Product Manager is not a “CEO” of their products

From the time product management has been around, there is a notion that to be effective, product managers should behave like CEOs for their product. A belief that the successful product managers have the power to make decisions for their product like CEOs do for a company. Others can provide all the input they want, but the final decision should be left in the hands of the product manager. In my career of 20+ years having worked in many software companies in the Boston area, startups to large companies, this is furthest from the truth – I have never seen a product manager having the final authority to make critical product decisions like CEOs have. The CEO has the final authority for making critical decisions for a company. The notion that product managers lead by “influence” and not “authority” is absolutely true and this by very nature indicates that product managers are not CEOs. No one reports directly to a product manager unlike a CEO. This held true even when I was a product management exec – I could choose to exercise making a final decision with my direct reports, but usually not one that spans across the organization.

So if a product manager is not a CEO, are they anything that starts with a “C”? I say Yes – successful product managers are “Chief Information Officers” or “Chief Influential Officers” of their products – the product’s CIOs instead.

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Like a CEO, a product manager needs to work with every external and internal constituency that touches their product – customers, industry analysts, partners, executives, sales, marketing, legal, customer support, order management, engineering, QA, you name it. From all these interactions, the product manager gathers a 360-degree view of the environment their product needs to be successful in. They become experts in “all information” that is related to their product – information related to competitors, sales, product performance, product issues, customer support issues, the list goes on. Product manager becomes the central point for not only collecting this information but also in ensuring that the right information is communicated to the right people in the organization.

It is having the latest and complete product information that gives the influential authority for the product manager to influence their cross functional team and in guiding them to make the right decisions for their products. More trust you build up in the organization as the “go to person” for the product information, more influential you become as a product manager. More time you are spending time outside the building gathering information about the people who will buy your products, more influential you become inside your own organization.

One can argue that even CEOs do not make all the decisions but lead their team to make the right decisions. True, but let us not forget that the CEO indeed has the authority to make a “my way or the highway” decision which product managers never do. Hence the big difference in my opinion.

So let us not lull ourselves to believe that we are CEOs of our products, but instead call ourselves the CIOs and work hard to become the best product CIOs we could ever be.

Do you agree? If not, let me know through comments. If you agree, I would appreciate if you share this with your product management network.

 

 

Fear of Missing Touch – How to lose your way with your target market

You all have likely heard the term FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out” – the fear that makes us buy products/services because everyone else is doing it and for the fear of missing out on something that others are getting out of it. A fear that has been proven to move products – people wanting stuff that is short demand (“ONLY 5 SEATS LEFT”) or has a sense of urgency (“20% off only TODAY”) or one driven by social proof (“all my competitors are using the software, so I should use it too”). The fear that drives users from mere window shoppers to instant buyers.  In the technology adoption cycle made famous by Gordon Moore in the book “Crossing the Chasm“, this fear moves the late majority to buy your product or service. But this is a fear that is experienced on the buying cycle – one experienced by your customers that makes them want to buy your product/service.

However, a more important fear that needs to exist in every company is the “Fear of Missing Touch” (Thank you Steli Efti for introducing me to this term at the Growth Marketing Conference in NYC yesterday). Without this fear within the walls of your offices, you have a very low probability of developing any product/service that will generate FOMO within your target market. So what exactly is the Fear of Missing Touch?

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Fear of Missing Touch is the fear of not being in close touch with your target users that you don’t have a very good understanding of your target user’s pain points, needs and challenges. It is the fear that you are not leaving your office (where btw, none of your target users live) enough number of times to “spend time in the wild with the natives”.

It does not matter how many internal opinions are held within your office about what users want, unless you as a product manager is spending time outside the building listening to users and understanding what problems keep them awake so much, that they are willing to pay for a solution, you do not stand creating a product/service that will create FOMO. Don’t fall into the trap of not doing this because you hear stories of “Apple does not do this” or “Facebook did not do this” because they are mere exceptions led by exceptional one-in-million-leaders than the norm. Your chances of being an Apple or Facebook in winning is the same as winning the lottery. The business world is littered with more corpses of failed companies than successes.

Being in CONSTANT touch with your target customers does not guarantee product success, but not doing it guarantees failure.

It sounds very obvious right? But more and more people I talk to, it is apparent that everyone realizes that it needs to be done but is never executed on – it is like exercising. Some of the reasons I have heard for not doing it are the following:

  1. Our founders have talked with target users before they started the company.
  2. We all belong to the target users, so our needs are the user’s needs
  3. We do a lot of A/B testing
  4. We pay close attention to our competition
  5. We have talked about it, but we have not been able to find <insert some excuse here> (time, money, motivation, ….)

I believe the main reason for not getting started is inertia. There is a feeling that you have to visit a lot of customers before it would be useful – not true. So here are three action items that you could use to get started, overcoming that inertia.

  1. Set a goal of visiting just “ONE” customer a month (3/quarter). Once you get used to it and start seeing the benefits, up that to 5 customers a quarter.
  2. Plan well in advance and send a calendar invite to the customer such that now you have an external commitment (to someone not in your office)
  3. Visit that customer and send a report of what you learned to everyone. Or present at the company meeting to create awareness that you are visiting real people who will pay real money to buy your product/service. Invite others to join you on your next visit.

Trust me, you will be amazed at what you learn, how eye opening it would be for you if you do it right. If you want to know, how to do it right, read my previous post on “Customer visits – dos and don’ts“.

A word of caution – visiting target customers needs to be a continuous endeavor because customer needs change over time. There is never a state where you will ever understand everything you need to about your target customers.

Do you agree? If yes, please share this post with others in your network. Thank you.

 

Effectively managing your communication with your manager

In the past 4 years, I have had 5 different managers – CEO, CTO, CMO and 2 VPs of Product. By the time I had got adjusted to the style of my manager and established a working relationship, I had a new boss. This constant change has made me come up with a way that ensures my communications with my manager is effective especially given the different roles they have held. There are three elements I have proactively established with each one of them to ensure no surprises

  1. Depth of communication
  2. Channel of communication
  3. Frequency

Depth of communication – given their different roles, I find out upfront how much detail they want to know on the progress I was making or problems I am encountering. Do they just want to know “release is on track” or do they want to know the the status of each of the features in the release including which ones have been completed, in dev or in testing? Establishing this upfront helps alignment of expectations and prevents surprises later.

Channel of communication – now that the content depth has been established, I then establish how my manager wants this to be communicated. Do they want it by email? Skype? Some managers would like to get a status update the night before my 1:1 and others have requested an update during the 1:1.

Frequency – this is where I have made sure my manager knew about my style of communication and was aligned with me. I classify problems into three categories and communicate it accordingly:

  1. “House is on fire” issues – these are serious issues that need to be escalated as soon as possible, issues that need to be handled above my pay grade. These are rare but when they happen, I will chase down my manager to communicate the issue face to face or give them a call.
  2. Important but not urgent – If it cannot wait till my next 1:1, I send it to them via their preferred communication channel (typically email) so that they are in the know and can provide me a decision or guidance I am looking for.
  3. Normal, “run the business” issues – I keep a running list of things I want to talk to my manager about during the next 1:1. If I feel that some of these issues require some thinking from their end, then I send it to them before hand and label them as “talking points” for my 1:1.

I have had great success using the above techniques, so hopefully you will find it helpful as well. Thoughts? Other techniques you have used that work well?

Communicating when “fires” break out – “We are on it”

As software product managers, we often deal with cross-functional issues from time to time such as projects that fall behind schedule and now risk making a release, creative designs not ready for implementation, serious production issues that require immediate swats to be released etc. When such problems crop up, keeping your cross-functional team including your management team updated with the latest information is of paramount important. You can take two approaches to communication when such “fires” arise:

  1. Try to gather as much information as possible before you communicate so that you can include all the details of the problem and how you are going to fix it or
  2. Communicate immediately acknowledging there is a problem without revealing the seriousness of the problem and details of how you are going to fix it.

When substantial time is needed to gather data to understand the impact and quantify the size of the problem, I always prefer the latter. In an emergency, it is important to acknowledge that you are aware of the problem and to communicate the message “we are on top of it”. This way everyone (especially your senior management) know about the problem and can rest assured that folks are actively looking into it. Then, once you have gathered more information follow up with the details, options to fix the problem and the recommended solution. Instead, if you wait until you have all the information and good amount of time goes by, someone is going to find out, things get miscommunicated and you could spend more time trying to set things right.

Relate this to when tragedies strike – there is always a “first responder” team that appears on the scene immediately. Their job is to arrive first at the scene and take charge of the scene and start the data gathering process. As a product manager, you should be your team’s leader and part of the first responder team. On-time communication with the whole team is one way to gain respect and make you the go-to-person on your team.

Thoughts? Your experiences?

Posts you may also like:

B2C vs B2B product management – 16 differences

Product demo experience – 3 key learnings

3 sources for competitive analysis

 

Book Review: Cracking the Product Management Interview

If you are a product manager thinking about your next career move or someone looking to move into product management, this is THE book you should read and have as your reference.  I have been doing product management for many years and I found the book so resourceful. Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro have done a great job covering everything from the definition of a product manager role (remember that different companies have different definitions of what we do), how to transition from a non-PM role to a PM role, how to write a cover letter and resume that gets looked at to potential questions (behavioral, case studies, analytical problem solving) that you could be asked in a PM interview. They have interviewed product managers in companies such as Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Microsoft asking them about their day-day to activities and also senior Product Leaders as to how they have managed their careers.cracking the pm interview

It is written so well that it is a very easy read. The chapter I loved the most in the book was the one on “Estimation questions” where different examples such as “how many tennis balls can fit into an apartment” are worked out. The only chapter I have not read in the book is the one on “Coding questions”. This is only because I believe that Product Manager’s focus should be on the “Which” and “What” and not the “How”. It is our job to discover the customer problems, figure out “which” market problems are worth solving and “what” the solutions should look like from a User experience perspective. It is engineering’s job to figure out “how” they are going to develop the identified solution. But the chapter does not take anything away from the book.

I am confident that this book can end up to one of the best investments you could make if you are thinking about switching or finding a PM job. I strongly recommend it.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon: Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology

How do I become a product manager?

This is the most frequent question I get from readers of this blog. Folks who currently are developers, QA engineers, sales professionals, customer support specialists have all asked me this question. I have written how you could start making the move to product management.

But here is a course that is now available from udemy. It is a 33-Video Lecture Course called, “Skillsets to Shift Your Career to Product Management,” is intended for beginning technology entrepreneurs, and for technology professionals with no background in marketing and product management. The course is narrated by Raj Karamchedu, a Silicon Valley technology business executive with over 19 years of experience in the markets of wireless, mobile, semiconductors, software and hardware. He is currently a co-founder of a boootstrapped Silicon Valley-based startup. Previously he was at Legend Silicon (an Intel Capital-funded fabless startup) with two hats, Vice president of Product Management and Chief Operating Officer.

To get more information on the course and to get the 77% discount (offered to readers of this blog), click on the link below.

https://www.udemy.com/productmanagement/?couponCode=gopahshenoy

Product Manager Interview – 7 Cardinal Sins

So you have landed an interview for a software product manager position. You are excited! You show up for the interview and the interview is a bust. You do not get the job. Causes? Having interviewed many product managers, who looked very promising on the resume and ended up being disappointing during the interview, I have compiled the patterns I have seen as “7 Cardinal Sins”. This can also be considered as general tips for any position that you are interviewing for.

  1. You hardly know anything about the company – I have had at least two instances where the candidate told me that s/he was hoping that I would explain what we do, our business model etc during the phone screen. Surprised? Think it is not possible? I was too until I heard this. Good thing this happened on a phone screen.
  2. You do not know the job description/responsibilities in and out – If you don’t know the job description, why did you even apply? How did you figure out that your skills match what the company is looking for? The way a hiring manager can figure this out is by asking the question – “Why do you want to work for us?” or “Why should we hire you?” – These questions should be slam dunk for you if you are prepared, you can show case how much you know about the company, what you bring to the table that relates to the job description and your past successes and accomplishments that are relevant to the job. I have heard lame answers such as “Recruiter called me about this job and hence submitted my resume” or “You guys called me and wanted to talk to me.” Come on, while that may be true, you need to still do a sales job – you need to sell the product you have – “YOU”!Cardinal-Sin
  3. You do not have an elevator pitch – Same as the above, but if the interviewer asks the question – tell me about yourself, try to hit the ball out of the park. Relate your experiences that are relevant to the job. Sell, sell, sell! Your elevator pitch should be 2-3 min max. Give an overview that piques the interest of the interviewer that they want to know more.
  4. You don’t know anything about the people you are going to interview you – You need to ask for the interview schedule before you get there. Then do the research – where have these folks worked at? Use LinkedIn. Do you and them have common connections? What questions can you anticipate given their background?
  5. You do not have questions for the interviewers – when asked if you have any questions, you say No. It is quite possible that towards the tail end of an interview schedule that your questions may have been answered. But instead of a terse No, mention that you had many questions about X, Y and Z that you have asked the previous interviewers. Give everyone a window into your preparation. Ask questions that gives you a deeper understanding of the problems that they are looking to solve by making this hire, the organizational structure, decision making process etc. Ask the same question to multiple people and see if you get a consistent answer.
  6. You have not anticipated questions or prepped for the interview – Research sites such as glassdoor.com to see what questions get asked in interviews at the company. Ask your contact what a typical interview looks like? Do they have a problem solving round where you are asked to solve a given problem? Practice doing a problem solving round before hand to get your thoughts together. It is hard to think on your feet when you are under pressure at the interview. So play through such a session before hand so that you can come up with a strategy of tackling it in the real session.
  7. You lie on the resume – Believe it or not, this happens. If you get caught, not only will you not get the job but your reputation and integrity will be tarnished. In the world we live in, word travels fast. The tech world is highly networked, so don’t take a risk. I had one instance where a product manager claimed that he came up with a pricing strategy – when I asked him to explain it, I was told that he put it on the resume just to make it look well rounded. He admitted that he does not have experience with pricing. End of the interview, right there and then! I am not going to hire you as a PM and put you in front of customers if I cannot trust you. Never, ever lie on your resume.

Image: Courtesy of smallbusiness.yahoo.com