Product Management: The Power of ‘And’
Samuel Smiles said, “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.” I don’t totally agree with this – there is much to learn from successful outcomes and people. In general, there is a lot to learn from experience, others and your own. SevOne is not my first paper route and I’ve picked up many things along the road.
Here are some tidbits that apply to the Product Management function:
The Power of 'And'
I learned this lesson early in my career as a Product Manager - around the time of the first Gulf War. I had written requirements for a new product and was very proud of how complete they were. When the product went into Beta - I realized that two of the major features could not be used at the same time.
I went to the lead designer and said “the product doesn’t work, I can’t use these two features at the same time.” He responded, “Nonsense, you wrote that the product had to do these two things - it does. It does this OR that - not this AND that.” He was technically right, but it was totally illogical to me that he didn’t know that this didn’t represent any real customer use case.
At the same time, the Gulf War was raging, including many tank battles between the U.S. M1A1 and the Iraqi T72 tanks. Much has been written about why - but I realized that the T72 Product Managers had made the same basic mistake I had made.
The two tanks on paper look about the same with one major AND difference. The T72 can fire a projectile at 1800 m/s OR travel at 45 mph. While, the M1A1 can fire a laser guided projectile at 1600 m/s muzzle velocity AND travel at 45 mph (oh, and the M1A1 has cup holders too).
The T72s were sitting ducks - the M1A1 destroyed 100s of T72s and not a single US tank was destroyed in battle. Make sure you are very clear about the user stories and use cases, and don’t compromise on major functionality. In the case of tanks, it’s a matter of life and death.
1000 Songs in Your Pocket
The headlines matter. If you can’t describe what you are building in simple terms and get people excited, you should rethink your plan.
I learned this before the iPod and before Steve Jobs uttered those famous words. The headlines matter. This led to a practice of writing the press release before even starting the development process. If you can’t clearly articulate why you are building something, for who, and the benefits, etc. – stop and think again. In many cases, products have certain momentum and things get put into the plan “Because.”
Take a step back and ask - are your salespeople AND customers going to care about this?
The Plan is the Plan Until the Plan Changes
Ironically, on my first day at SevOne, I read something very similar in Jim Young’s – SevOne’s Vice President of Architecture – office. I paraphrase: “Decide What You Want, Write It Down, Make a Plan, Work On It Every Single Day.” You really don’t know what you should do (next) if you don’t have goals and a plan in place. I subscribe to this philosophy in all aspects of my life.
This is really what Product Management is all about. If you don’t have a plan that is written down AND communicated to all the stakeholders AND stick to it – you don’t have a plan. However – if conditions change – don’t be afraid to change the plan.
Be Coin Operated
A good product manager is coin operated. They will always ask questions like
- “Who is the customer?”
- “Is it budgeted, how much?”
- “Is the customer committed, when?”
- “Does the customer value it enough to pay for it?”
Some Product Managers use huge spreadsheets, others Jira, or some a cash register in their heads. They have the ability to connect their product roadmaps with the customer’s needs and things that bring value. They focus on the things that are going to drive the most revenue and have the biggest impact on the business.
This drives their investment profile – what percent are you spending on Strategic / Tactical / Opportunistic. They also will look at any particular development effort and ask themselves – would I spend my money this way?
We all know that engineers hate to work on things that customers don’t care about, and the fastest way to lose credibility with engineers is to waste their time and effort. At SevOne, we have a well-defined formula for achieving market leadership: Q(quality) + U(user experience) + I(innovation) = V(velocity).
As we push forward with our product roadmap, we balance our focus with 40 percent given to quality, 20 percent to user experience, and the remaining 40 percent to innovation. This allows us to deliver a carrier-grade, enterprise-class solution that meets the current and future needs of our customers.