You know, sometimes I wonder why I’m not working in consumer products. Not consumer software, but consumer products.
I’ve joked about this with my software product management friends before. Life would be a lot easier it seems. Forget about all the detailed technical work, and all the efforts to keep pace or leap frog the competition, and all the tedium of ensuring compatibility with 3rd party products. Just make the packaging bigger, or smaller, or add a nice lemony scent, or blue dots or something else, and launch a big new campaign to get customers!
We do have an equivalent in the Big Honkin' Technolkogy (BHT) industry. It's called product marketing.
The other day, the good people at Enthiosys were kind enough to let me sit through part of one of their product management seminars. They use "serious gaming" as a very serious product management tool, an idea that gets a strong thumbs up from me.
This short introduction to Enthiosys drove home a "meta-point" about product requirements. During a matched pair of games, the participants played both customer and product manager. Starting with a cryptic customer comment--and how many hours have we spent deciphering those--the PMs were responsible for understanding why someone might be unhappy with a pair of headphones. (Whispered aside: I'm passionate about my choice of headphones. I've gone through at least a dozen before finding some that work for me.)
You can't research every topic, but there's nothing stopping you from thinking aloud. While we investigate PM tools, it's hard to miss the shadow of another question falling across us: Is the information management part of product management getting harder?
Naturally, my own experience in product management is part of the inspiration for that question--but only part. There are "grand historical" forces at work in the technology industry (TI) that, I suspect, increase the inherent complexity of product requirements, release management, product marketing, and other aspects of the PM's job. Off the top of my head, here are just a few:
There's an interesting discussion about personas at the On Product Management and Cranky Product Manager blogs. While I agree, personas should zoom into the important details, and ignore the fluff, I wonder how many development teams actually use personas at all when making design decisions.
That's not a knock on personas as a requirements tool. Quite the opposite: Know thy end user better than thyself should be the motto of product management. However, I'm not convinced that a lot of development teams have seen the value in this tool.
It's a hard cultural or mental change for some development teams to make, something I've witnessed first-hand. How many development teams have crossed this particular chasm? And are there tips of the trade about making this transition to be learned? I have no idea. (Potential research topic?)
First, thanks to everyone who volunteered to be part of the PM-focused surveys. The door is always open for new people to join, so tell a friend! And a special thanks to the Product Management View, who kindly posted a notice about the survey on their blog.
For those who haven't read this blog before, I'll extend the invitation again to tell us about the topics in product management that are important to you. Product managers are busy people--so busy that it's hard to find the time to investigate how to do the job better or more easily. If you have a topic that's important for you, please post it in the comments, or drop me a line.
A colleague, Ray Wang, has loads of fascinating statistics in his recent data overview, "The State Of Enterprise Software Adoption: 2007 To 2008." A staggering number of companies have developed and maintain custom applications.
Ray's piece is written for the market researcher, but like all good research, it has much broader implications. Perhaps you won't be surprised when I say, "Including product managers!"
The statistic says that a lot of demand exists that technology vendors are not meeting. Custom development is a last resort--and I should know, since I've done it myself.
Twice in my career, I've pushed to create custom requirements management (RM) applications. In the last case, I wrote it myself in PHP and MySQL. (Never fear, it's a laughably rudimentary application, functionality-wise, so the friend and colleague who inherited it wasn't left with an unmaintainable mess.)