Friday, July 18, 2008

Product Managers: Chief Assholes or Value Creators?

I was interviewed recently regarding the similarities and differences of the role of Product Management within proprietary software, commercial open source software, and community open source software settings. We actually used the Pragmatic Marketing Framework - which I know and love - to guide the discussion.

While there are indeed some differences between proprietary and open source models (which I'll cover in a future post), the Product Management fundamentals are pretty much the same. Moreover, the main point that I made was:

For both proprietary and commercial open source software, the Product Manager needs to focus on creating a product that people will actually buy! Plain and simple.

I actually have a quote I use as an internal mantra that helps ensure I stay focused on creating valuable products that solve real customer problems:

"Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one..."

My point here is that a Product Manager needs to check their OPINIONS at the door. Any Product Manager that starts off a feature discussion with "in my humble opinion" runs the risk of guessed it...the Chief Asshole.

While some may strive [and deserve] that lofty title, I'd rather be known as a Value Creator who focuses on solving problems and driving real value for my customers, partners, community, company, coworkers, and investors.

Moreover, since the Product Manager communicates with a wide range of people - both internally and externally - it is important his/her decisions are based on well founded information.
Above is an ugly diagram that I've used over the past decade to illustrate the various conversations a Product Manager has to handle over the course of a product's lifecycle. So, the Product Manager has the opportunity to make a BIG [positive or negative] impact on the success of a company.

Another one of my favorite internal dialog quotes comes from Jerry Seinfeld:

"Who are these people??!!"

For any new product offering, one of the first places I focus is on understanding and documenting the Buyer Personas. After all, how the heck are you going to create real value for customers if you don't know who's buying? User personas, while not the same, are also useful to understand. UPDATED: Here's a good article covering the difference between the two: "Buyer Personas And User Personas"

Understanding who these people are provides a solid foundation for the Product Manager to more effectively gain insight into market and customer needs so s/he can integrate, translate, and communicate this information - in a variety of different forms - to the various stakeholders involved in the product lifecycle.

While Product Managers must maintain positive working relationships with all stakeholders, I feel the relationship between the Development Manager and the Product Manager is most important since this is where the critical translation of the "what and why" into the "how and when" occurs.

While a bit scary, the closer a Product Manager and Development Manager can come to a Vulcan Mind Meld, the better.

So in closing, don't be a Chief Asshole. Be a Value Creator instead. Why? Because it's much more fun when you actually create products that 1) solve real problems, and 2) people are willing to pay for!

Want to learn more about the role of Product Management?
I suggest you read the following FREE e-book from Pragmatic Marketing:
The Strategic Role of Product Management: How a market-driven focus leads companies to build products people want to buy.

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