As anyone who has worked on component technologies can tell you, the time in which you should treat your product as something that can stand on its own is limited. The tricky part is figuring out when that transition should occur—and that's where people in product marketing and product management can really earn their paychecks.
Most fields of study start with classification. The important precursor to any theory, middle-range or grand, is putting what you're studying into conceptual buckets that help organize the topic in meaningful ways. That's where the study of product management and product marketing started, and that's where it has stayed for the last several years. (For more discussion on that point, click here.)
Those conceptual buckets are important, for a variety of very practical reasons. For example, any theory of PM needs to exclude things that are not PM-related. As any of us who have been in the PM profession knows, defining the boundaries of PM has been difficult. The specialized consulting firms, such as Pragmatic Marketing and Sequent, have done a good business helping their clients sort out what their PMs should and shouldn't be doing.
When you're start working in an unexplored field of study, such as PM in the technology industry, it's tempting to propose the Grand Theory Of Everything (GTOE). It's also the worst possible time to develop a GTOE.
Opinion is cheap Two years ago, when I started this job, I knew I'd have a full research agenda. Very few people took on the job of pundit, arguing for a particular vision of how the PM function should work. Even fewer had any hard data on how it actually does work, in practice. Before making any sweeping statements about the profession, I needed to fill in some big empirical holes.
During a breakfast meeting this morning, someone asked a very sharp question: Are businesses really operating differently because of social media? I then jumped in the car, drove from San Francisco back to our Foster City office, and heard how Cisco has used social media to change product launches.
The obvious change, of course, is lowering the cost, if you're not renting out the Moscone Center for a big launch party. Slightly less obvious changes include the ability to reach more people in more countries. , the virtual launch also makes it possible to reach more people, in more countries, than Cisco could with traditional face-to-face events.
So far, we're just considering changes in capability. Doing product launches cheaper, faster, better is an important innovation, but it's not a sign that a company is operating or thinking in a significantly different way. You might buy a cheaper, better, and faster car, but you might not change your driving habits one bit, or take more care to follow the traffic laws.
Here's an important rule of thumb, if you're a researcher such as myself: Don't name something unless it really exists. That sounds fairly obvious, but unfortunately, in the history of the technology industry, there's a sad history of failed neologisms. In some cases, these phrases exaggerated the importance or complexity of some relatively mundane aspect of the world. That's how the superheated usage of the term knowledge management turned into a four letter word. In other cases, people use neologisms designed to describe things that might (or might not) exist in the future as if they already existed now. I've heard some presentations about the Semantic Web that certainly fall into that category.
Just a quick reminder that the "open house" for product managers and product marketers is tomorrow at 4 PM PST at Forrester's office in Foster City, CA (click here for a map). As my earlier post explains, the intent is to kick off a series of informal conversations about topics of interest.
For this first open house, we'll be discussing how social media are changing the job descriptions, priorities, deliverables, and required skills for PMs. All are welcome, the event is free, just come on down.
On Thursday, November 5th, from 4:00 to 5:30 PM, Forrester Research is hosting an informal discussion about product management and product marketing issues. This session is the first in what we hope will be a series of conversations about these topics, scheduled at Forrester’s Bay Area office in Foster City.
The topic for this kick-off session is how social media is changing the job description for product managers and product marketers. I'll lead the discussion on this topic, since I just did an all-day workshop about "social product management."
The operative word in that last sentence is discussion. If you want to be pummeled with PowerPoints, look elsewhere. We want to host discussions among product managers and product marketers. Our role is to provide insights from our research, and give you a chance to meet and speak with your peers.
Had some great conversations with the workshop attendees on how PM teams are incorporating social media into their customer and market intelligence (including, but not limited to, requirements). Thanks to all who attended.
Interestingly, we spent a good deal of time talking about the type of questions people ask. In trying to make sense of both social media and PM deliverables, I made a distinction between problem-centric questions, which center on the customer, and product-centric questions, which (as the name implies) focus on the vendor's products and services.
In the technology industry, people are far more used to posing product-centric questions. Gradually, companies are learning the importance of the problem-related questions. However, it's easy to slip from one into the other. It reminds me of how I used to struggle with guitar fingering. As a novice player, I would concentrate for a while on keeping my fingers straight on the frets. Inevitably, as I started to think about other things (strumming, rhythm, etc.), I'd start to roll my fingers slightly to the side, which made it harder to hit the notes I was trying to reach.
From my grad student years, I know that a lot of mathematical models fall flat on their simulated faces because they don't get the testing they should. In the case of the PM job calculator/department profiler, I had to apply three different tests.
The tasks are many and varied Last year, when I did the survey research on the state of the product management/product marketing job in technology companies, I vetted the list of tasks with a lot of PMs. Using their feedback, I added tasks, rethought others, and even merged a couple. The resulting list represented everything that PMs might be doing, depending on where they work.
As discussed in the last post on this topic, I decided to define product management roles through the tasks that those roles perform. The maxim, "You are what you do," made it easy to define different job categories for product managers and product marketers. A task -based approach also helped make a more convincing argument why particular specializations are necessary.