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Entries in product manager (6)


A Listicle for Product Managers Who Love Game Of Thrones

Listicles are all over the web. Publishers have discovered they work with audiences, despite old media efforts to dismiss them as a lazy person's tool to communicate.  And, I have to admit, I enjoy the creativity they engender.  Listicles that work best are ones that find an unusual theme or angle to curate the main points the author (and curator) wishes to make.  

Which brings me to this recent listicle, "5 Things a Product Manager Can Learn from Game of Thrones" that help product managers who are fans of the show learn a thing or two about how to perform better and be most successful. 

"Each of the main characters in HBO’s adaptation of G.R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones have their own motivations and methods that forward their goals, for good, evil, or something in between. And a careful examination of those characters reveals some common risks that Product Managers (and other roles) face in the business world on a daily basis. Here are five examples of things that any clever Product Manager can learn from watching Game of more"



Five Great Product Management Books

1. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products is a great book that delves into the relationship between behavior and product adoption.

Nir Eyal distilled years of research, consulting and practical experience to write Hooked. Who doesn't want to design a product that becomes part of the daily fabric of consumers' lives? Businesses know that habits are hard to give up, and marketing alone can not convince people to take up a new one.

Nir's model to create the "hook" is simple enough to understand, even though the psychology of human behavior is not.

2. Creativity, Inc Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand In The Way of True Inspiration  is not strictly a product management book in the traditional sense. However, the book hits on some of the key traits that product managers need to be successful, including inspiring creativity in others, the importance of storytelling, and the value of a candid, yet sensitive culture. Written by Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, this book will help most product managers elevate their leadership game.

3. The Four Steps to the Epiphany launched the Lean Startup approach to new ventures. Author Steve Blank currently teaches entrepreneurship and customer development at Stanford University School of Engineering and at U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Often spoken about in the same breadth as another product management classic, Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm, The Four Steps to the Epiphany  introduces the notion of customer development as a critical component of the product development process, encouraging entrepreneurs to go to market with minimally featured products, to attract early customers, and to validate market theories. The iterative process is an essential part of agile product development.

4. Making Things Happen, Mastering Project Management by Scott Berkun is an essential book for product managers, not just program or project management leads. Are you a product leader who labors without a strong PMO to support them? Making Things Happen covers the fundamentals of planning, tracking and managing teams to deliver enterprise class technology projects, and provides a framework for handling the communications and relationships across a complex matrixed organization. 

5. Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience  helps product designers and product managers rapidly experiment with design ideas, validate them with real users, and continually adjust your design based on what you learn. Keeping designers engaged in the agile development process can be a challenge, but this books helps bring the designers toolkit into the process of defining the Minimum Viable Product.

In the late 1990's while at Visio Corp, the Visio Enterprise product team I led won a Jolt Award from Dr. Dobbs. Lean UX received the 2013 Jolt Award from Dr. Dobb's Journal as the best book of the year, so maybe that's my bias towards this quick and easy guidebook. At a brief 152 pages, it can easily be read on a cross country flight, which is just what I did. 


My Top 5 Product Management Blogs

As a community service, I thought it might be time to re-run the bases on product management blogs I check in on. Here's an update on ones you might also find valuable. 

1. MindTheProduct is an international product community. Started in 2010 with the very first ProductTank meetup in London and followed by the Mind the Product Conference in 2012 it has now grown to consist of 5,000 members and sold out events in 21 cities around the world.

2. Jeremy Horn is an award-winning,  product management veteran with fifteen years of experience leading and managing product teams.  His blog is The Product Guy.  As founder of The Product Group, he has created the largest product management meetup in the world and hosts the annual awarding of The Best Product Person.

3. The Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG) was created to share senior level experience and best practices with technology companies. Our Partners all come from industry, where each has held senior level executive positions delivering industry-leading products. We are not career consultants.  Our Partners are all experienced and successful company executives with both startup and Fortune 500 experience.

4. I came upon Jackie Bavaro's Quora blog and found it had some good nuggets for a drive by viewing. She posts her thoughts and discussion on how to be a great Product Manager. Jackie is a Product Manager at Asana and co-author of Cracking the PM Interview.

5. And the meta product management blog can be found here at Alltop's PM site.




Three Great Quora Reads On Product Innovation

I have yet to integrate Quora in any regular or habitual way into my daily professional life. But from time to time, I dip back into the site and am delighted by the interesting insights I find buried among the snarky retorts and unanswered questions.

Here are three of my favorite recent reads on product innovation.

How does Apple keep secrets so well?

A former colleague from my time at the Apple Online store wrote, "In the end, it works because the employees want it to... They want to be part of the magic trick, and the most important part of magic is not revealing the secret."

Robert Scoble added these thoughts: "Because they are a hardware company they knew that letting details out about new products would kill sales of existing products, so they built that into their culture early on...Everything is on a need to know basis." In this world of agile software development, I would agree it is often hard for technologists to remember that hardware product lifecycles are not so short or very nimble. Manufacturing lines have to be set up, tooling has to be done and re-done, chipsets must be assembled, durability tested.

Scoble continued, "This [need to know]  extends even into meetings. If you are in a meeting and you aren't on the disclosure list for something you'll be asked to leave. Generally people don't bring up stuff in meetings they aren't allowed to discuss with the group." This, too was my own personal experience. If you don't believe security is a part of a company's culture, you haven't been asked to sign an NDA when you enter a meeting with your own colleagues in your own office building.

Why has Microsoft seemingly stopped innovating?

My former CEO at RealNetworks, (and once again Real's current CEO), Rob Glaser wrote in a "rather lengthy (War and Peace like) note" that "most of the action in technology innovation nowadays is taking place in areas where (i) PC software strength by itself is not sufficient, and (ii) the business models that lead to success are very different that the model that Microsoft was build on and is still at the core of Microsoft's DNA."

Glaser cites three value creating innovations in the past five years that Microsoft failed to nail: "(a) Search delivered to consumers/end users on the Web for free, supported by extremely valuable targeted ads (Google)  (b) Integrated Hardware/Software/Service device plays monetized both by selling the device and then selling services on top of the device (Apple, RIM) (c) Social Network Platforms that are free to consumers, based on user-generated information put into highly integrated and extensible structured frameworks, monetized a few different ways (Facebook)"

Scott Berkun, the author of the Myths of Innovation, pointed out, "The real tragedy is it takes  great products to be labeled an innovator by the mass media and consumer culture. Edison did not invent the lightbulb, but he made one that  worked well enough to be used by most people, that's why he gets all the  credit. Same for Ford. Microsoft has never been led as a products company - It's a  technology and platforms company. With that kind of strategy  middle-management and design-by-committee dominates, making the kind of  design vision and clarity of focus required to make a great product (or a  great user experience) very difficult culturally. The result is products that are often mediocre to experience, but have secondary value that enterprise and corporate customers respond to. This doesn't work as well for consumers, and consumer drive the perception of who is innovative and cool and who isn't."

What distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%?

Former Yahoo exec, Henry Sohn, commented, "I would argue that the best product managers are the ones who can connect to the very best creators and help bring about the best products, and communicate that to the outside world.  

The most popular answer to this question, written by an Amazon senior manager, stresses the value of simplicity to the top echelon of product managers.  "A 1% PM knows how to get 80% of the value out of any feature or project with 20% of the effort. They do so repeatedly, launching more and achieving compounding effects for the product or business. "


Is There a Role for Product?

Recently, I have found myself in several discussions about the value of product management.  On the west coast, specifically in Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest, there is a engineering-driven notion of product, borne from sort of a "maker" culture, which values the kind of invention that comes from tinkering in your garage. On the other hand, though my time here in New York City has been short, I have gotten an acute understanding of how differently product is defined to the businesses and industries that populate this centuries-old city.  Not surprisingly, media behemoths and financial services mega-corporations have for decades conceived of their products in board rooms and b-schools, not in garages (although DUMBO lofts seem desperately trying to become the east coast version of a mid-century tract house garage.)  I don't mean to disparage either as a source for great ideas. On the contrary, I simply suggest that both produce vastly different perspectives of the value, scope and purpose of a pure product management role. 

Steve Johnson, in his e-book, The Strategic Role of Product Management, writes, "Companies that do not see the value of product management go through a series of expansions and layoffs. They hire and fire and hire and fire the product management group. These same companies are the ones that seem to have a similar roller-coaster ride in revenue and profit." Service industries, especially the kind of which New York has no shortage - financial and professional services, are the ones that seem to struggle the most with defining a role for product managers. Why would that be the case? The answer lies in how the service is delivered, and who owns that workflow and the resulting customer experience it creates.  

Think about it...the organizational handoffs to deliver a service-only experience can produce a mosaic of interactions and customer touchpoints, based on each individual or system required to execute it.  In some companies, the only team that can wrangle the responsibility to oversee how these all knit together is a Chief Operating Officer, who might use a legion of business analysts to offer performance metrics which drive business and technical priorities, budget and resource allocation and decision-making.

This would also explain the challenge product teams can have finding a home in the reporting structure in these kinds of companies. If product is to be a front-line oriented job as part of the sales and marketing organization, then positioning, pricing, promotion and packaging become the lion's share of that PM's job. Ten years ago, I used to hear people call this an "Outbound" Product Manager job. (Johnson refers to this role as a Product Marketing Manager, but in today's economy, few companies can afford those to be two separate positions, and even if they do, they may call both functions Product Manager.) Alternatively, product may be absorbed by IT systems, taking requirements orders from internal stakeholders to evolve their executional platforms, like CRM and point of sale. 

For a great case study to review that highlights the impact of these different perspectives of service and technology companies on the role of product management, one need only look at Yahoo, and the inflection point it has revealed it is facing. After Terry Semel re-chartered Yahoo from being a search and communications platform company to a media company, one supportive employee posted this on his blog, "Cisco is a technology company, Yahoo! is a consumer services company — the fact that those services are delivered via IP is just a detail." But did that perspective provide the optimal vantage point for products to emerge that would allow Yahoo to compete successfully? For the first year or two, maybe, but with the downturn in the economy came a number of missed product opportunities for Yahoo, notably the failure to grow Delicious or make any deeper move into social networking after Messenger, and the stock has never recovered.

Kara Swisher writes on AllthingsD, "The way products are made got a long look-see this past week, in a day-long meeting that Thompson had with Yahoo’s top team execs. Thompson reportedly quizzed the group on its plans, and pressed it to look less at short-term features and maintenance than on finding the next great thing.

'I think it’s fair to say that Scott is wondering why Yahoo did not come up with innovations like Pinterest and Instagram,” said one person about hot new start-ups that are in the sweet spot of Yahoo’s business. “Or, at the very least, why it did not even try to buy them.'"

Steve Johnson points out that "8% of product managers report directly to the CEO, acting as his or her representative at the product level," because those leaders believe that markets, not marketing, should drive product strategy.

Just this week, Yahoo's Chief Product Officer announced via a memo revealed  “We have a bias toward action in Products and expected that our new org design would be in place well before any corporate changes took place. However, it is clear now that the two efforts are starting to run in parallel, and making Product org changes prior to corporate changes no longer makes sense.” 

But that does beg the question, when does it make sense to not consider those efforts in parallel?


What Makes The Product Guy Tick?

In my travels around the Twitterverse, I was lucky to meet Jeremy Horn, who has branded himself The Product Guy. Jeremy writes an informative blog about designing products, the people behind them and the trends they represent. His domain runs the gamut from Modular Innovation to User Experience. I've enjoyed reading his posts, and thought you all might enjoy meeting him, too.

You call yourself the “The Product Guy”.  How would you describe what kind of product guy you are?

As “The Product Guy” I work with startups, small and medium sized organizations in Product Strategy, Product Management, User Experience, and Technology Strategy.  I am the kind that understands both the high- and low- level details across all areas of an organization, from Design to Marketing to Technology to Business.  As The Product Guy I enjoy diving into products both on and offline, understanding how they work from as many angles as possible, exploring and sharing how I might do them better.

What do you think makes the difference between a good product and a great product?

There are many good ideas, unique business models, and innovations that are or could be great products.  What’s more important than the idea is the successful execution of that idea to product realization. To that end, what makes the dfference between a good and great product is the product person (team) behind it.

Give us the value proposition of The Product Guy?

The value proposition of The Product Guy lies in the unification of the key disciplines that make companies successful, coalescing product vision, and identifying the right ‘next steps’ in-sync with the long-term product strategies -- whether for a client, or in an article exploring a variety of products and trends. 

Put more succinctly, The Product Guy helps companies figure out the right things to focus on and when to focus on them.

What is the best advice you have given to people just starting out?


What is the best advice you ever received when you were starting out?

Pick something, one thing, and strive to be the best you can be at it.  In that, I strive to improve and broaden my skills everyday as a creator, innovator and enhancer of products.

Please explain Modular Innovation.

Modular Innovation (MI) is all about relationships, be they between people or products online. In looking at how these relationships are established, maintained, enhanced, and expanded, one can achieve greater insight into the underlying forces shaping products' successes and challenges.

Today, Modular Innovation is a prevailing trend that can be described as products and platforms consisting of or facilitating… 

  1. Relationships (people-people, products-products, people-products)
  2. Control of Experience (from creation to storage to interaction)
  3. Ownership of Content (personal content from comments to friend lists and more)

The role and presence of relationships within and between people, products and platforms are ever increasing in importance and influence.

The more relationships, the stronger the relationships, in turn, the stronger and broader can be a product’s acceptance, support, and success. These relationships comprise Modular Innovation.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

Analytical.  I experiment with all of the latest and greatest, but become a permanent user of much less. 

Speaking as that consumer…

What is the first and last app you downloaded for your personal use?

The first was probably a simple Commodore 64 game or BBS software for both playing/using and learning what made it tick.

Most recently I downloaded a Basecamp client for Android phone; but, quickly uninstalled it since I didn’t find it meet my task requirements.

What product is sitting in a “saved shopping cart” to buy soon?

None; if there is ever an e-ink device that supports color, is cost effective, and speedy, that may be among my first next purchases.

What product or service have you bought recently that most disappointed you? 

The majority of the products I use for work are through free services online.  It has been a very long time that I have purchased something (especially after having tried it) that has disappointed me. 

My purchase disappointments tend to be in the realm of overpriced movie tickets and Xbox games (of which I haven’t purchased in quite some time due to lack of anything of particular interest coming across my radar).

What one piece of technology innovation would you say changed your life the most?

The most... Electricity...  Computer.

Much less than that, a recent major positive impact was when I went from my painfully slow, and constrictive Windows Mobile phone to my HTC Hero Android – enabling me to be better connected and more productive.

What product did your family or friends have before you, that you eventually had to buy, too?

There wouldn’t be a purchased product that friends and family had before I did.  However, I arrived later to podcasting than most of my friends and family and have since become an avid listener to many podcasts.

Are you a Mac or PC?

I am whatever the occasion calls for: Mac, PC, Linux

What phone are you carrying now?

HTC Hero (the GSM one)

Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?

Each has their strengths and through each I am able to reach different groups of friends and followers.