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You Might Be a Product Manager If…

It’s time for the 2009 edition of Product Beautiful’s semi-annual “You Might Be a Product Manager If…” list.   Please add your own in the comments below.

You might be a Product Manager if:

  1. You’ve created a roadmap through 2015
  2. You can’t remember working less than 70 hours a week
  3. You’ve lost your hair (if you haven’t consider yourself warned!)
  4. At your annual customer summit, you stay late to setup and test products for the next day while Sales runs up a historic bar tab
  5. You used to be a programmer but were too extroverted
  6. You used to be a salesperson but were too introverted
  7. You use customer interview techniques with your spouse to discover the root cause of their problems so you can build a “solution” (”That’s interesting…tell me more!”<smack>)
  8. You wake up at night worried about getting your product’s feature-set right or hitting your ship date
  9. You find competitive and win-loss analysis fun (ugh, I can’t believe I just realized I find those things fun)
  10. You walk through the store and look at products thinking “what problem does that solve?”
  11. You do a SWOT analysis before making any major purchase
  12. The last thing you do before you go to bed and the first thing you do when you wake up is to check your email
  13. You’ve ever written “The System Shall…
  14. You never have less than five #1 priorities
  15. You’ve sat behind the one-way mirror at a focus group
  16. One or more of the following groups is pissed at you: Sales, Development, QA, Tech Support, Marketing, or Operations. Special bonus if you get all at once.
  17. You enjoy writing requirements that constrain easy way out from the Programmer.
  18. You’ve actually learned how to herd cats.
  19. You own an iPhone.
  20. You wonder how the iPhone product manager prioritized all the possible features.
  21. You wonder how many engineering hours it took to create a new feature in your favorite web app.
  22. You try to envision the next 3 design updates for any product you see.
  23. You think in Use Cases.
  24. You’re always looking for an alternative flow of events.
  25. You can’t live without OmniGraffle or Visio.
  26. You had to reset expectations with management, customers, engineering, and finance.
  27. You had to produce a WW product forecast for sales since they are too busy to do it.
  28. You enjoy watching “How It’s Made.
  29. You plan “features” for your children and have a “roadmap” for their skill growth
  30. Your wedding included a powerpoint presentation.
  31. Major life events require a MS Project file.
  32. You get “phantom buzzing” in your pocket when you forget your Blackberry.
  33. You’ve talked to more customers in the last month than all of your executives combined.
  34. Your marketing person said “you’re technical…explain this to me like I was 10.” then, “…now like I was 3…”
  35. You know what all of these are: MRD, PRD, BRD, Functional Spec, sprint, scrum, CAB, spiff.
  36. Your favorite question is “why?”
  37. Your favorite application is Excel.
  38. You’ve built your own product P&L template in Excel to save time.
  39. You’ve used your P&L template across multiple companies.
  40. You know what the “analyst dance” is, and you’re definitely a PM if you’ve done it.
  41. You know what your customer is going to say before they say it.
  42. Your spouse knows who your 3 biggest competitors are by name.
  43. You’ve flown on every major (and some minor) airline this year.
  44. You’ve used Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook to connect with a customer.
  45. You’ve dreamt about competitive kill sheets.
  46. You’ve been to ProductCamp
  47. You’re the one your CEO comes to when he/she really wants to know how things are going.
  48. “They” remembered your revenue commitment but not your product’s funding.
  49. Everyone thinks they do a part of your job.
  50. You’ve ever had to explain to a founder or executive why customers don’t want their great new idea.
  51. You’ve been asked for the revenue impact of deleting a single feature.
  52. You’ve been held accountable for Development’s schedule slips.
  53. You’ve been the person that everyone brings the hard questions to at the trade show booth.
  54. Caffeine is one of your primary food groups.
  55. You spend more time with your development counterpart than your spouse.
  56. You write a blog about Product Management…gulp!

Special thanks to my twitter friends: @joshua_d, @imusicmash, @chriscummings01 for contributing to this list!  You can follow me on Twitter, too.  Happy New Year!

The Spin Cycle

Anyone with children has heard of the telephone game: line up 30 people, the first person whispers something to the next, and so on down the line until the last person says what they were told aloud.  It’s funny because the message changes as it moves down the line.  In business, this effect isn’t funny; it’s dangerous, wasteful, and frustrating.

Most companies do an employee satisfaction survey at least once per year.  I have seen at least 10 of these surveys and in every single one, the top employee concern was “communications.”  The telephone game is bad, but when you observe that effect in two directions (executive level down, individual contributor level up) you get what I am calling the spin cycle – because you can spin for weeks on end just to get everyone agreeing before work on a project even begins.

“Go do’s” and Executive Fiat

Ideally, a Product Manager has the time to do research, write requirements, and bring products to market that meets the needs of customers.  Conditions on the ground rarely allow this process to happen cleanly.  In larger companies, there is the concept of the “go do.”  “Go do” means that for whatever reason, the executive team needs you to execute a tactical task.  A go do could be implementing a certain feature, choosing a certain partner, or attacking a certain market segment.  Usually go do’s are influenced by big picture concerns such as existing lines of business, strategic partners, or even keeping the board happy by interacting with another part of their investment portfolio.

A CEO I used to work with called mandates from management “ruling by Executive fiat.”  That is a great phrase, and reflected his desire to avoid Executive fiat unless completely necessary.  Sometimes you need to get in and break a tie on the team, but in most cases the right answer should be obvious.

Go do’s and ruling by fiat are dangerous because they remove decision making from lower levels of an organization.  Most go do’s come without explanation – it’s just “go do this.”  In the absence of reasoning behind a “go do” decision, teams project reasoning through their own world view.  The development team thinks management’s directive to choose a specific partner is a mandate to use .NET over Java.  The marketing team believes that implementation of a certain feature represents a new strategic direction for the company or product and aligns marcomm efforts accordingly.  The downstream effects of a fiat decision can be disastrous.

Sources of frustration

Management resorts to “go do” orders for several reasons:

  • Trust – they don’t believe in their team to do the analysis and come to the right decision, so they co-opt the thinking
  • Sensitive Information – they have access to sensitive information, such as M&A, that for business reasons can’t be made available to the team
  • Scope – they have line-of-sight to other lines of business that their segment is not concerned with addressing
  • Speed – they perceive the team and their decision making process as too slow, and want to short circuit process and jump straight to the “right” result

Employees get frustrated with mandates because they don’t understand the thought process behind the decision making process.  As a Product Manager it is possible that a mandate will be in direct conflict with the goals and roadmap of your product!  Reconciling this gap is a key communications hurdle that Product Management must step up and own.

The worst consequence of the spin cycle happens when employees take a go do and immediately start to execute based on their understanding of management’s ask.  They go off for weeks or months, working on a solution, bring the result back to management who says “wait…THAT’s not what I wanted!”  The communications cycle has broken down completely in both directions, fostering more mistrust between management and employee.  Since the employees didn’t “get it right,” management’s perception of employees as do-ers and not thinkers is reinforced, resulting in more and more mandates.  Employees  become jaded, stop asking “why,” and mumble about how management doesn’t know what they want.

Breaking the Spin Cycle

Product Management and Marketing sit in the unique position between the executive and employee layers, and are positioned to facilitate better communications across the entire business.  High performing teams are built on trust,

To truly break the spin cycle, first control the conversation.  When you are asked by management to “go do” a feature or partnership – ask “why?”  Some executives are insecure and take this as an affront to their power or management style, but good management will provide you with the reasoning behind the decision.  If they balk, explain that you will need to communicate this decision across the organization, including the deprioritization of other work in order to get this project done, and that being able to effectively explain the decision will help speed up the work.

Next, illustrate the impacts of a mandate.  Executive teams are notorious for “forgetting” about all the work in-progress, expecting new work to get tossed on the pile and not change the scope or dates on ongoing work.  Show how stopping current project, and starting something new will change release dates for everything.

Finally, be able to show strategic impacts of the decision.  If the executives want to mandate the usage of a specific partner, you need to understand that partner’s capabilities and  how that decision will change your roadmap.

How do you address this issue?  Please reply in comments!

Using Social Networking in Product Management

There are three categories of customers you should be talking to as a Product Manager: Current Customers, Evaluators, and Prospects.  If you have an established business, finding Current Customers to talk to should be easy.  Evaluators are slightly more problematic, but you can also access them via win/loss analysis.  Finding Prospects is always a challenge, but now finding them is easy if you know where to look.

Before you spend hours burning up Google, write down what you are looking for in a Prospect.  Are you looking for people who have the same characteristics as your current customer base?  People with certain demographics?  People with certain responsibilities in their organization (purchase authority, specific roles)?  If you don’t yet have a persona for your customers, this is a good place to start.  For example, in one of my current projects, I am looking for people that:

  • Are thinking about their organization’s IT security
  • Have purchase or recommend authority
  • Data is critical to their business or loss of data would be adverse, embarrassing, or force disclosure

That means I am targeting CIO’s, IT managers, and Security managers. Great – how do you find them? Traditionally, you meet them at trade shows, or you know them from past lives and keep a deep Rolodex, you have friends of friends, or you pay a market research firm to dig them up for you.  Some of those are OK, but in general they are either too slow, too expensive, too ineffective, or just suck.  There are better ways to connect with these people.

Everyone is online today, everyone who matters anyway.  If you’re a Product Manager working on products to sell into Africa, this might not apply to you – go hook up with the OLPC folks and get them online.  There are Billions of people online, and you must find a few needles in a very large haystack.  Thankfully, the tools you need are just a few clicks away.

LinkedIn

I’ve written about LinkedIn before, in my changing jobs series.  In my opinion, there is no better tool for finding and connecting with people for business purposes.  Important to this conversation, you can search by title, company, and keyword.  To actually contact people you either have to have an direct or indirect connection and be introduced by a friend.  If you don’t have any connection through your network, you can use the “InMail” feature to send an email (more on this below).  The InMail feature costs money, and you can buy as needed or a monthly or annual subscription.  I recommend the subscription, and if you make your profile OpenLink enabled, it allows people to find you easily.  I often get contacts this way (aside: if you are a reader, please feel free to connect with me, just click the link to my profile on the right and mention this blog in your connection note so I know who you are!).

Blogs

Blogs are a wonderful way to find Prospects.  Your Prospects read blogs that interest them, and since you grok your Prospects you have a pretty good idea about what they are reading.  If you don’t, ask your Current Customers what they read.  Go to these blogs yourself and read them, it will serve you in two ways.  First, you will increase your understanding of the pain points that your Prospects are having.  Second, the blogs you are reading are probably written by a Prospect, but more importantly Prospects are commenting on the blog posts.  The comments section is a goldmine for Prospects to talk to – and often times they link back to their own blog or email address.  Reach out to them over email (see below).

Facebook

The business world has long dissed Facebook as a grafitti wall for college frat boys.  It is – but it’s also expanded into other audiences that you want to reach into.  Facebook has groups that you can join and access members, a great feature for Product Mangers.  Take my Prospect example above – I searched Facebook for “Information Security” and it returned more than five highly relevant groups with over 1500 members.  Think I can find a couple of good conversations out of that pool?  I do!

Twitter

Twitter is the latest narcissistic social networking tool.  The signal to noise ratio is very high, but you can find gems on twitter.  Use twitter’s search tool to search on keywords that you think your Prospects will be talking about, e.g. “security.”  Once you find someone making an interesting comment, follow them for awhile and then decide if they’re worth contacting.

A Honeypot Blog

Honeypot blogs are blogs that you write for the purpose of attracting people that you want to meet.  Don’t start a blog, update it twice, and expect people to flock to you.  You need to “get it,” and stick with it.  If you start a blog, you need to provide valuable content to the people you want to reach.  Your blog must be a pitch free zone.  If you don’t know what to do here, first read about it, then consider hiring someone who knows their way around the blogging world.  It’s not that it’s hard, it’s that your mistakes get plastered all over the Internet, so you can’t make any.

Once you’ve used these tools to locate a pre-qualified Prospect, you need to make contact and convince them to talk with you.  In general, people don’t mind talking to Product Managers, but everyone is busy, and everyone is jaded since they get a million emails per day and most of them are spam.  You need to word your first contact very carefully or you will be immediately discarded as a salesperson.

This is the template that I use:

<Prospect Name>,

I found you online via <where you found them>.  My name is <your name>, and I am a Product Manager at <your company>, responsible for our <your product> products.  After reading your posts, I’d like to spend a few minutes with you listening to some of your challenges in <your product’s area, e.g. “security”> and your take on some ideas we have.

This isn’t a sales call; I am in Product Management and am only interested in building products that are interesting to people like you.

Could I give you a call?  When would be a good time for you?

Thanks,
<your name>

I’ve had good success with this and get a 30-50% hit rate of people writing back to me.  At that point you need to use your skills as a PM to qualify the Prospect further and decide if this is someone that you need to empathize with and listen to.  Be sure to follow up your meeting with a thank you email and send them a hat or t-shirt if you have the budget.

This approach won’t work for everyone.  Are all CEO’s and CIO’s on Facebook?  No.  There are only a couple of thousand of them in the World and every Marketing and Sales team everywhere has it in their goals to target them.  The good new for you is that your competition for their time is largely using interruption marketing techniques: banner ads, dead tree mailers, cold calls, etc.  If you can find them in their “native habitat,” or better, have them come to you, your chances for success go way up.

One last thing: never, ever, under any circumstances give your contact list to Sales.  I hope this is obvious. If you do, and Sales starts pitching someone who thought that they were talking to you in confidence, they will immediately assume that all of the gritty details that they shared with you are now in the Salesperson’s hands.  They will resent you and your company.  Remember that you found these people online, so where will they go to vent?  Exactly…

Good luck and good hunting!  I’m also interested in other ways you use to connect with Prospects, either online or off – reply in comments.

UPDATE: CrankyPM has a good post about how to build and use Customer Advisory Groups.  More relevant to your existing customers, but if you can get Potentials to them, you are my hero.

Changing Jobs in Product Management: Self Evaluation and Farming (Part I of III)

FarmingFirst, I’d like to thank those of you who keep up with Product Beautiful. Many of you I’ve had a chance to meet through networking, ProductCamp, at tradeshows, or we just ran into one another. Something I try to do with Product Beautiful is give Product Managers some helpful strategic thoughts and tactical tips for situations that you face in your job. This series of posts is about the process of changing jobs in Product Management and Product Marketing.

I am currently in the job change process, leaving NetStreams and moving to much larger company in a different industry. Going through the process has made me reflect and think about what people mean when they say “He left the right way.” To be successful in business and in life you need to build more bridges than you burn, so it is important to know the unspoken rules about entering and leaving jobs, because while people may say “it’s just business;” it is personal, relationships matter, and telling your boss that you’re leaving can be a sensitive conversation.

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