Next Wednesday, May 5th, fellow product management/product marketing blogger and Informatica PM Saeed Khan and I will be having a conversation, live via teleconference, about the two sides of PM metrics:
Metrics by PM. What are the important metrics about a tech vendor's business and technology that should PM maintain? This question strikes at the heart of PM's core responsibilities, making sure that a tech vendor's products and services help its business, and vice versa.
Metrics about PM. Want to start a lively conversation? Ask product managers and product marketers about the metrics used to measure their performance and contribution. These metrics do more than just point PMs in the direction of quarterly goals. They also communicate within the company the value of what PM does.
Saeed always has sharp insights on these sorts of topics (which is why you should be a regular reader of the On Product Management blog, by the way). This call is a real conversation, not a one-way blabfest, so we're definitely looking for your questions and comments during the call. Expect a mix of observations about the state of PM in the tech industry, as well as best practices developed through hard experience.
While there might not be a single correct formula for fitting product management into an Agile setting, there's one inescapable rule: Prepare to have your PM skills put to the test.
Recently, I was speaking with Barry Paquet of Quantum Whisper, a small firm that has a tool designed to help PMs with these Agile-related challenges. To the right, you'll see one of the slides from Barry's presentation. The message is pretty self-evident: if your company is going to take the "voice of the customer" part of Agile seriously, PM must keep a lot of plates spinning. Feedback loops in Agile development don't run themselves—someone has to be on top of the collection, analysis, validation, communication, and review. With Agile, these activities are happening nearly constantly.
While any PM who has a passion for building good products should welcome this change, it also can be a little scary. In my own research and advisory work on Agile adoption in tech industry companies, I've heard some PMs express no small anxiety about this new model. In part, they're worried that the company might not support or even understand this process fully. However, they also experience some dark nights of the soul about whether the have the skills and experiences needed to play that sort of role. Here are a few common concerns:
Agile adoption requires a change in values, not just a change in process. That's the message of the Agile Manifesto, and everything we've learned in the year since the Manifesto's publication has only expanded and emphasized it. We might not have all the specifics on how that relationship works (for example, does an "Agile culture" automatically dictate Agile practices?), but the correlation is definitely there.
In technology companies, these values are critically important, since technology does not just improve the business, it is the business. Agile changes how teams develop and deliver technology. In a technology company, delivery includes practically everyone outside the development team—marketing, sales, support, consulting, partners, you name it. Beyond the janitorial staff, it's hard to think of someone who won't be effected when a tech company goes Agile.
Consequently, product managers and product marketers, sitting on the border between the development team and everyone else, are simultaneously the agents and targets of Agile transformation. For example, when monolithic releases crumble into many smaller iterations, people throughout the rest of the company have obvious questions, such as, When can I tell a customer to expect the enhancement they've wanted for the last two years? When is the next time we're going to have to do sales training? When will we have delivered enough new value to merit a product launch? PMs facing this situation will have to make adjustments to their own work, such as building and communicating the product roadmap.
In the first and second parts of this series, I argued that people who write about product management and product marketing should be circumspect in their choice of topics. A field that's as young as PM in the tech industry isn't fertile ground yet for a grand theory of what the profession is all about. Categorizing the PM function was a good first step; now, we're in the middle of building "middle-range theories" about PM. A good set of field-tested guidelines for researching requirements, doing market opportunity assessments, or crafting the right marketing mix would be pretty darn good, thank you very much.
Aristotle beats down Plato in no-holds-barred epistemological cage match
In fact, middle range theories are an essential precondition of a grand theory. Big, unifying ideas, such as special and general relativity, don't come before the observation of the real world. (Sorry, Plato: the people who spend a lot of time in caves get prison pallor, not "actionable insights.") They always come after, when a set of hypotheses that seemed to work pretty well, until you noticed that the planet Mercury wasn't in the right place, made hash of them. Then, someone fretted over the inadequacies of these tenets, and after a fair amount of head-scratching and hair-pulling, came up with the big unifying idea.
Advice to PMs about how to do their jobs better is valuable, up to a point. Inspire PMs to be stronger, better, faster. Delineate all the important contributions they might make. Arm them with advice on how to make these contributions. None of this guidance will have any substantial effect if PMs don't have the backing of their employers.
A prime example is PM's role in innovation. PMs are usually better positioned than anyone in a technology company to answer critical questions about innovation such as, Is this a good idea? If so, what's the market for it? Can we operate in this market? And so on.
Unfortunately, opportunity and reality don't always meet. Maybe the PM raises these questions, but can't get the answers. Or, the PM has the answers, but the organization isn't inclined to listen. Frequently, the innovation process—or, more accurately, the lack of process—doesn't give the PM the opportunity to ask and answer these questions at all, particularly as an idea gets momentum in the development cycle. (For instance, try pulling the plug on a CTO's pet notion, once development is underway.)
Leadership doesn't just happen, just as innovation doesn't just happen. Just look at the history of the US highway system.
From Product Management To Social Product Management. Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love social media as a way to make smarter product decisions.
The Strategic Role of PM. Yes, really, PMs are increasingly playing a strategic role in tech companies. Why is this change happening, and what does it mean for you?
The Old Launch Codes Won't Work. A tell-all expose about why tech companies are generally unsatisfied with the results of launches, and how some major trends in the industry are providing ways to fix that problem.
Since this is your conference, if you like these topics, please vote for them.
Last Saturday, at the Silicon Valley Product Camp, I was part of a panel on PM metrics. Any topic that's at the same time important and unsettled keeps you thinking long after the panel, so not surprisingly, almost a week later, I'm still chewing on it. Here's an observation I'll make today, after further pondering:
You know when you're doing well as a PM when someone yells at you for getting a persona, user story, use case, or task analysis wrong.
Understanding the world from the standpoint of the individual buyer or user is one of the primary responsibility of PM. According to some schools of thought, it's the core responsibility, especially since no one else in a technology company is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and distributing these deep customer insights. (There are other core responsibilities, too, related to the company's business and the technology itself.)
That information may look academic, but it should be immediately pertinent in very important ways. Understanding the way in which people in a variety of roles assess, purchase, and adopt technology is critical for making smart decisions about everything from product design to the product roadmap, from crafting messaging to choosing marketing channels. Unless you live in a Soviet-style command economy, in which manufacturing 3,000 left shoes is a problem for the consumer, not the producer, customer insights need to inform both strategic and tactical decisions.
The event is still open for any and all product managers and product marketers to attend. In fact, because 960 people have already registered, you definitely should attend. Last year's P-Camp was jam-packed with useful information, and it provided an unparalleled opportunity for PMs to compare notes. Attendance last year was a fraction of this year's pre-registration number, and the value of the P-Camp only increases with numbers.
Look forward to seeing you there. (And you'll have my gratitude if you vote for my afternoon presentation on the strategic role of PM.)
Until now, geolocation has been one of those quaint, semi-useful buzzwords: '... now with geolocation!!!' Twitter, Buzz and Foursquare -- the main exponents of exposing your location -- might not be small, but they pale in comparison to Facebook. With the announcement that Facebook will be enabling geolocation next month, Pandora's Box has been torn open; whether you like it or not, geolocation is about to become a huge part of your life.
Late last year, we kicked off a series of open house discussions at the Forrester office in Foster City, CA. We're ready to resume that series, so here's the schedule of topics for the next few months: