Goldilocks CEO – Getting Product Management “Just Right”

Goldilocks CEOSuccessful CEOs aim to foster an environment of innovation and creativity that will ensure that their vision is executed and that projects with the highest potential are prioritised.

Early stage companies, with the best chance of success, are typically led by strong founders with a clear vision of where they want to be – they are not afraid to take risks, they see the bigger picture and they have the ability to lead others to deliver their vision of the world.

To get initial investment the founder CEOs create a clear business plan articulating the market opportunity, the competitors in their space, the problem or need the company is going to address, the technology they will use to solve this problem and how they will make money. The founder CEO will generally start by hiring a few engineers to deliver their vision. They might have one or two sales and marketing people but predominantly the company is focused on executing a defined product strategy.

As the company grows the founder can sometimes move into a different role in favour of a “professional” CEO (often appointed by the board) or they may become more focused on general business development, with perhaps less time for defining the product vision.

In this hiatus, where there is potentially a lack of product strategic direction, one of Sales, Engineering or Marketing may step up to fill the void. However, allowing any of these groups to dictate the product strategy brings risk:

  • A company that adopts an engineering-led strategy runs the risk of focusing too much on the “next cool technology” with little understanding of the needs of the market.
  • A sales-led strategy may simply focus on the needs of each individual customer leading to “bespoke” and “one-off” solutions and driving the company down a services route.
  • A marketing led strategy may focus too much on external messaging with little understanding of technology innovations or the needs of the customer.

So how does the CEO “get it just right”?

CEOs like Larry Ellison of Oracle, Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple managed to scale their companies and remain involved in core product strategy. As their companies grew they ensured they played a key part in defining the “vision” for the product, whilst ensuring that they built a strong team that were equipped to address their core strategic vision. These CEOs knew that, without innovation and the right product vision, the company would die.

The success of early stage technology companies is often a result of a founder CEO who has managed to get the balance “just right” with product strategy. To ensure the product strategy meets their vision they maintain an active involvement in:

  • Articulating the problem they are trying to solve
  • Understanding the competitive landscape
  • Defining the market opportunity

They also have a deep knowledge of the technology that will help them to successfully address the market need.

Continuing to get that balance right as the company grows is crucial for continued success.

Although Steve Jobs was actively involved in defining the vision for Apple’s products, he recognised the importance of adopting a supporting framework to deliver on his vision so that he could also focus on other aspects of business development. He is quoted as saying:

You need a very product-oriented culture… Lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …..there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.”

As the company grows and the CEO has less opportunity for acting as the  “gravitational force”, adopting a product management discipline is an important next step –  it is never too early to ensure it is part of the DNA of the company.

Successful CEOs naturally adopt aspects of the product management discipline from the moment they write their first business plan but ensuring it is engrained in the organisation takes focus and alignment across the leadership team.

As the CEO becomes increasingly involved in other aspects of business development, it is so important that they have adopted and resourced a framework for product management that will ensure their vision continues to be executed.

Rather than usurping the CEO, Product Management supports them by understanding their vision and ensuring that a product strategy captures and articulates that vision. They help the CEO to understand the market opportunity, they maintain oversight of the creation and delivery of the product through engineering and they support the positioning of the product to market through targeted messaging and sales execution. Product Management listen to many stakeholders and help the organisation to make decisions based on the “right data” – they are the “gravitational force” that pulls everyone together to drive the organisation’s strategic objectives.

Whether the CEO is the ultimate product visionary or whether this is driven from within the organisation it is essential that there is an established discipline for managing product strategy.

Finding and nurturing the right product management team will enable the Goldilocks CEO to “get it just right” and to allow them to maintain the right level of engagement on product strategy.

To be really effective the relationship between product management and the CEO must be strong and bi-directional

  • The product manager must be able to understand and reflect the CEOs vision and objectives through a clear product strategy. They are a critical resource in supporting the CEO to deliver on their vision.
  • The CEO must understand the value that product management adds to the organisation, they must be actively involved in setting their objectives and reviewing their effectiveness. They must champion the product management discipline in the organisation.

For product management to become part of the DNA of an organisation it needs the support and “buy-in” of the CEO from the start. 

 

Building Bridges – Product Management

Product Management – Managing Up and Across

One of the more difficult challenges for any Product Manager is “managing up” or “managing across” the organization. The ability to demonstrate the soft skillsrequired to effectively communicate and work with multiple people in the organization is often an underestimted part of the product manager’s role. This is not about becoming the bosses best friend, it is about stepping through the sometimes subtle political minefield that exists in most organizations.

Few of us receive specific training on what is a very important part of what we do. We don’t often discuss the negative impact of this aspect of our role with others for fear of showing weakness and the training to deal with political interactions is often “on the job”, with many of us bearing the battle scars.

So what are my top 5 approaches for managing up and across (although like all of you I’m still learning!)

Build a relationship of trust with your key stakeholders

Difficulties in establishing a strong relationship with other stakeholders can stem from a lack of trust and a lack of understanding of the other person’s role. People can sometimes have a tendency to retreat to their trenches and adopt a stance based primarily on mistrust.

Making an effort to understand the value that each group in the organization brings is crucial. We all think we are brilliant and are clearly adding the most value but in reality we are all part of a bigger team. All stakeholders have the potential to add value – no man is an island, you need other people as much as they need you. In your communication with others show how you can support them in their role and how they can support you. Great companies are built with great people who develop strong relationships.

Understand your counterpart’s objectives and their management style

Conflict can often occur when you don’t understand or care about your peer’s objectives. Although we may be working to different team KPIs at the end of the day there must be some common ground – do we not all aspire to create successful companies?

Rather than going head-to-head with someone over a position they have taken, try and understand their motives and objectives. If you are new to the role, try and speak to others in the organization to understand the different “management styles” that exist in the organization. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes first – it can help to avoid conflict if you know what motivates the other person and what they are trying to achieve.

Take advice from others – work with a mentor

Product management is a multi-faceted role – it requires good communication, a strong focus on commercial aspects of business development, an ability to multi-task, the capacity to lead and above all the capability to deliver order from chaos. Often the product manager is a solitary figure with no direct reports but they communicate with and require support from many people in the organization.

I found huge benefits in working with a mentor in my early days of product management and today I find it hugely satisfying to mentor product managers in their role. Product Management can be a lonely place but it is an immensely rewarding role if approached in the right way. Take advice from as many other people as you can, especially those who have faced similar challenges to you. If you have a product manager in your team, ensure they are receiving the right supports from inside and outside the organization.

We are all on a journey of continuous learning – reach out to others who have made mistakes, learned from those mistakes and who can guide you in your approach.

Adopt processes that support better communication and interactions

Misunderstandings are more likely to occur when there is no formal process in place to guide how people work together. In the absence of a process for communication things can fall between the cracks and one side can blame the other.

Using something like the RACI model to understand who is responsible, accountable, consulted or informed for key projects can be hugely beneficial and can support positive cross-team interactions.

Keeping lines of communication open outside of your own group and establishing forums of communication can be hugely beneficial.

Understand your leadership team’s strategic objectives

It is important for product management to have a “voice” at the leadership table – they support alignment, guide decision-making and ensure everyone is moving in the same direction. As much as possible they try to reflect the CEO’s corporate strategy in their product strategy. Sometimes the leadership team may disagree with or do things that undermine the product manager’s strategy. Dealing with this situation can be a political minefield.

Managing up is such an important part of what we do and sometimes our passion for “doing the right thing” can override our ability to recognize that sometimes there are people more senior than us, who (for the best of reasons) may not agree with our vision. Product Management must tread a fine line between giving good counsel and dictating strategy. We have to ensure that we can see the bigger picture and that we recognize that there are often many contributory factors to good decision-making. As long as we enable our leadership teams to make informed decisions, with the right data, then we are doing our job. It’s important to realize though that we may not always agree with every decision that is made.

Although product managers may feel like they have no authority they do have the ability to lead and guide good decision-making and that is where they can add true value. Remember, don’t bring problems to the leadership team without some well thought out potential solutions.


Hit the Market Bullseye with Product Management

StrategyThe Challenge

As someone who has helped startups with their business plans I understand that to capture the interest of the investor community it is hugely important to articulate your value proposition right from the start. Clearly representing the problem or need you address for your target market, listening to your target customers and understanding how you will drive revenue growth is essential to ensure you get the kick-start of investment you need to scale your business.

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Strategy Maps)

Business plans typically only get shared with a targeted group – generally the leadership stakeholders and potential investors. The continued articulation of the value proposition within the company, especially as the number of new employees grows, can be ad-hoc at best.

A company that has captured initial investment through a clearly defined business plan will move quickly to focus on the execution of this plan – hiring engineers, marketers and sales personnel. As time progresses and they learn more about their target market they may change their initial corporate strategy and re-evaluate their initial hypotheses of what the customer needs. Somewhere along the line their “internal” value proposition changes but often this is not captured or re-communicated clearly to everyone in the organization.

Once the company begins to execute the business plan different dynamics can occur across the organization.

  • The background and focus of the engineering team means that they will generally position the product from a technical standpoint, often failing to understand or demonstrate the “business value” of what they are creating.
  • Marketing will battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and might fail to create compelling positioning material.
  • Sales will struggle without a clear view of the target market, the value the company brings or the product’s unique selling points.

Without a defined value proposition the company will struggle to position the product and potential opportunities will be missed. Articulating your value proposition across the organization allows you to:

  • Create an aligned and collaborative organization that shares a common understanding of how the business will create value
  • Ensure the organization remains focused on corporate strategic objectives
  • Maximize ROI for corporate resources and ensure all resources are delivering effectively
  • Support decision making for all employees
  • Enable Sales and Marketing to clearly position the products and solutions to the target market and thereby drive revenue growth

The Solution

Whether you are a startup or SME you should take the time to ensure that your“Internal” Value Proposition is clearly articulated inside your business so that everyone can clearly represent it outside your business.

Product development, sales and marketing teams are often too busy delivering current project priorities to focus on the company’s value proposition and it can be beneficial to bring the team together under a moderator to focus efforts in this area.

I have recently spent time running “internal” value proposition workshops with technology companies and the exercise has been enlightening for everyone – particularly those companies that have spent a lot of time focusing on the “execution” rather than the “strategic” part of product management.


Can your Product Manager “see the wood for the trees”?

Wood from the Trees (1)More and more companies over the last few years have made the bold move to establish a product management discipline in their organization. They understand that to be successful they need to:

  1. Create products or services that customers love.
  2. Ensure the organization is marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction.”
  3. Work to a clearly defined business model.

This requires someone to hold it all together and keep the company focused. As Steve Jobs said “You need a very product-oriented culture… lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.”

Initially, when the company is small, the CEO or CTO will fulfil this role – but as the company begins to scale it is important that the CEO looks for support. Adding a product manager to the team is the right next step, but …

What exactly does this product manager do and how will they integrate with the existing team?

Often there are many political obstacles that need to be addressed as people’s roles change and the organization settles into a new way of thinking.

The new product manager has a myriad of functions that they “could do” – the question is what functions “should they do” that align best with the organization’s structure and vision. Although there are many training organizations that provide great frameworks to help product managers understand all aspects of their role, quite frankly the breadth and depth of areas to be covered would give any new product manager palpitations – you would need to be superhuman to address everything effectively!

So, how do you decide which aspects of the product management framework make sense for your new product manager?

Well, it depends on the stage of your growth as a company. I think it is best to start with a “lean” approach to product management – don’t overwhelm yourself and your new recruit from day 1.

For many new and established product managers they exist in a state of constant bewilderment and despair as the enormity of the role becomes apparent to them.

They often have a very unclear definition of the role, unachievable expectations are set by senior leadership or often no expectations are set at all (which is even worse), there is no clear prioritization of projects and they have to juggle the demands of a sales and engineering team who expect their undivided attention 24/7. This situation can become a cycle of despair where the product manager becomes increasingly disillusioned and the leadership team begin to dismiss the product manager as ineffectual.

Things do not have to be this way – understanding who does what in your organization and clearly defining the role and boundaries for each group is a first step. Then, applying a structure and discipline to product management that aligns with the stage your company is at is crucial. Helping the product manager to apply methodologies in areas such as portfolio management, value proposition creation, requirements management, agile development, customer validation, ideation, ROI analysis, sales management and leadership alignment will undoubtedly help alleviate the pressure.

Don’t assume your product manager will hit the ground running from day 1

The Product Manager is an important resource in your company. In my work with companies I often see frustration from the CEO and the Product Manager as they struggle to understand the role of product management and how it can be applied effectively in their organization. Just because a product manager has previous experience, don’t assume they will just walk in the door and hit the ground running in a new company – it takes time and support to establish the discipline and to work effectively with all stakeholders in the organization.

It is not a sign of weakness if a new or existing product manager looks for mentorship or support outside of the organization – it makes sense.

As someone who has performed the role of product manager and ultimately managed both a portfolio of products and a team of product managers I understand more than most the demands of the role. I learned quickly that applying structure and discipline ensured myself and my team could work effectively. We can all read books or attend courses that will give a good grounding in the product management discipline but the application of this discipline and the understanding of what works in reality comes with experience.

Don’t wait until either you or your product managers have reached the point of despair – seek the support and help of those who have done this before, who have been at the coalface and who understand the demands of the role.

Irrespective of whether you are new to the role of Product Management or have been doing the job for years, look to get as much insight as you can from those around you. Product Management is a continuous learning path.

“Seeking help is not a mark of weakness, but of power”


Top 5 Approaches for Product Managers to Manage Up and Across

Org StructureOne of the more difficult challenges for any Product Manager is “managing up” or “managing across” the organization. The ability to demonstrate the soft skills required to effectively communicate and work with multiple people in the organization is often an underestimted part of the product manager’s role. This is not about becoming the bosses best friend, it is about stepping through the sometimes subtle political minefield that exists in most organizations.

Few of us receive specific training on what is a very important part of what we do. We don’t often discuss the negative impact of this aspect of our role  with others for fear of showing weakness and the training to deal with political interactions is often “on the job”, with many of us bearing the battle scars.

So what are my top 5 approaches for managing up and across (although like all of you I’m still learning!)

Build a relationship of trust with your key stakeholders

Difficulties in establishing a strong relationship with other stakeholders can stem from a lack of trust and a lack of understanding of the other person’s role. People can sometimes have a tendency to retreat to their trenches and adopt a stance based primarily on mistrust.

Making an effort to understand the value that each group in the organization brings is crucial. We all think we are brilliant and are clearly adding the most value but in reality we are all part of a bigger team. All stakeholders have the potential to add value – no man is an island, you need other people as much as they need you. In your communication with others show how you can support them in their role and how they can support you. Great companies are built with great people who develop strong relationships.

Understand your counterpart’s objectives and their management style

Conflict can often occur when you don’t understand or care about your peer’s objectives. Although we may be working to different team KPIs at the end of the day there must be some common ground – do we not all aspire to create successful companies?

Rather than going head-to-head with someone over a position they have taken, try and understand their motives and objectives. If you are new to the role, try and speak to others in the organization to understand the different “management styles” that exist in the organization. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes first – it can help to avoid conflict if you know what motivates the other person and what they are trying to achieve.

Take advice from others – work with a mentor

Product management is a multi-faceted role – it requires good communication, a strong focus on commercial aspects of business development, an ability to multi-task, the capacity to lead and above all the capability to deliver order from chaos. Often the product manager is a solitary figure with no direct reports but they communicate with and require support from many people in the organization.

I found huge benefits in working with a mentor in my early days of product management and today I find it hugely satisfying to mentor product managers in their role.  Product Management can be a lonely place but it is an immensely rewarding role if approached in the right way. Take advice from as many other people as you can, especially those who have faced similar challenges to you. If you have a product manager in your team, ensure they are receiving the right supports from inside and outside the organization.

We are all on a journey of continuous learning – reach out to others who have made mistakes, learned from those mistakes and who can guide you in your approach.

Adopt processes that support better communication and interactions

Misunderstandings are more likely to occur when there is no formal process in place to guide how people work together. In the absence of a process for communication things can fall between the cracks and one side can blame the other.

Using something like the RACI model to understand who is responsible, accountable, consulted or informed for key projects can be hugely beneficial and can support positive cross-team interactions.

Keeping lines of communication open outside of your own group and establishing forums of communication can be hugely beneficial.

Understand your leadership team’s strategic objectives

It is important for product management to have a “voice” at the leadership table – they support alignment, guide decision-making and ensure everyone is moving in the same direction. As much as possible they try to reflect the CEO’s corporate strategy in their product strategy. Sometimes the leadership team may disagree with or do things that undermine the product manager’s strategy. Dealing with this situation can be a political minefield.

Managing up is such an important part of what we do and sometimes our passion for “doing the right thing” can override our ability to recognize that sometimes there are people more senior than us, who (for the best of reasons) may not agree with our vision. Product Management must tread a fine line between giving good counsel and dictating strategy. We have to ensure that we can see the bigger picture and that we recognize that there are often many contributory factors to good decision-making. As long as we enable our leadership teams to make informed decisions, with the right data, then we are doing our job. It’s important to realize though that we may not always agree with every decision that is made.

Although product managers may feel like they have no authority they do have the ability to lead and guide good decision-making and that is where they can add true value. Remember, don’t bring problems to the leadership team without some well thought out potential solutions.


September 2014 – Scala CEO – Create High Value Companies through Great Products

Brochure CoverDelighted to be working with great companies as part of the Irish Software Skillnet’s  Scala CEO programme. This programme is targeted exclusively at the CEOs/Founders of Irish technology companies and focuses on product management driven approaches to help these companies to scale and grow.

Through this programme participating companies are learning how the application of a product management discipline across their organization can help them to:

  • Create scalable and repeatable revenues through products that customers value
  • Ensure future revenue growth through the continued progression of innovative ideas
  • Ensure the organization is focused and moving in the same direction
  • Ensure that the organization works to a clear business model that meets corporate strategic objectives
  • Prioritize the finite set of resources available and deliver the right projects

The programme incorporates a corporate capability assessment, two day workshop for the CEOs and two separate 1/2 day mentoring sessions with each individual company.

IntegratedThinking are delighted to be delivering this programme for ISA Software Skillnets and we are very much enjoying the interactions with the participating companies to date.

 

 

 

Articulating your Value Proposition – Not Just for Startups

The Challenge

As someone who has helped startups with their business plans I understand that to capture the interest of the investor Strategy2acommunity it is hugely important to articulate your value proposition. Clearly representing the problem or need you address for your target market, listening to your target customers and understanding how you will drive revenue growth is essential to ensure you get the kick-start of investment you need to scale your business.

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Strategy Maps)

Business plans typically only get shared with a targeted group – generally the CEO and potential investors. The continued articulation of the value proposition within the company, especially as the number of new employees grows, can be ad-hoc at best.

A company that has captured initial investment through a clearly defined business plan will move quickly to focus on the execution of this plan – hiring engineers, marketers and sales personnel. As time progresses and they learn more about their target market they may change their initial corporate strategy and re-evaluate their initial hypotheses of what the customer needs. Somewhere along the line their value proposition changes but often this is not captured or re-communicated clearly to everyone in the organization.

Once the company begins to execute the business plan different dynamics will occur across the organization. The background and focus of the engineering team will mean that they will generally position the product from a technical standpoint, often failing to understand or demonstrate the “business value” of what they are creating. Marketing will battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and will fail to create compelling positioning material. Sales will struggle without a clear view of the target market, the value the company brings or the product’s unique selling points. Without a defined value proposition the company will struggle to position the product and potential opportunities will be missed.

Articulating your value proposition and articulating across the organization allows you to:

  • Create an aligned and collaborative organization that shares a common understanding of how the business will create value
  • Ensure the organization remains focused on corporate strategic objectives
  • Maximize ROI for corporate resources and ensure all resources are delivering effectively
  • Support decision making for all employees
  • Enable Sales and Marketing to clearly position the products and solutions to the target market and thereby drive revenue growth
The Solution

Whether you are a startup or SME you should take the time to ensure that your Value Proposition is clearly articulated inside your business so that everyone can clearly represent it outside your business.

Product development, sales and marketing teams are often too busy delivering current project objectives to focus on the company’s value proposition and ensure that everyone is aligned around a common message.

Undertaking this exercise takes time and focus.

IntegratedThinking can help through a short-term engagement that will provide tools and methodologies to support your teams to:

  • Understand the market segment you are addressing
  • Review and define the value proposition for each of your target customer segments
  • Articulate this value proposition to the wider team with clarity
  • Validate this value proposition with your target market
  • Support the marketing team to articulate this value proposition through corporate messaging

“Working with Siobhan enabled us to really understand the market we are addressing and the problems and needs of our customers – we learned to recognize the huge benefits that can be achieved from an “outside in” approach to product management. As a result, we have strengthened our value proposition”
Bill Walsh, CEO Aspire

The Approach

We will provide an initial free consultation to ascertain your requirements. We will then provide a project proposal for review and approval that will articulate what needs to be done, how long it will take and how much it will cost.  In a busy environment, where the time of your key resources is precious, you need someone who has done this before and can drive the project to completion.

Please feel free to give me a call or contact me via email and I will be happy to discuss this further.

Contact: email siobhan@integratedthinking.ie for more details

Siobhan is the founder of IntegratedThinking and has over 20 years experience in the software industry. As Vice President of Product Management at Openet, Siobhan was responsible for the entire portfolio of Openet’s products. She was directly responsible for building a team to manage product strategic direction reflecting both external market needs and Openet’s corporate strategy. Siobhan has clearly demonstrated the ability and focus to drive and manage significant organizational change within a large, distributed software company and was key to the evolution of Product Management within Openet.
Siobhan chaired the Irish Software Association’s Product Management Working Group – established to promote the development of the product management discipline within the indigenous software industry in Ireland. She is also a founding member of the ISA Product Management Forum – a collaborative assembly of Product Management industry peers.
Siobhan’s proven technical expertise has allowed her to gain the respect of engineering teams across a number of companies and to bridge the gap between technical, commercial and marketing disciplines.

Since the establishment of her consultancy business in October 2013 Siobhan has been providing in-house mentoring to scaling companies.

Top 10 Indicators that your Company should adopt a Product Management Discipline

mentoringPosition your company for revenue growth, future investment or value realisation through a strong product-oriented approach

Whether consciously or not, most companies adopt some aspects of a product management discipline from their inception. The founders often perform the product management role – defining product strategy, setting revenue targets, meeting customers, capturing requirements, supporting marketing initiatives, and managing investment priorities. However, as the company grows it becomes more difficult to cover all bases and the essential parts of a true product management discipline need to be part of a more structured function within the company. 

The transition to a point where product management is a necessary part of an organization can be gradual and the signs may be missed. Here are my observations on the top 10 indicators that a company needs to reposition to adopt a product management discipline – you may not experience all of these but it will hopefully give you some pointers:

1) Absence of Customer or Market Focus – “Inside-Out” rather than “Outside-In”

Although your company is having conversations with customers they are typically driven by a handful of people, often senior leadership, and there is inconsistent feedback to the product development team. There is little understanding across the organization of the target or addressable market resulting in ad-hoc capture of competitor, customer or market data. This lack of customer focus means product requirements are not linked back to a customer need or problem and there are no formal links between marketing and product development. With no mechanism in place to support proactive engagement with customers your company is struggling to create products that customers truly value.

2) Lack of Alignment to Drive Strategic Objectives

As your company has grown it has become increasingly difficult to align everyone towards a common goal. Engineering, marketing, finance and sales teams have grown organically but are  operating in silos with little cross-functional alignment. This has led to  a lack of cohesion on how these functions will drive corporate strategic objectives or prioritize product strategic direction. It has become difficult to benchmark or measure the effectiveness of these teams.

3) Lack of Focus – Unclear Product Direction

In your early stage company  your founder worked to a clearly defined business plan and growth strategy which ensured they captured necessary investment. As the company has scaled the focus has shifted away from the customer or market and the product strategic direction has become predominantly driven from personal hunches. In the quest to win more business there is little focus on customer validation and tentative links to corporate strategic objectives. The “Highest Paid Person in the Organization (HIPPO)” is having a huge influence on how individuals prioritize their work and in this culture of the priority du jour there is a large element of confusion and an unhealthy lack of focus.
In order to cope with fluctuating markets, requirements are changing continually – business priorities are not articulated clearly and the product direction is not aligned across functions. Engineering is calling the shots and often drop or change features with little or no consultation with key stakeholders. Requirements are not understood during development so are regularly re-scoped to suit tight deadlines with little understanding of market or customer impact. Resources move frequently between projects and there is a developing culture of “fire fighting” or “organized chaos”. Engineers are creating and testing code but if asked to link back to a clear business case they are struggling.

4) Adopting a Tactical rather than Strategic Approach

In order to win business your company has  approached each customer engagement as a bespoke deployment, with solutions tailored to the customer’s exact needs. This  has resulted in a lack of cohesion or repeatability between customer releases with a large “services” component for each deployment. Code has become difficult to manage across customer sites and the development team are struggling to manage an increasing number of customer quality issues with a knock-on impact to release dates. Engineering priorities are predominantly driven from sales opportunities with little focus on the strategic direction.

5) Ad-Hoc Product Positioning

Although your company may have initially created a technically masterful product they are failing to articulate its value to the market. When asked, Engineering position the product from a technical standpoint and fail to understand or demonstrate how the product relates to a customer need or problem that can be addressed. Consequently, Marketing battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and with a lack of a defined value proposition the company is struggling to position the product to their own sales team and ultimately to the market.

6) Unclear View of Product Commercial Performance

Development resources are assigned arbitrarily to projects, with little focus on “return on investment” or any link back to corporate objectives. It has become difficult to ascertain the cost to develop a product release or to link these releases to a value proposition or product strategy. Marketing promotions are failing to associate upcoming releases with value to the customer. Win/Loss analysis does not exist or is ad-hoc at best and customer data is not fed back to the product development team. Product pricing is  arbitrary and unclear. There is no mechanism to associate product releases with clear revenue targets. Pricing varies across customers due to the bespoke nature of the deployments.

7) Too Many Projects and Too Few Resources

Due to an uncertain economic climate or investor pressure to grow revenues key decision makers in your company are feeling the need to say “yes” to any new revenue generating projects. In this tactical environment, resources are scurrying between projects with little focus on the end-game or corporate strategic objectives. The company has no gating process to prioritize project investment based on ROI.

8) No Innovation/Ideation Strategy Established

Due to the tactical nature of your business there is no clear process for capturing new ideas, prioritizing these ideas or bringing them through a gating process. You have a team that have the potential to generate lots of ideas but there is nobody to catch these and prioritize investment.

9) Unconscious Decision Making

With a lack of market or customer data product decisions are being made in a vacuum. The company is moving so fast that it cannot recognize that it is in a cul-de-sac.

10) Lack of Competitive Differentiation

Your competitive landscape is crowded and customers are finding it difficult to find compelling reasons to select your company’s products. You struggle to identify unique selling points for the products or solutions and it has become increasingly difficult to position your company competitively.

These indicators can manifest themselves to varying degrees in companies, depending on their stage of growth, but are a useful litmus test for the need to adopt a product management discipline.

Understanding what product management means to your organization – irrespective of your stage of development product management principles will help to align key stakeholders in your organization to deliver your growth strategy, supporting you:

  • To create scalable and repeatable products or solutions that customers truly value
  • To ensure future growth through the continued progression of innovative ideas
  • To ensure the organization is focused – marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction”
  • To ensure that the organization works to a clearly defined business model that meets corporate strategic objectives
  • To allocate the finite set of resources available to the company to resource the right projects and achieve maximum return on investment


The Value of In House Product Management Mentoring

mentoringMany companies over the last few years have made the bold move to establish a product management discipline in their organization. They understand that to be successful they need to:

  1. Create products or services that customers love.
  2. Ensure the organization is marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction.”
  3. Work to a clearly defined business model.

This requires someone to hold it all together and keep the company focused. As Steve Jobs said “You need a very product-oriented culture… lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.”

Initially, when the company is small, the CEO or CTO will fulfil this role – but as the company begins to scale it is important that the CEO looks for support. Adding a product manager to the team is the right next step… but what exactly does this product manager do and how will they integrate with the existing team?

Often there are a myriad of political obstacles that need to be addressed as people’s roles change and the organization settles into a new way of thinking. There are a lot of functions the product manager “could do” – the question is what functions “should they do” that align best with the organization’s structure and vision.

Although there are many organisations that provide great frameworks to help product managers understand all aspects of their role,  quite frankly the breadth and depth of areas to be covered would give any new product manager palpitations! You would need to be superhuman to address everything effectively! So, how do you decide which aspects of the framework make sense for your new product manager? Well, it depends on the stage of your growth as a company.

I think it is best to start with a “lean” approach to product management – don’t overwhelm yourself and your new recruit from day one. For many new and established product managers they exist in a state of constant bewilderment and despair as the enormity of the role becomes apparent to them. They often have a very unclear definition of the role, unachievable expectations are set by senior leadership or often no expectations are set at all (which is even worse), there is no clear prioritisation of projects and they have to juggle the demands of a sales and engineering team who expect their undivided attention 24/7. This situation can become a cycle of despair where the product manager becomes increasingly disillusioned and the leadership team begin to dismiss the product manager as ineffectual.

Things do not have to be this way – understanding who does what in your organisation and clearly defining the role and boundaries for each group is a first step. Then, applying a structure and discipline to product management that aligns with the stage your company is at is crucial.

Helping the product manager to apply methodologies in areas such as portfolio management, value proposition creation, requirements management, agile product management, customer validation, ideation, ROI analysis, sales management and leadership alignment will undoubtedly help alleviate the pressure.

As someone who has performed the role of product manager and ultimately managed both a portfolio of products and a team of product managers I understand more than most the demands of the role. I learned quickly that applying structure and discipline ensured myself and my team could work effectively.  We can all read books or attend courses that will give a good grounding in the product management discipline but the application of this discipline and the understanding of what works in reality comes with experience.

Don’t wait until either you or your product managers have reached the point of despair – seek the support and help of those who have done this before, who have been at the coalface and who understand the demands of the role. I loved this quote from Eric Ries of the Lean Startup because it is so applicable here – “Start-up success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”