THE BUSINESS OF MANAGING PRODUCTS

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Advice for getting into product management

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Product management is an exciting role. It can drive product direction and ensure your team builds the right product for the market. It can also be a frustrating job because other departments have expectations of product management that rarely align with yours.

What do you need to get started in product management?

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Competitive battle cards

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Product leaders and marketing managers learn a great deal about the competition as part of their daily interactions with customers and with sales people. The Competitive Battle Card is a digest of all you’ve learned... so your sales people are armed with the latest intel. The real challenge for those composing a battle card is not the formatting or the template but finding the right information to put into it. To compose a card, you’ll first need to have a folder filled with competitive information.

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Creating ideal customer profiles

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You know the worst thing that can happen with a new product? You get some customers. Not none. Not a lot. Just a few. And now you have a bad idea that must be supported and maintained and explained.

To create the ideal buyer profile, we perform a customer profitability retrospective. From this, we can create a set of ideal customer profiles and align the company’s development, marketing, and sales programs around this ideal profile.

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Do product managers need to be technical?

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I’ve been hearing about job postings for product managers that require computer science degrees. Is that really necessary?

What I’ve learned is many product managers don’t have adequate technical background to understand the questions or to give practical answers.

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Do we need product management?

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People in product management roles—product managers, product owners, product marketing managers, and consultants—often talk about job responsibilities, methods, tools, and templates. We start from a presumption that product management is valued, and we focus on getting clarity on its mechanics.

But what about the benefits of product management?

In a world of agile methods and lean startup and business pivot, aren’t the activities of product management already being done by someone? Some by development, some by sales and marketing, some by the leadership, some by the customers themselves. And with today’s product instrumentation, can’t the product itself gather statistics on what people value?

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Expertise in product management

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There are four types of skills needed in product management. Which are you missing?

In recent years, we’ve seen new definitions for old titles and many new titles being created. We’ve got product managers, product marketing managers, product owners, business analysts, product strategists, product line managers, and portfolio managers.

Let’s keep it simple. There are four types of skills needed to define and deliver products to market. Product leaders (by whatever title) attempt to support the team with all four types of knowledge but it’s rare to find all of these capabilities in a single person.

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Feed the product team using "pull"

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There are two approaches to delivering stories to your product team: pull and push. Typically, product managers and executives “push” more and more requests to the developers. Even though the team already has a bunch of things, we push another few and then another few and then some more until the team is paralyzed with unfinished work. In more practical terms, the product manager builds a long list of prioritized requirements, perhaps grouping them into themes or releases, and sends the developers a few hundred items at a time. This is probably the most common scenario and tends to have three negative effects.

 

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Product Management Job Descriptions

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The most common format I see for successful teams is comprised of three roles: strategic product manager, one or more technical product owners, and a market-facing product marketing manager. Many teams also have a UX designer so all the necessary skills reside in one group with aligned perspectives. This organizational approach has the added benefit of being able to expand easily. That is, this type of product management team includes the necessary expertise to handle a few products (or a single portfolio) without relying on other teams to fill a skills void. As the company expands, you can add similar teams to meet the expanded requirements of additional products. 

 

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Quick prioritization

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Prioritization is a critical skill used for many of the items in your product playbook. The basic tenet of prioritization is to make a list of all the things you want to accomplish and order the list based on value.

We don’t want the product team cherry-picking the list for easy stuff or fun stuff. We always want them working on the most important thing. And we don’t want product managers and product owners just guessing; we want to know that this is more important than that.

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When the product is YOU

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Have you been out there lately? Hunting for that perfect job is both easier and harder than ever before. You don’t have to be restricted to your nearest big city... but other candidates don’t either. Networking is easier but, alas, everyone’s network is bigger than before.

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Your first days... as the head of product management

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Do you lead a new product management team? Where should you begin? 

In The Earth is Flat, Thomas Friedman expressed his view of the government’s primary role: to provide infrastructure. Make it easy to start a business, protect our persons and property from harm, provide ways to get products from point a to point b (ie., roads), and enable information transfer (such as phones and internet).

What is the role of senior leadership, particularly the head of product management? Hint: Isn’t it the same? To provide infrastructure.

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Your first days… as product manager

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You’re in your first days as a product manager. In no time, your calendar is full and you have a zillion emails. There’s so much to do. Where to begin?

Before the demands of others overwhelm you, you need to prepare yourself to be the business and market liaison to the product team. Your role as a product manager or product owner is to make the best business decisions for the product, working from the best available information.

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