Friday, April 18, 2014

The sinking feeling

This tuesday, I was on the train back from NY to Boston. I had been working quite a bit the two days, yet did not feel that everything was right. It seemed that something was....wrong. Or missing. I found it hard to really put my finger on what was wrong; but after quite a bit of reflection I figured out why something seemed wrong.

I had a feeling that I had done zero work in two days. That was despite the fact that I probably got more accomplished in the two days, than I often do in weeks.

I figured two root causes for this.


  1. I (along with several other people) have a mindset that work must feel like work. It has to be something I have to get paid to do. While in reality, I would do most parts of a Product Manager's job for free. Let's say tomorrow, I get $50M and never have to work again. I might still do a product manager's/Entrepreneur's work! I cannot think of a scenario where I sit free, and not do the exciting piece of bringing new products to market
  2. There is also an embedded mindset of work must be done in office. This is no longer true - some of my most productive hours are spent on trains, planes, coffee shops where distractions are actually minimized further.
Over time, I am trying to free myself from both these embedded beliefs. They will hold me back.

What beliefs do you have, that might be holding you back?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sage advice for a product manager

As a Product Manager, you need to be the wise, old man (i.e., sage).

Confused?

The services team will come up with 'Need to implement this feature' now to solve implementation problems.

The CEO will have wild, crazy ideas that suddenly seem like top priorities.

The sales team will need that one-off feature that wins you the deal of the century.

At this time, remind them of the priorities. Remind them why you decided to go in the original direction. Ask them how things have changed since them. Ask them if their latest, urgent request really matters a month from now. Or 10 months from now.

The the sage - the wise old man that remains centered, calm while everyone around runs in Chaos. Take the product to its intended, long term direction.

With an open mind

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How to lose users

Upgrade without any notification. Tell your users - hey we will be back on Monday. It does not matter if you use our software to plan work for the week. We will not be around; and no, we did not tell you, and did not give you an option to download data in any format.



Goodbye Kanbanize.com



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Applying Agile development techniques to managing my own work

Product Management is a multi-facted role. Building roadmaps, thinking of new products, interviewing customers, working with developers, sales, marketing, support, training - the list is endless (I wrote previously about it here).

I recently started using an Agile-like approach to managing my day to day activities. This is what I mean:

1. I have a list of projects I am working on. That could include everything - tactical activities such as 'Sales needs this document for this sales cycle - by this evening' to 'Make progress on customer development on a product that will not be launched for six quarters'

2. Every three weeks I start a new sprint. I reassess and prioritize everything on my plate and have a strict prioritization. Similar to agile sprints, things do pop up. Just like developers might get pulled into emergency issues, requirements etc.

3. I then draw a line - projects that I plan to address in this sprint, and those that I plan to postpone for another day.

4. If I am pressed for time, I postpone projects and tasks from the bottom of the list

5. I track progress each week against each project. If one is getting left behind, and I do need to focus on it, I figure out what else needs to move down to make way for it

6. I refer to this list in my nightly planning, moving around tasks on my kanbanflow board

So far, so good! Things are working out well, and this has really helped me do the difficult task of prioritizing according to goals vs. prioritizing according to what seems most urgent. I will report back on progress in a few weeks.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Product Marketing to Product Management

Recently I had a conversation with a student graduating from Kellogg. The tale was pretty familiar - ex-consultant with engineering degree and MBA wants to transition to a Product Management role. Larger companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft might give him/her opportunities, but smaller companies are very wary. How does one make the transition then?

Why are smaller companies wary?
Very simply put, they need someone to be productive as soon as possible, and be proficient in many aspects to be effective as a Product Manager (design, engineering etc.). And no experience prepares you for Product Management as does Product Management itself. So anyone with even some Product Management experience has a huge advantage. Experiences that help are - Engineering, Design, Marketing, Strategy. You will likely get just a subset of this in Consulting and through an MBA.

So what can one do?

Two routes come to mind
1. If possible, leverage your domain expertise along with other experiences. When I was recruiting for Lattice, I lucked out that I had taken a class in Predictive Modeling in Marketing, and done an independent study on applying the techniques I had learned to solve a similar problem to what Lattice does. I did this out of pure interest - helping @ Lattice was a lucky co-incidence.
2. Move into in adjacent role in the company in which you would like to become a Product Manager. Professional Services, Pre-Sales and Product Marketing are good roles. I especially recommend Product Marketing as you get to know the product, the customers and the market pretty well - if you are doing your job well, that is. You also build political capital and a good reputation through this route, which should help you make the transition.

So what route worked for you? Comment and let me know

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Are you giving your customers Cookies or Yoghurt?

The other day I was hanging out with my daughter Simran. She comes up to me and says - 'Cookie?' 

I said 'No Simran, you had a cookie in the morning.'

Then she comes back and says - 'Cupcake?' 

And I said no. 

And so on - till I asked her 'Are you Hungry?' and she said 'Yes!' 

I asked if she would like to have Yoghurt and Grapes - to which she readily agreed.

Which made me think of how much this interaction was like my life as a Product Manager. Customers - and customer support/account management teams - hardly ever come to me with a problem. It's always a feature request - I need this shiny new widget, and I need it now. It is my job to understand the problem they are trying to solve, and then determine what is the best solution for this. And the best solution depends on a lot more factors than what the customer wants - what takes the minimum effort, is consistent with the overall product, solves problems for the market generally.

So next time your customers ask you for a cookie - don't just give in. They might be happy with Yoghurt - or even broccoli!


Saturday, October 26, 2013

What I have been building at Lattice Engines

Some lessons on Networking

A few months ago, I had written a post on Recruiting for a Startup role. Which involved a lot of Networking. Ever since, I have a few more reflections to add on the topic.


  1. Recruiting network lasts - I had been networking for a while before searching for a job. But even the connections I had reached out to explicitly seeking a job have been great in staying in touch. So don't approach networking during a job search as a transaction affair. There are several roles that I recruited for, where I was not the right fit. But those people have offered me help, advice, guidance on my current role at Lattice
  2. Introductions - this is more expressing a pet peeve than anything else. If you reach out to a friend  or acquaintance (lets say its Mr. F) to make an introduction to someone (lets say Mr. VIP), and your friend sends an email introducing you to Mr. VIP, make sure you reply to email expressing enthusiasm for being introduced to Mr. VIP Right away. Definitely within 24 hours, and ideally before Mr. VIP responds. There have been cases where I have introduced someone to Mr. VIP, and said 'I will let you two connect' - but NO ONE followed up.
  3. Same way, if you are reaching out to someone for help, you have to make time for them. Canceling on someone repeatedly, or requesting several time changes makes is clear what your priorities are.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Product Manager - a Vague Job

Look here for a Sample Job Description of a Product Manager (from http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/resources/sample-product-manager-job-description).


As Product Manager, you will guide a team that is charged with a product line contribution as a business unit. This extends from increasing the profitability of existing products to developing new products for the company. You will build products from existing ideas, and help to develop new ideas based on your industry experience and your contact with customers and prospects. You must possess a unique blend of business and technical savvy; a big-picture vision, and the drive to make that vision a reality. You must enjoy spending time in the market to understand their problems, and find innovative solutions for the broader market.
You must be able to communicate with all areas of the company. You will work with an engineering counterpart to define product release requirements. You will work with marketing communications to define the go-to-market strategy, helping them understand the product positioning, key benefits, and target customer. You will also serve as the internal and external evangelist for your product offering, occasionally working with the sales channel and key customers.
A product manager's key role is strategic, not tactical. The other organizations will support your strategic efforts; you won't be supporting their tactical tasks.

KEY RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Managing the entire product line life cycle from strategic planning to tactical activities
  • Specifying market requirements for current and future products by conducting market research supported by on-going visits to customers and non-customers.
  • Driving a solution set across development teams (primarily Development/Engineering, and Marketing Communications) through market requirements, product contract, and positioning.
  • Developing and implementing a company-wide go-to-market plan, working with all departments to execute.
  • Analyzing potential partner relationships for the product.

REQUIREMENTS

  • 3+ years of software marketing/product management experience.
  • Knowledgeable in technology.
  • Computer Science or Engineering degree or work experience a strong plus.
  • This position requires travel to customer and non-customer sites in North America and Europe (25%).


What this job description - and indeed any PM job description - does not answer is: what are the activities you will do on a day to day basis? Would you run usability tests? Attend sales calls as the product expert? Run the Product Steering Committee meeting? Help shape the company's strategy? Help select the shade of blue of the Reports button?

Product Managers are both very detailed and very strategic, and so need to be strategic about how much time they would spend on each activity. Here is a framework that I use to determine how much I need to engage.

On X and Y axis, I plot my initiative and expertise in the topic, and initiative and expertise of other people in the company (THESE ARE JUST SAMPLE ACTIVITIES/VALUES). This does assume all activities are equally important, but let's use a simplifying assumption for that, for now.




The orange circle indicates activities I can trust other people with, and contribute, when asked for my input. I might contribute on occasion, or engage when I think that some product needs/objectives might not be met, but I largely stay away.

The green circle is my core areas of focus.

The red circle is the danger zone - the areas where no one has good enough expertise. Either I need to develop my skills here, or make sure we get someone who has this expertise.

I don't formally track activities on such a graph, but is it on a subconscious level on day to day basis.

What decision framework do you use when you determine where to spend your time?


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dear JIRA: Your product's usability sucks

Who asks for dates in this format? Where were you when the rest of the world was asking for dates? You are never going to get a good date and will die alone (pun intended - my master sense of humor at work :)).