Key issues in product management [002.0]

My official product manager stint started in 2006 in a startup in Silicon Valley. I was a rookie even though I had entrepreneur experience. I learned very early within a few months that:
  • Product management is really about managing people none of whom report to you.
  • Product management is about negotiating with all stakeholders towards building a product roadmap.
  • Product management is about setting up a product release process uniquely suited to the company culture.

hands-460872Initially, it was tough since coming from a entrepreneur background I had seen and experienced business situations, which very few in the company could even fathom. So I had to break things down to the lowest level suited to the individual I was dealing with to get things moving forward. Also, I had t
o change my style of writing requirements and refine it further till I got it right for the VP of Engineering at that time. Within 6 months, a new VP of Engineering was appointed for emerging architecture, who said he did not have the time to read such detailed
requirements. So now I was writing requirements to address both the VP of Engineering in the company. In short, product managers have to be super adaptable to changing situations in an organization at all times.

I hear this so many times that product manager is the CEO of the product, which in my experience is a myth. Product managers are at the bottom of the command chain and with limited latitude in defining the roadmap but held accountable for it. Invariably, the customer facing roadmap is quite different from the internal roadmap approved for development in most companies. There is a serious issue of transparency, which causes huge gap between internal teams and communication with customers leading to product releases that rarely satisfy needs of the company. The lack of transparency leads to reduced accountability from delivery teams since now they are focused on delivering point solutions only and are unable to execute on the vision. All of this leads to islands of execution in the company with limited collaboration between teams. This is a typical situation in most companies though very few will admit it. To address this situation, I came up with the Product Management Methodology named TAC (Transparency Accountability Collaboration). By implementing this methodology in any organization, product managers have the opportunity to be the CEO of their products.

I tried to implement the key lessons from my entrepreneur product management experience but failed on most counts since I was the rookie unfortunately. Here is the list of my failures:

  1. Built the product 90% and could not convince management to launch it to a small target audience.
  2. Added sharing to social networking in roadmap but management team did not believe social will take off even though social was trending.
  3. Suggested pivot to market fit for enterprise market, since we were focused only on wireless carriers. Our competition succeeded in this endeavor, acquired users and the competition got acquired by bigger players. Lesson learned was to respect the competition because they know something that we do not AND as they succeed or stumble we should learn from them and pivot quickly.
  4. If you are building a product company then it is good to listen to early customers BUT never be afraid to push back since we are the subject matter experts. Customers took the risk of buying our software and want to hear more about our ideas that will help them succeed.

In my next blog post, I will share how to avoid making your product into a customer project.

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