Clausewitz on product management

Demian Entrekin at the IT Toolbox blog cites two problems in product management that, in my marginally humble opinion, are actually the same problem. First, there are the unrealistic schedules:

I have to admit that I have done this myself. I often put down a schedule that I know in advance is not exactly realistic. I call this the internal plan. Then there's the external plan. That plan is more vague and has something like a 50% pad built into it. Some people call this sand bagging, but I call it managing expectations.

And then there's "Information Uncertainty":

But from where I sit, Information Uncertainty is quite a different animal. In short, Information Uncertainty means we don’t know what will happen as an idea moves through the life cycle toward becoming a project and then launch. There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty. The idea may lead to substantial change. It may lead to incremental change. It may never make it to funding. It may be a great idea that we simply fail to execute.

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Product management on Mahalo

Adam Bullied of Write That Down is asking people to add to the Mahalo page about product management. In case you don't know what Mahalo is, here's a link to an explanation of this "human powered search engine." I've added a couple of links; I'm sure you have one or two that's not there yet.

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On vacation

I'm taking a couple of days off...See you next week.

Homer Simpson, product manager

In one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, Homer discovers that he has a long-lost brother. While Homer is just a schlub working at the Springfield nuclear power plant, his brother Herb is the owner of a successful car company. Herb generously offers Homer the chance to design the next year's model car, since Homer understands the sort of car that will appeal to the common man.

"The Homer" is a disaster that puts Herb's company out of business and bankrupts Herb personally. What's wrong with the car? The sticker price is $82,000--far out of the price range for "the common man--because of all the features Homer added, such as...

  • A bubble dome for the driver, and another for passengers.
  • An "extremely large beverage holder"
  • Car horns that play "La Cucaracha"
  • Shag carpeting
  • Chrome air scoop and spoiler
  • Tail fins
  • Straps and muzzles for small children

You can probably guess where I'm going with this.

The Homer is a metaphor for product design gone wrong. Too many things that the customer might want, but really doesn't need, at a price that no one wants to pay. Sound familiar?

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What's your job again, exactly?

The misunderstandings about product management are as wide as they are deep.

That's the message I get from practically every conversation I've had with product managers since starting here at Forrester. It arose during the follow-up interviews about tools for product managers. We heard it loud and clear in the results of the PM job survey. And I hear it in blogs, conferences, conversations, e-mails, you name it. It even arises during family get-togethers, when you try to explain to your relatives what being a product manager entails.

On this question, where goes product management, so goes the technology industry.  The people responsible, at the end of the day, for the success of a product--requirements for development, evangelization, product marketing, sales enablement, etc.--shouldn't have to keep explaining what they do to the very people they're serving--Development, Sales, Marketing, and the like. If the technology industry is all about product development, and product managers still work in this weird corner of Limbo, how then will the technology industry ever mature?

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The Dark Ages of product management

Sometimes, it takes only a simple idea to move out of the Dark Ages. Product management is no exception.

During Europe's Dark Age, mobilizing your kingdom's forces to fight a war was, quite literally, a royal pain. On paper, you could summon the knights and men-at-arms of all your vassals, and all your vassals' vassals, to fight for a prescribed period. In reality, you couldn't expect everyone to show up on time, if at all. Vassals reluctant to fight could drag their feet, inventing excuses why their troops and supplies weren't available. The state of ccmmunications being what it was, word might take a while to spread across this network of feudal obligations. In rare cases, a vassal might actually have obligations to both sides. By the time the king or duke finally assembled the army, winter might be coming soon, ending the military campaign season altogether.

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Last chance...

Which is a feeble excuse for adding this widget to the blog.

Almost...there...

The two product management surveys are going to end this week. If you've already participated, many thanks! If you haven't, this is your last chance...

I wouldn't say, "The research practically writes itself!" However, it will be easy to talk about what's interesting in the survey results.

The answer box

From the "simple is beautiful" file comes Answer Box. It's not a new idea--I remember someone talking about this sort of device when Web 1.0 first took off. In fact, 25 years ago, I remember someone interested in computing (such as it was) and local government, musing about something like this.

However, it's exactly the sort of simple solution that, strangely, needs someone to champion to make it happen. Even if you're not particularly interested in delivering information to towns and villages in India, Question Box looks like the sort of straightforward solution from which we could all learn something.

You're not different, you're just special

I've had a lot of discussions lately that touched on the same subject. The official topic was something else, but this other issue kept appearing as an important part of whatever the discussion happened to be:

What makes the technology industry different?

Let's say that you're talking to your parents, trying to explain what it's like working in a company like HP, Microsoft, or SAP. Some details are going to be the same. Your boss is a overbearing control freak. People misbehave at the Christmas party. It's creepy to have an HR person drop by for a chat. Top managers don't know what life is like in the trenches. Blah blah blah.

However, technology companies have their own peculiarities. In fact, what makes the technology industry (TI) different is what has kept the social scientist inside of me utterly fascinated. It's also an important touchstone, I'd argue, for what analysts do. It's tough to give advice to people whom you don't really understand, or worse, don't appear to understand.

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