in attendance. If the time is insufficient for you to do the demo effectively, ask for more time. Explain why it would be beneficial to allot more time – start becoming an advisor to the customer. Once you know your constraints, honor them. Make sure you hit the salient points customer is looking for during the allotted time. If you do this right, two things will happen – you will get more time right there and then or a follow up demo will be set up to take this further. If either of this happens, you now have an engaged prospect and you are making progress towards closing a sale.

You can choose to avoid doing the homework to your own peril or spend the time during discovery to start building effective relationships with your prospects.

Thoughts? Do you agree?

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Prioritize based on frequency, not size ….

When I have done customer interviews to better understand customer pain points and ways to enhance the product, often times I have been asked one of two questions:

  1. Are you really interested in solving this or listening to my problem? I only have 2 licenses of your software. Don’t you only listen to customers who have 50 licenses or more?
  2. But this is a simple issue, will this ever make it into your list of things to improve on?

I remember giving the same answer each time for question 1) – my job as a product manager is not to worry about how many licenses (“size”) you have, but to understand your pain point and then extrapolate to see how many other customers will benefit from solving the problem (“frequency”). Innovative ideas typically come from one individual (think about all the great inventors – many of them invented things in their basements individually) and not from organizations. So before you ignore your small customers, think twice. Instead worry more about the “frequency” of the issue.

The second concern has some validity. Companies under the false pretext of being innovative are looking for problems that are big news – the one that will make a splash. Agreed!  Product managers should always look for differentiated ways to solve “common” problems to stay ahead of the competition. But this should not be at the cost of ignoring simple issues with your current product. Here is a simple formula I have used to prioritize all of the issues.

Determine:

  1. How many times a typical user encounters the said issue? (Once a day? many times a day? once a week, once a month, once a year etc.) = A
  2. How much time in minutes do they waste each time they encounter this issue to find a workaround? = B
  3. How many users will encounter the same issue? = C

Importance of the issue (priority) = A x B x C

For example, if the user encounters an issue with every 3rd mouse click (because of the delay the software responds to the click) and if a large number of users encounter it, it will be amplified a whole lot even if the delay is only a few milli seconds. Compare that to an issue which occurs once a year for a very few users. It maybe something you could easily de-prioritize because it could very well be a niche problem.

Don’t get me wrong, lot of emotions do get involved in whose issues get fixed – one with executive mandate, one from a vociferous customer, one for the customer that will make a huge purchase etc. But as a product manager having the above data will help you justify the prioritization you are making and then if someone wants to override your decision for valid/invalid reasons, that is perfectly fine. At least you should be able to sleep in peace that you did your homework.

Thoughts? Do you agree? How do you do prioritization?

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What is your personal portfolio? Think like a graphics designer ….

I get asked all the time on how folks can transition into a product management career from say engineering, QA, sales etc. Here is my short answer – think like a graphics designer. If you have interviewed graphics designers, they always come in with a portfolio that shows the work they have done – wireframes, fully rendered designs, flash animations and different variations of it. Such portfolios gives the hiring manager or recruiter a true sense of the creative skills of the graphics designer. The discussion then quickly turns into what they want to do going forward, cultural fit etc.

If you are in engineering, QA or sales and want to move into product management, try doing what product managers do on your own time. Can you do a competitive analysis of your industry – this should not be difficult – after all you know who your competitors are. Search online to find anything and everything about them – their products, their business model, their customer support channels, what people are saying about their products, their marketing channels etc. Can you then put together a presentation on the competitive landscape?

Use every opportunity to get close to your customers. Participate in some customer calls with the help of your software product manager so that you can listen in to what customers are saying. How about writing a requirements document for a product feature that you think will enhance the product. Ignore for the time being whether there is a market for the feature, just write the document anyways.

Not only will this help you put together a software product management portfolio, but it will also give you a taste of what product management is all about. Product management is not for everyone, so why not taste it before you transition into it and then realize it is not your cup of tea.

If you want to be even more creative, then pick an industry that is not where you work. If you work in the semi-conductor industry, then pick the eCommerce industry. After all, I am sure you have bought something on Amazon or eBay or other like sites. Given that all of these are public companies, you will also have access to a ton of financial information.

Create a portfolio of what you have done and then make a case in your current company for a product position. Always do this in your current company – your current employer usually is more approachable for career transitions especially if you have demonstrated success in your current job. No one wants to lose a good employee.

So next time, you are thinking of sending me an email asking how you should transition, think about graphics designers first! I am always happy to get your emails and to help, but it is not as difficult as you may think!

Agree? Thoughts, comments?

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Image: Courtesy of gettyimages.com

 

Product Management vs. Project Management vs. Product Marketing

One of the common confusions that exist in the software industry are the roles of product management vs. project management vs. product marketing. There are different definitions depending on the vertical, company etc. Here is a set of slides that I have put together on the three roles.

Would love to hear what you think. Please share your thoughts via comments.

3 sources for competitive analysis

As software product managers, understanding your competition needs to be a very important ingredient of our work DNA. We must gather as much information as possible on our competition so that we know what they are upto both strategically and tactically. It will also help us understand what moves we can make so that the competitor can be forced to make a reactive move on their part – a move that could be favorable to us and unfavorable to them.

There are so many ways in which you can gather intel on your competitors. Here are 3 sources that I have used very successfully.

1) Competitor’s website: Sounds obvious, but as a software product manager, have you read through all the content that is on your competitor’s website? For example, do you know:

  1. The terms and conditions that they offer their customers on a product sale. For example, if you are in the eCommerce space, do you know what your competitor’s return policy is? What exactly is included in your competitor’s offering of 30-day free trial? Does the customer need to input a credit card to sign up for the free trial?
  2. How much money does your competitor (a publicly traded company) have in the bank? What is their cash flow situation? If the cash situation is dire for your competitor, can you hasten their exit via a move that will force them to spend more money (for example a discounted pricing promotion?)
  3. Who is on their management team and their board? What expertise and connections do they bring to the table? For example, if their CEO or an investor has prior employment relationship with amazon.com or Google, what does that mean to the business and in turn any possible impact on you? Do their investors have prior experience in your industry that may open doors for your competitors for potential sales?
  4. What jobs is your competitor hiring for? This will help you understand where your competitor wants to go because hiring reflects plans for growth. Or has a key employee left the company? If yes, what could this mean? Hiring to replace a key employee is always a setback to any business – there is never a case where a replacement can be done without missing a heartbeat.
  5. How is your competitor getting the word of their products into the market? Where are they advertising? What promotions are they running? Does the customer have a referral program? How does the referral program work?

2) Your “human” network: No matter how much easier competitive analysis has become because of the internet, it is still not a substitute to the stuff you can find via the good old way of tapping into your “human” network. You may be able to gather information from people in your network via face to face meetings because they can share it off the record without having to put it in an email or other digital media. Here are some specific networks you need to look into:

  1. Former employees: Do former employees of your competitors belong in your LinkedIn network? If yes, what can you find out about your competitors through them? (However, I want you to caution on legal ramifications here as well. Never ever put your contact or yourself at legal risk by asking for confidential information such as documents etc. Even if this is offered to you, refuse – a lawsuit from your competitor will be far more damaging than not having a piece of competitive intel. Getting the name of the internal champion your competitor has at a prospective customer account is one thing, but holding a piece of confidential document from your competitor is a completely different thing – you should never get into a legal situation where you can go out of business because of breach of confidentiality.)
  2. Venture capitalists: If you are a VC funded company or if you have friends in the VC community, can they help you get competitive intelligence? For example, is your competitor looking for another round of funding and approaching VCs? Believe me, the VC community is a big boy’s network and a closely knit one too – tapping into this judiciously can help you gather competitive intel.
  3. Your new customers: If you won an account against your competition, what can this new customer tell you about the competitors who lost out? What tricks did the competitor bring to the table to win the account? Did they offer any creative or discounted pricing? What did this new customer learn from the references the competitor may have provided during the sales process? Can you get the information on these references so that you can talk to them?
  4. Supply chain: Does anyone know people in your competitor’s supply chain – for example, system integrators in the case of an enterprise implementation. How do they view your competitor? How do they like (or dislike) working with them? Unless there is an exclusivity with your competitor, these folks are always looking for more business including yours and would be willing to share more information on industry and competitive trends with you, depending on the strength of your relationship with them.

3) Competitor’s digital network: What are people saying about you and your competitors on the Internet whether it is in forums, product reviews or social networks. The fastest way to keep on top of this is to set up a google alert on each of your competitors both by company name and the product(s) name. Have google alerts deliver a daily digest into your inbox so that keeping an eye on your competition becomes part of your DNA. Granted that google alerts will pick up a lot of duplicates when it comes to things like press releases, but I would rather get duplicate information than none at all. Plus it only takes a few seconds to check the google alert emails that it is not a big chore.

What do you think? Do you have other sources you have successfully used to gather competitive intel? Please share via comments.

3 C’s – Market Capital, Customer Experience, Your Career

Here are the slides from my recent product management seminars at Bangalore and Hyderabad, India.

The three takeaways (what I called three “C”s) were the following:

  1. Market Capital: If you as a software product manager want to build credibility within your organization, gain as much market capital or customer capital as possible. Market capital is measured by the time you spend outside your office building talking to prospects/customers who will actually buy your product.
  2. Customer Experience: Think about the overall customer experience, not just product usability or product experience. Even products with good usability can fail if they have bad customer experience. Think about all the friction points that may prevent the customer from buying from you and then remove these to create a great customer experience.
  3. Your Career: No matter what you do, always think about your product management career (it is a marathon not a sprint). You are the only one who is worrying about the only product you have full control over – “You” – your boss is not, your employer is not. So treat every job as the stepping stone to the next one. If you are planning to transition into product management, always do it in your current company – hiring managers in other companies will not take the risk of hiring someone who has never done product management. Your current company will be more open to providing growth opportunities to existing employees. Take the initiative and you win….

Your thoughts, comments?

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5 things I learned about Software Product Management in India

I am currently enjoying my week long vacation in my hometown of Ernakulam after a week of software product management seminars and workshops in Bangalore and Hyderabad. As a bonus, my host Pinkesh Shah, CEO of Adaptive Marketing and I were invited to the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad by the students who were keen to learn more about product management.

So what did I actually observe and learn from the 125 product professionals I interacted with? What is the real state of software product management in India? What are the software product managers doing now and what are they looking for? Though I did not get to meet with software product managers from large MNC’s such as Google, eBay, IBM, Cisco etc. that have large operations in India, my numerous conversations with Pinkesh indicate that the picture there is not that different from what I learnt from the product managers I met with.

So here are the top 5 things I learnt about software product management in  India.

1) Current focus is on requirements management and software delivery: Software Product Managers in India currently are playing the role of requirements managers or product owners (in the world of Agile). They are responsible for defining the product functionality and working very closely with engineering teams co-located here in India to ensure the iterations/releases get delivered on time.

2) They manage products sold in the United States: The products they work on are primarily (if not all) for the US market. Hence, the amount of direct customer facing activities they take part in is very limited at this time. They do not seem to have many opportunities to travel to the US to meet with their customers. They understand this as a major pain point. In most of the cases, the Indian product managers (I got to speak with) do not have a product management counterpart in the US. Input for the product enhancements were coming directly from marketing, sales or the executive management, as opposed to someone who was spending time listening to the customers in a non-sales situation. This is very worrying because those of us who are experienced product managers know how frustrating listening to just sales to drive future product direction could be.

3) Titles are one too many – Just like in the US, there are too many titles for product managers in India. Technical product manager, product owner, product manager, product professional, the list goes on.

4) Engineering talent is itching to find new career opportunities: Folks who have spend a lot of time in engineering and project management are now starting to ask – what next? I heard this during my seminars and it is also a common question I get from the readers of this blog – how to transition into product management. Training demand and opportunities for vendors who provide training on software product management are bound to increase.

5) They are confident, fearless and hungry: What impressed me the most was the talent and the confidence of the software product managers in India. There are some that work on very successful products in the marketplace – for example, the product managers Mukesh Marodia and Ramesh at OpenText were working on a very successful portal product used by a number of Fortune 500 (apparently 1 out of 3 pages on the internet is powered by Open Text web cms). The product managers at Nokia were working on the different software components such as messaging and video capture used in all of the Nokia mobile phones. Then there was Chaithanya from Inmage Systems, the lone product manager in the company responsible for his company’s data recovery solution sold in the US. I could go on, but all in the all I was so impressed by the budding product management talent in India.

So what is the future? I am convinced that the talent in India has a bright future ahead. I am making a bold prediction here, not based on facts but based on the trend that I have been reading about. Given the size of the Indian market in terms of number of consumers and their total purchasing power, every company on this planet will be looking at building new software products for the Indian market. Software products that are not watered down versions of products build for the western markets and then adapted to the Indian market, but instead software products that are designed from the ground up in India for the Indian market. We already read about this trend in companies such as GE and automotive markets, but I am predicting that this trend will heat up in the next 5 years. When this happens, the current software product management talent in India would have matured enough to play a significant role. They will soon find themselves in an enviable position where they will no longer be concerned about lack of opportunities to meet with their end customers because they will be living right amongst them. These software product managers are hungry, smart and more importantly they are confident. I am so happy to have met these budding product managers and their future cannot be any brighter. Product Managers in the western world (including myself) take note, I treat the talent here in India as competition for sure.

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Product Review: Usertesting.com

I am a strong proponent of software usability testing. I have written in the past on best practices for software usability testing. But one of the time consuming tasks of doing such tests is recruiting users for a usability test, especially when it comes to consumer applications. It appears that this should be easy because everyone is a consumer. True, a pitfall you want to avoid is self referential design – you may unknowingly select those who are likely to agree with you, they may think like you, they already know what you do and they may likely not want to tell you that your baby (your product) is ugly – so in some ways they are tainted.

This is why I have fallen in love with a site called usertesting.com. I used it recently for the first time and I have to tell you I just love it. The results I got were just awesome and it involved very minimal setup.

Here is how it works – you fill out a simple form where you explain the scenario to be presented to the user, the site the users should use and the tasks that they should do. You select the type of users you want by specifying gender, age, country (US, UK or Canada), household income and web expertise level. Usertesting.com even allows you to select your own customers instead of using users from their database. The test costs mere $39/user and I was able to get results very quickly. You even get a high quality video of each user doing the tasks – how great is that! In one case, I had a poor quality video from one of the testers, I wrote to their customer support, they agreed and gave me a free credit for another test to make up for this. So five stars there as well!

One enhancement I would like to see is, being able to first select if I want to use one of their highly rated testers or not and then specify all of the other qualifying criteria. This way, I can specify that I want to use their highly rated testers who are male, aged 55 years or older with an annual income of less than $40,000 and who have advanced web skills. Everything can be done except the last step. I would also like to select a region in the United States. For example, I may want testers from the West Coast vs. say the midwest. If I get a selection of states available, it would be awesome. I would think that these are very simple UI fixes because they already have all of the other elements in their user database.

I wholeheartedly agree with the testimonial of Evan Williams (co-founder of Twitter) – “Use it and your site will become better.”

Now, should this be the sole way you do usability testing? – No! I strongly recommend that you still do one on one usability testing you do,and then use usertesting.com to get more datapoints so that you can get more data points very quickly.

Image: Courtesy of usertesting.com

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Happy New Year! Top 10 blog posts of 2010

Wishing you all a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2011! Thank you for reading this blog in 2010 and for your support.

Here are the top 10 most read posts of 2010:

1) 10 job hunting mistakes you should avoid

2) Software product manager’s first 30 days at a new job ….

3) Managing your product management career – Part 1 – Assessing your skills

4) Is software product management needed in a startup?

5) Product Cannibalization ….

6) Software product manager’s first 45-90 days at a new job ….

7) Managing your product management career – Part 2 – Marketing “you”

8) 10 Best practices for doing Software Usability testing

9) 7 questions software product managers must ask during a job interview

10) What to look for in a product manager?

If you have not read them, please enjoy. I will appreciate if you leave me comments. If you have not subscribed to this blog, please do either via RSS feed or via email through the text box available on the right. Happy New Year once again!

Announcing my product management workshops in India (Bangalore and Hyderabad)

I am very pleased to announce that I will be in India to conduct 2-day product management workshops in Bangalore (Feb 1-2) and Hyderabad (Feb 4-5) early next year. I will be offering these workshops via Adaptive Marketing Inc. that I had introduced in my earlier post.

In the past couple of years, many readers who were looking to make a switch into product management had written to me asking for my recommendations on how to go about making the transition from the technical side to product management. It was clear from these questions that there was a dearth of training in product management in India. So when Adaptive Marketing reached out to me a few weeks back to explore possibilities, I knew that offering product management workshops would be the right thing to do. So for all those readers who either have asked me such questions before or are considering transitioning to product management, this workshop will be tailored just for your needs. I will be drawing on all the lessons learnt from my 14 year career doing software product management in this workshop – so it is not going to be just theory, but filled with real world examples.

Here is the outline.

Fundamentals of product management

  • What is product management?
  • Product lifecycle phases
  • Roles and responsibilities of product managers
  • Differences between project management and product management
  • How to successfully transition from project management to product management

Product Management Organization

  • Product Management vs. Product Marketing
  • Product management in startups vs. large companies
  • SaaS software product management vs.  shrink wrap software product management

Market Research and Analysis

  • Market research and analysis skills using qualitative methods (customer visits, interviews etc.) and quantitative methods (user surveys)
  • Who do you talk to? Where do you find them?
  • How to determine what to build?
  • Value Creation
  • Writing business cases
  • User personas

Product Design & Usability

  • Product experience vs. customer experience
  • Importance of product design and usability
  • Best practices of writing requirement documents
  • Product design – wireframes, mockups, working prototypes
  • Market validation

Product Development

  • Build, buy vs. partner
  • Product Development processes
  • Working with engineering
  • Working in an Agile environment
  • Market validation of the built product – usability testing, alpha programs, running Beta programs etc.
  • Pivoting your product based on the initial market success

Go to Market Plan

  • Preparing for product launch
  • Alignment with internal cross functional teams
  • Working with Product Marketing and Marketing Communications

Product Metrics

  • Measuring market success
  • Quantitative measurements
  • Qualitative measurements
  • Future releases of your product

Product Management Career

  • Technical skills needed for success as a product manager
  • Soft skills needed for success as a product manager
  • How to successfully manage your product management career so that you are positioned for success long term.

Who should attend:

Managers and executives who are currently engaged in: 

  • Service delivery
  • Project management
  • Program management
  • Development
  • Quality Assurance

and even current Product Managers who want to further enhance their skills.

Pricing:
$990 per person. $850 if registered before Dec 31st. (Less than half of what other US based professionals charge in India and 1/3rd of what workshops in the US cost).
Groups of 3 or more from the same company can get a special Corporate discount of 15%

If you are interested, please register on Adaptive Marketing’s website. If you have any questions, please let me know and I will be happy to address them.