IN THIS CHAPTER
- Breaking down your role as a product manager
- Seeing how your job fits in with other stakeholders
- Assessing your product management skills
- Deciding who does what by using RACI and DACI
Getting started as a product manager is a question of how to wrap your arms around a
very complex role, as quickly as possible. Y our co-workers and boss will expect you to hit the ground running. The best approach to being a successful product manager is keeping a level head. In this chapter , we break it down so you can approach your role with outward calm and set the stage for long-term success.
Orientation Day: Examining Y our Role
as Product Manager
The product manager is responsible for delivering a product to market that addresses a
market need and represents a viable business opportunity . A key component of the product manager’s job includes ensuring that the product supports the company’s overall strategy and goals. Although the product manager is ultimately responsible for managing the product throughout its life cycle (conception through end-of -life), he receives assistance throughout this process from specialists such as designers, developers, quality assurance engineers, supply chain and operations experts, manufacturing engineers, product marketers, program managers, sales engineers, professional services engineers, and more.
The terms engineer and engineering are typically used for hardware products. In
the software world, the terms used are typically developer and development . In this
book, both terms are used interchangeably except when it relates specifically to a
particular product type.
Whereas engineering is responsible for building the tangible product, product
management is responsible for the whole product. The whole product is what the customer buys, and it includes everything that augments the product, from warranties, support, and training to peripherals, third-party applications, and value added partner services. The whole product encompasses the entire customer experience.
In most cases, the description of product manager covers an incredibly wide range of
skills. However , most product manager roles have several key components:
- Domain expertise: Very often, this market is why your company hired you. The fact that you know the customers and the business is the main reason you’re now a product manager .
- Business expertise: People say that the product manager is the CEO of the product.Though that may or may not be true, making sure the company is generating a profit is usually involved. Y ou need to have a suite of business skills to keep your product profitable.
- Leadership skills: Many people within your company are looking to you for guidance. If you don’t have leadership skills under your belt, you need to develop them quickly Chapters 17 and 18 give you more details on developing leadership skills. .
- Operational ability: Product managers need to dive deep into the many nitty-gritty details needed to manage a product: for example, creating part numbers or updating a spreadsheet. Sometimes you can get someone else to do these tasks, but many times you have to be responsible for them.
Keep in mind that the amount of time you spend on a particular part of your job
varies depending on whether you sell to businesses or consumers. The terminology
used here is business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C). The type of
product you manage also determines how much time you spend on different tasks. A
software product manager is often very focused on customer journeys and user
experience. A hardware product manager may spend a lot more time on supply chain
issues and forecasting. As you change from one product to another , be mindful of the
critical success factors that face you in this position.
Checking out the job description
Why refer you to the job description? It’s where your boss has put in all her hopes and
expectations of what you’ll bring to the role. And companies often define product
management differently . You may see items that are usually part of project management,sales, or user experience that are included.
Because you’re providing product direction, expect to see a reference to product
strategy in your role. If it isn’t there, you may actually be in a junior role or managing
a very customized B2B product where your customers are more likely to dictate your
every move. If neither of these is the case, your company may not understand the
benefits of strong product management. Y ou aren’t alone. According to the 280
Group’s 2013 LinkedIn survey of product management professionals, 75 percent of
executives didn’t understand product management. And Actuation’s team
performance survey confirmed that about half of companies had a poorly defined
product management role.
If this is your situation, talk to your manager about the lack of responsibility for strategy as discussed in this chapter . In some rare instances, strategy isn’t part of the product
Primary responsibilities of a product manager
Here are some bullet points you may find in your job description:
- Defines the product vision, strategy , and road map.
- Gathers, manages, and prioritizes market/customer requirements.
- Acts as the customer advocate articulating the user’s/buyer’s needs.
- Works closely with engineering, sales, marketing, and support to ensure business case and customer satisfaction goals are met.
- Has technical product knowledge or specific domain expertise.
- Defines what to solve in the market needs document, where you articulate the valuable market problem you’re solving along with priorities and justification for each part of the solution.
- Runs beta and pilot programs during the qualify phase with early-stage products and samples (see Chapter 13 for a detailed discussion of this phase).
- Is a market expert. Market expertise includes understanding the reasons customers purchase products. This means a deep understanding of the competition and how customers think of and buy your product
- Acts as the product’s leader within the company .
- Develops the business case for new products, improvements to existing products, and business ventures.
- Develops positioning for the product.
- Recommends or contributes information in setting product pricing. This point isn’t true in all industries, especially insurance; however , an awareness of competitive pricing is part of what companies expect you to provide as part of the pricing decision.
Other common responsibilities
Depending on your product line, you can also be asked to do the following tasks.
- Work with external third parties to assess partnerships and licensing opportunities
- Identify the market opportunities
- Manage profit and loss
- Research products that complement your product
- Review product requirements and specification documents
- Make feature versus cost versus schedule trade-offs
- Ensure sales and service product training occurs
- Develop product demos or decide on product demo content
- Be the central point of contact for the product inside the company
- Partner closely with product marketing
Product managers drive action throughout the company mainly through written documents supported by presentations. Here is a list of the most common documents that you may be asked to create — be aware that each company has their own specific list and terminology:
- Business case
- Market needs document
- Product road maps
- White papers, case studies, product comparisons, competitor analysis, and user stories
Required experience and knowledge
Product managers call on a wide range of skills and have a broad set of business and
product experiences to call on. Here is a list of what managers look for in hiring product
- Demonstrated success in defining and launching products that meet and exceed business objectives
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- Subject matter expertise in the particular product or market — this should include specific industry or technical knowledge
- Excellent teamwork skills
- Proven ability to influence cross-functional teams without formal authority
Pinpointing product management on the
Product management can report into various parts of the organization. In tech-heavy roles, it sometimes reports into engineering. In more consumer-oriented companies, it sometimes reports into marketing. More and more, companies recognize that a synthesis of what the customer wants and what the business can provide is best placed at the highest level of an organization. So VPs of product management now often report into the CEO or the executive manager for a division. See Figure 2-1 for an organization chart example.
If you’re part of an organization that doesn’t understand product management
well, it may not be able to operate as effectively . This isn’t a theoretical difference. A
study by Aegis Resources Inc. found that when a company empowers product
managers, products get to market 50 percent faster . That’s a lot of profit left on the
You may need to start educating your co-workers as to the best way to take
advantage of product management. There are resources available on the 280 Group
website ( http://www.280group.com ) that help you in transforming how your company can best take advantage of product managers to grow their business.
Drafting your product management manifesto
Someone once compared product management to refrigerator function. You don’t notice when it’s running well, but when it’s broken, things start to stink. Remember that when you do your job well, the company hums much better — even if it doesn’t know you’re the source of the humming. There is less confusion and more direction. Getting to function this well comes from really knowing how you fit in and how you drive your vision forward. With this idea in mind, try to draft your own product management manifesto. This document is your guiding philosophy on how you do your job and provide direction.
Here are a few guidelines:
- The I s have it. This manifesto guides your actions. Start each sentence with “I”: “I am committed to… ,” “I have a plan… ,” “I will do… ,” and so on.
- It’s a 360-degree view . List all your stakeholders and determine what your stance is for each of them.
- Balance is key . The one constant in being a product manager is that it involves a lot of trade-offs. Make sure you have a plan for communicating how you will decide between two courses of action. For example, “When in doubt, I will focus on validating my opinion using customer feedback.”
- Know your decision-making plan. In fact, the entire decision-making process underpins your success. How will you make a decision? For example, write “I will be open to many opinions before I make a final decision.”
The manifesto should be no longer than one page and, because you’re giving direction to
other people, provide the philosophical support for how you approach your job. See Figure 2-2 for a sample of a product manager’s manifesto.
Comparing Product Management to
Other Related Roles
One of the oddest parts of being a product manager is how busy you are and yet how often what you actually do feels transient. In other words, as you work through a product’s life cycle, at certain times you may just be producing a short Word document or a simple tracking spreadsheet while many other people are off writing pages and pages of code or creating tons of marketing material. However , without your direction, these folks wouldn’t be able to be nearly as productive. In this section, we cover some of the roles you work with closely . Sometimes you’re checking in with each other hourly and sometimes you’re in contact less frequently because you’re in a different phase of the product life cycle, working with different departments or working with different development methodologies. However , knowing
how the roles fit together is integral to producing a successful product.
Checking out product marketing
Creating or updating a product is always such a great feeling. One small problem: Y our
customers need to learn about it, too. That’s where product marketing managers come in .Their primary goal is to create demand for the product through effective messaging and programs. If these people do their jobs well, your product has a shorter sales cycle and higher revenue. The product marketing manager role is broken down into four parts:
- Market strategy expert: Market strategy lays the foundation for market success. It is the high-level thinking, planning, and research that happens before a product goes to market. The product marketing manager has an in-depth knowledge of the market and how the product should enter that specific market. In practice, this idea means knowing which customer segment to target, how to reach it, and what combination of messages will drive these customers to buy (see Figure 2-3 ). Note that in the figure, the messages aren’t the taglines, and the benefits are stated in the language of the customer . Then the strategy is executed through the launch and eventually marketing plan.
- Marketing expert: After the product marketing manager analyzes market opportunities for your product, he then creates key messages that guide marketing efforts. In conjunction with marketing communications (also known as marcom ), the product marketing manager’s goal is to generate customers that demand or pull your product through to sale. This comprehensive market understanding is one reason that the product marketing manager participates in or decides on pricing.
Warning In many companies, pricing is part of finance or is a specialty function. But it can also be in the hands of product management. Wherever it is, product marketing should at the very least participate in the decision making so that any market forces are
understood before a final decision is made. Involve your product marketing manager in
any pricing decision that takes place.
Product marketing managers ensure that all the messages are consistent. Consistency
builds awareness, layer by layer , in the customer’s mind. And she works with marcom to
make sure that what product managers decide to say about a product translates
correctly into web, mobile, or printed materials.
- Marketing program guidance: This piece is the traditional core of the product marketing role. It’s here where a product marketing manager , in conjunction with the product manager , outlines the product positioning which articulates the value proposition. On the basis of the positioning, he works out the messaging and links each feature to a customer-oriented benefit. Chapter 10 has more information about creating compelling marketing messages.
Remember Value proposition is a clear statement of what problem your product solves and why customers should choose your product over someone else’s.
- Supporting sales: Product marketing managers can create a library of marketing collateral, which should generate market pull. However , your salespeople may need to work harder for a sale. They’re the ones who generate market push by convincing customers to buy your product. T o do so effectively , sales needs great sales tools. For example, they often need good product training, a solid product presentation, and a compelling demonstration. A product marketing person knows what salespeople need for them to get their jobs done and what points to emphasize so that the sales pitch is more successful.
Some companies expect you to do both product management and product marketing plus the entire marketing role all by yourself . If that’s your situation, read Marketing For
Dummies by Alexander Hiam (Wiley) to see how the responsibilities of product
management, product marketing, and marketing all fit together .
Agile is a flexible way of developing products that mostly applies to software development. Refer to Chapter 12 for more details. Agile has two very specific roles that you don’t see in other development environments: the product owner and the scrum master . The scrum master is typically only used in a specific version of Agile called scrum . The following figure illustrates which responsibilities lie exclusively with the product manager (PM), which are shared according to preference and skill
between the product owner (PO) and product manager , and which are specifically allocated to a product owner . Use this figure and the later sections on RACI and DACI to have a discussion within your own organization to clarify roles and responsibilities.
Here are definitions of the specific roles:
Product owner: The mission of the product owner is to represent the customer to the development team. A key activity is to manage and make visible the product backlog, or the prioritized list of requirements for future development. In fact, the product owner is the only person who can change the order of items in the product backlog. One unusual aspect of product owner responsibilities is that she must be available to the development team at all times to answer any questions team members have regarding the customer’s view of how they’re implementing a product
A product owner shouldn’t be a scrum master . In many teams the product manager is
also the product owner . This situation leads to a crushing workload and difficult-to-manage expectations because product managers should be spending a fair amount of
time understanding customers’ needs by being outside of the office. The need to be in
the office as a product owner— and yet still have a deep understanding of customers
— is a conflict that continues to create great difficulty for product managers and
product owners in Agile development organizations
- Scrum master: The scrum master role is to keep the development team working at the highest level of productivity . This person facilitates scrum rituals that drive the iterations with the scrum team and the product owner . She ensures that scrum processes and scrum-specified meetings are being followed and checks progress against expectations. Critically , she acts as a coach or facilitator for the team, helping team members solve problems and remove impediments to their progress.
The scrum master can be a part time role or shared among multiple scrum teams, but
under no circumstances should scrum master be a product owner .
Looking into program management
Program management is typically a department dedicated to managing the critical internal processes of an organization so that it meets internal targets. For example, program managers might work across the company to develop a new way of delivering a product to market. Or they may track how much is being spent to deliver a new product platform. In companies that are regulated or in which precision is very important, program management ensures that the important processes are reviewed and complied with. In some instances, project managers report into program management, but this isn’t universally the case.
Because the term program management is used inconsistently , get clarity with your
program manager about what program management folks are specifically supposed to do.In your interactions with them, they’ll continually be looking at process and control issues.You may need to explain that the strategic and integrative parts of the product
management role aren’t quantifiable in the way that those people like to look at work, but The output from product management is generally very beneficial to the company . Use the Promise of the key product management deliverables (market strategy , market needs, and Business case) as a measure of items to be checked off their list of tasks that need to be Completed as part of the process of deciding which products to invest in. Then you only need to worry about making sure what you’ve written makes sense and will create great products.
Exploring project management
Project managers are a product manager’s alter ego. Product managers keep the customernd the big picture in mind under all circumstances. Project managers make sure that all team members are doing what they promised to do to keep the project on track and that each detail is completed on time. There are two models of project management. One is the project manager reports into engineering and helps with keeping the product on track until it is completed and available to the market. A second, if you’re very lucky , is your company has adopted a more complete view of the role of project management and makes sure that every aspect of the product is completed. This includes marketing, sales,operations, and support teams, which are all ready to deliver the product to market uccessfully . Ask which model your company uses so that you can set your expectations of what the project manager is willing to do for and with you. Often they know what even the most obscure tasks are that are necessary to bring a product to market, and their nformation can be worth its weight in gold.
Both product management and project management functions are necessary to effectively get a product out the door and into customers’ hands.
Warning In smaller or growing companies, the role of project manager can be assigned to the product manager . If this is your situation, as product manager , you find that you
are spending all your time filling in spreadsheets of tasks that have been done or need
to be done. You have little or no time for strategic work or reaching out to hear the
voice of the customer . As project and product manager combines, you may be
perceived much more as a doer than a thinker and generally have less influence
within the organization to develop new concepts and markets.
Companies have project managers to manage risk. By communicating often, project
participants can voice their opinions and concerns. The project manager must consider not only the technical skills of each person but also the critical roles and chemistry between workers.
Key duties include the following:
- Assembling a complete list of tasks required to complete the project, including those from other departments, and incorporating these items into a project schedule
- Creating and managing the project schedule (as part of the overall master schedule)
- Monitoring and tracking progress against the schedule and reporting progress, slippage, and changes in the schedule to the company
- Identifying and managing potential risks in the schedule, ensuring there are contingency plans if something doesn’t go to plan
- Managing the project documentation, especially the latest versions of plans and schedules
- Defining project milestones: entrance, intermediate and integration stages, alpha, beta, and final product release
- Being the expert in the product development and delivery processes
- Leading project team meetings
- Coordinating sign-off at the completion of each stage
- Analyzing development progress, including defect resolution
- Managing resource allocation and load balancing
Warning If you work in an Agile development environment, the role of project manager
either disappears or is elevated to oversee schedules and plans for several
development teams. If the role disappears, it’s because Agile environments have less
need for project tracking. A core definition of Agile is that the teams organize
themselves. The development team and the scrum master split what is left. And the
software that tracks product backlog items allows anyone to easily see the project
status. If any issues are identified during the regular planning and review meetings
that Agile prescribes, the product manager (or product owner), the scrum master , and
the development team have to bring a project back on track.
For larger development efforts where there are many scrum teams, there are different
organizing methodologies. Under a commonly used one, named SAFe (Scaled Agile
Framework), the role is renamed as a release train engineer . For more information, look
at the “Agile-specific roles ” sidebar earlier in the chapter .
MAKING A LIST , CHECKING IT TWICE
Because the role of product manager interacts with various people in a company , start by interviewing people in different roles and making a list of the responsibilities mentioned. Ask each person what he does and what he expects of you. Y ou may be surprised by what people say and what tasks have ended up as your responsibility . Of course, check with your manager to see whether the tasks people are flagging as being your job are really places where you add value and are things no one else could do
Knowing what other roles you interact with
As product manager , you touch almost every part of an organization and may not even
realize it. Only many years after you’ve left a product management role and find someone in an obscure part of the company who recognizes you do you realize the extent of your reach. It’s a humbling thought.
One excellent practice is to swing through the building once or twice a day
checking in with key functions. If certain functions are remote, check in with them via
email, a meeting, or a phone call at least once a week. You can address any issues and
concerns while they’re small.
The following sections emphasize how your relationship with various roles in the company works. Working with this many different people requires excellent people skills. Look to Chapters 17 and 18 for tips on dealing with varied personalities on a day-to-day basis.
The overall goal of a sales function is to facilitate the sales process. A sales process is one in which customers come to the conclusion that they should purchase your product and then do so. However , sales isn’t a monolithic function. Breaking down the sales department into its various roles shows how important they are to a product manager:
- Sales representative : These are the people who actively talk to customers and convince them that they should buy a product. Sales representatives are usually paid at least partly on commission. If they can’t figure out how to sell your product, they’ll sell something else so that they can “make their sales number .” Your job as a product manager is to make sure that they have a deep understanding of your product and become successful at selling it. Along with your product marketing manager , your job is to make sure that sales representatives have the right information to make the case for your product. Sales presentations, competitive selling sheets, and benefit/feature and pricing comparison charts are a good place to start.
- Sales engineer or technical sales : For technical products, often someone has to have a highly technical conversation with a customer about creating an elegant solution to a complicated customer problem. This person is typically called a sales engineer , although this title can vary wildly .
Just like the sales representative, the sales engineer explains your product story to the
customer . The one big difference is that he might actually using your product at the time running a demonstration. Y ou want to give your sales engineers a much more in-depth briefing about the technical aspects of the product than you give to your sales
representatives. These folks have another important role to play in the life of a product manager: They talk to customers — in many cases, unhappy ones. If you can’t get out and talk to customers directly because they are too far away or you simply don’t have the time to see each unhappy customer , the sales engineer is great source of unsolved customer problems. And unresolved problems are a great source of new product ideas.
- Sales operations : Sales operations staffers make sure that the back office work is done to make the sale. Part of the nitty-gritty work you do as a product manager is to make sure that sales operations have done a great job of setting up any necessary business systems so that products can easily be sold. These people know what that job entails — in detail. Visit them often in case issues arise. They know how to create workarounds quickly and fix problems in the long term.
In the sequence of getting product into customer’s hands, marketing is the next function
over from product management and product marketing (see Figure 2-4 ). Though over time you communicate with the entire company , marketing translates what you do into the overall context of the company messaging for all products and brands.
The marketing role includes generating customer demand, helping product marketing and sales respond to competitive moves, taking care of public relations, planning events, and creating material that supports the sales force and channel. Y ou’ll spend many productive and thought-provoking hours with marketing.
Your involvement with the legal department depends on the type of industry you serve. If you’re in the insurance or medical fields, legal is highly involved with your product
specifications. For many product managers, legal only gets involved whenever the
company is making a contract with an outside party . For most products, your legal
department needs to vet any kind of binding or implied promise made to a customer ,
partner , contractor , or third-party vendor .
Product development or , as it is sometimes called, engineering, is the organization that
creates your product. Many specialties fall under this one title, including (but certainly not limited to) the following categories:
- User experience or interface designers
- Software developers
- Hardware engineers
- Quality assurance
Your relationship with product development is key to your success as a product manager .The product development people translate the customer problems that you define into real products that address those needs. How well they do depends on your ability to clearly explain what customers have told you into something that product development can act on. The quality of your communication and influencing skills is critical in making sure that you’re heard well.
One issue that arises is how much direction you provide them. Engineers like to solve
problems quickly . In many instances, you want to thoroughly discuss what the customer’s problems and needs are while the engineers want to quickly get to a solution. Y our job is to keep them in the problem space long enough so that they really flesh out the ins and outs of the customer problem. Once you believe that everyone on the team has fully understood the customer problem, you can use mind maps and other tools to work through possible solutions. Engineers take the lead once the search for a solution is underway .
Finance is really focused on keeping the numbers straight and making sure the company is making more than it spends. You work with this department on the following topics:
- Expenses: How much did your product cost to develop, and how much is the actual cost of the product to product or deliver to customers?
- Revenue and profits: What is expected revenue, and how much of that can accurately be allocated to profit?
- Pricing: This area is a combination of the two previous bullets. During a pricing discussion, you need to keep a clear head on the real value of a product to a customer given all the other alternatives. Avoid turning it into a discussion about the amount of money that the company will make per unit. If no one buys the product because the price is too high, the price is wrong no matter how profitable. Chapter 10 has a more detailed discussion on pricing.
Operations ensures that your product actually reaches your customer with as few hurdles to overcome as possible. Y ou want the process to be friction-free because each hurdle is another opportunity for the sale to stop. The operations department is in charge of mapping out each step, and you need to convince them to implement as simple a process as possible so that your customers can easily buy your product. Y ou may also need to bring in product development to make sure your customer’s journey is mapped out into as few steps as possible.
Here are a couple of examples of ways in which having operations working with
development improved customer experiences:
- Amazon wanted to decrease the required number of steps when purchasing a product from its website. The company eventually developed 1-Click ordering by engaging all aspects of its operations team to speed purchases.
- When Starbucks began offering Wi-Fi in its coffee shops, logging into the service took two clicks. Today , Starbucks has combined both steps so patrons can accept and connect with one click.
Working with operations is detailed work. Y ou must be prepared to sort out any of the
- Settings in the data tracking systems such as SAP that drive the company .
- How a part number is constructed to give internal audiences information.
- The actual process for requesting a part number . Who do you ask? Is there a particular form or way to make this request?
- Transportation flows of physical product as it moves from manufacturing through a distributor and eventually to a customer .
Each company has its own way of setting up internal systems and processes so that the
company runs properly . You need to understand the details of how these systems intersect with your goal of getting products in the hands of customers. In the end, it’s rewarding work to get right, and your operations people will love you for spending the time to get all the details done correctly .
Service and support
Service and support are the unsung heroes of your success. Much like sales engineers,
service and support people hear directly from customers — and mostly from unhappy
customers (it is rare that customers contact support to tell them how pleased they are.)
They provide the after-sales support that keeps your customers satisfied as they use your product. As a product management your interactions with service and support happen for three main reasons:
- You want to know what problems customers are having with today’s products so you can improve the situation in the next revision or maybe even develop something entirely new if the problem is big enough.
- If a lot of customers are calling to complain about a particular issue or bug, service and support are great at collecting data on the problem and letting you know (in no uncertain terms, at times) that the bug needs to be fixed. Be clear with them on any constraints that you have in fixing a product issue. Whatever you do, take their comments seriously .
- As part of the product launch process, plan training sessions with anyone who supports customers so that they are ready to take calls and answer customer questions on day 1 of product availability .
When your service and support agents are great, they can keep your customers loyal for
many years. Take time to visit them, train them, and respect them.
Service and support are part of the whole product offering. The service and support
department is often seen as outside the control of the product manager . However , if the department impacts your customer’s happiness and willingness to buy the product, you should speak up and ask for support and service department changes if necessary .
Conducting a Self -Assessment: T raits
of a Great Product Manager
Becoming a great product manager is the work of a lifetime. The work is complicated. The skills and talents that you have to bring to the role are many . And just when you think you’ve mastered them all, you realize you haven’t used one in a while and need more practice. Having the characteristics and skills of an amazing product manager make the job a great one if you like variety and challenges. The following sections detail the eight most important traits of great product managers. You can use T able 2-1 in the section ”Scoring your product manager traits ” later in this chapter to rank yourself .
TABLE 2-1 Ranking Y our Product Manager Traits
|I’m Wonderful in|
|Most of the Time I’m Okay|
in This Area
|I Really Need Some Work in This Area|
|Industry knowledge and|
|A cool head|
You know that product managers need to focus on getting the product right and listening
to customers. However , your company needs to make money to survive. This hard-core
business acumen is what it takes to make profitable products. Business acumen includes careful consideration of the following topics:
- Pricing a product at the level that leads to a safe profit margin. You need to know the complete cost structure of your product and offering, including corporate overhead.
- Double-checking all contractual business terms to make sure you haven’t given too much away to your channel, your partners, or your customers.
- Being aware when a business negotiation with an internal and, especially external person or organization isn’t proceeding with your interests in mind. You need to balance both sets of needs.
You don’t pick up business skills in a vacuum. Y ou get them from more experienced people in your company . Luckily , most of your negotiations focus on internal exchange of resources like people and money . Prior to any serious negotiation, get as complete a list as possible from your manager as to what is allowed to be part of the discussion and what is outside of the discussion. Then walk in with a list of the boundaries that you can operate in. Don’t lead with those boundaries. If you’re uncertain, stop and double-check to make sure that you haven’t given up something that your department shouldn’t commit to. Safe is better than sorry .
Industry knowledge and expertise
Many product managers come from the industry that they serve. They’re industry
specialists first and product managers second. In general, this attribute is great because
you’re already familiar with your industry and the key business drivers.
What happens when an industry is in transition? As you use your industry knowledge and expertise in a product management role, keep an eye over your shoulder for industry disruptors. Imagine you were a product manager for the taxicab industry . Would you predict that a service like Uber would transform the taxi industry? Y ou then need to shift your energy to convincing your company that it’s time to move — or possibly watch your company die.
One of the fun parts of the product manager role is having a technical conversation with
someone even more technical than you are. Y es, you need to know the core technology that supports your product. So ask a technical person to give you an in-depth briefing on all the ins and outs of your product. As the briefing continues, add your own notes as to the difference this information makes to the customer . Y our goal is to know the technical terms and translate that into the value that the technology delivers to your customer .
Remember The “Why is this important?” part is where you add critical value as a product manager . The world is filled with products that have a great deal of technical coolness but don’t deliver real value, such as the self -stirring coffee cup that ensures the mocha or sugar in your coffee stays thoroughly mixed. On the surface, this
technological innovation is wonderful, but from a customer’s point of view , the
additional value may not warrant spending $10 more to buy each cup.
Look at the many business books on the shelf at a bookstore. Now calculate how many are about the ins and outs of business dealings and how many are about working in the best possible way with other people. The ratio is strongly tilted toward books on people skills versus books on spreadsheets or business plans.
Good people skills underpin much of your success as a product manager . The earlier
sections in this chapter present a long list of different departments and functions that you need to bring into alignment with your job description. As much as you spend time
analyzing and planning your next product, you need to analyze and plan your strategies in working with your co-workers.
The basics are simple: Listen carefully , ask open-ended questions, and make sure you
communicate requests and delegate clearly and succinctly . Chapters 17 and 18 go more in depth on strengthening your people skills.
The reason product managers have such a large impact on their companies is that they’re one of the key functions that is asked to make forward-looking decisions on a regular basis.
This is great if the decisions you are asked to make are ones where you have expertise. For example, which target markets and customer groups to pursue with your product are
topics that should be your call.
The problems product managers face can have many possible right answers. The question you have to answer is, “Which is the best answer with the amount of data I have available right now?” You’re trading off an early decision that creates forward movement with a more certain decision you could make at a later date. Some useful questions to ask yourself include these:
- When is the last responsible moment to make a decision?
- Can I make progress and leave some flexibility down the road?
- What happens if I don’t make the decision now?
- What are my risks?
- What are possible rewards of moving sooner or waiting longer?
In Part 2 , you become familiar with tools that help you make decisions with more
Product managers are known for adopting a can-do attitude. Actually , it’s probably a bit
more than that. Obstacles that are placed in your way are just opportunities to succeed
regardless of the odds. Keep in mind that obstacles are boundaries. Give yourself
permission to expand your area of control past the boundaries that seem to be in your way .
When you’re faced with a difficult situation, whether it be a holdup in the life cycle of a
product, a misunderstanding with another department, or any number of issues that can
arise, start by gaining a good understanding of the problem. Write down all the parameters and invite other people to help you figure out where the obstacles are slightly lower (see figure 2-5 ). Keep working on them until you can see a way through the problem. Many barriers are put there by organizations because they had a purpose at one time or another . If they no longer serve their original purpose, dig deeper to understand all aspects of the problem and you can find your way through.
This mental toughness of not stopping until a problem is solved is an important attribute of a product manager . It’s related to another critical attribute: optimism. No matter how bad the situation is, your ability to believe that you can solve problems gives you the
opportunity at getting the best possible outcome.
A cool head
Product managers spend a lot of time under the kind of pressure that breaks many people.
Product management is now considered the fourth most important job in corporate
America, according to a 2013 CBS News poll. That just means that what you’re doing is
highly visible and very hard to do well.
Many roadblocks can crop up as you prepare a product to go to market; how you deal with the problems is a measure of your character . Every person finds a way to cope with the stress. The ones who do it best are like ducks, outwardly calm, but paddling like crazy under the water . Here are a few hints for keeping your cool:
- When you get bad news, it’s okay to leave and take a short walk — outside if possible.
- A deep breath (or two or ten) makes a big difference in your ability to respond calmly
- Meditating regularly in whatever way you find productive is very helpful. So are gardening and long walks.
The main idea is to look for the gap between your surprise and your reaction. In that gap,
you can choose to be calm and cool, taking the mental space to call on all the other skills that we cover in earlier sections. Y ou’re going to need them all — and a smile to go with them.
A product manager needs to have leadership skills. When you’re asking others to go above and beyond their comfort level, you need them to trust you.
You can read about leadership for the rest of your life, but learning to actually be a leader takes time and practice. Leadership is a practice of kicking all the traits in the preceding sections up a notch.
- Business acumen: Do you know everything your decision will mean as it rolls out into the real world?
- Industry expertise: How confident are you that what you know to be true today will be true as your market evolves?
- People skills: Are you really listening?
- Decision-making skills: Once you listen deeply to people, can you integrate all the information to come up with a truly creative decision?
- Technical skills: Is the technology really going to evolve in the way you believe it will?
- Problem-solving aptitude: Can you find a solution no matter how dark the situation seems to be?
When all else fails, rely on the following four qualities as part of your leadership chops:
- Can people trust you?
- Do you instill hope?
- Do you have compassion for your people and your customers?
- Do you make people feel safe?
Scoring your product manager traits
Check out T able 2-1 to see how you rank you as a product manager . For each product
manager attribute, choose the box which you feel most represents your skill level. For
example, for business acumen, you could score yourself as “I’m Wonderful in This Area,”
“Most of the Time I’m OK in This Area,” or “I Really Need Some Work in This Area.” Set
personal goals in the areas that you want to improve in. And give yourself a pat on the
back where you are wonderful. These skills are not ones that you develop overnight, so
creating a development plan with a coach, your boss, or even on your own will take you far in your career .
RACI and DACI: Understanding
As organizations grow , the complexity of who is responsible for doing what becomes
greater . Product managers have a long list of responsibilities, and making sure that
everyone is clear on what they need to be involved in and what they can safely pass onto
other roles is important to document.
There are two management tools that are useful for making sure that everyone knows who participates in finishing an activity and who makes a decision about a particular topic:
- RACI: Who is responsible for completing certain tasks?
- DACI: Who decides on a course of action for a particular task or function?
Depending the whether the issue is one for responsibility or decision making will guide the product manager in which tool to use.
Going the RACI route
A key concept that solves the responsibility part of the puzzle is called RACI. The acronym stands for the following:
- Responsible: Who is responsible for participating in completing an action?
- Accountable: Who is accountable for making sure an action is complete?
- Consulted: Who is consulted during the process of completing an action?
- Informed: Who is informed about the state of an action?
An example is planning a company potluck beach party . Preparing for an event means that anyone responsible for bringing food or other materials as part of the event is listed as responsible. Volunteers for food, blankets, and so on are accountable for making sure that commitments are met. Executives are consulted on key matters as the event is rolled out. And anyone who isn’t a volunteer is simply informed as to the state of affairs.
Table 2-2 shows a completed RACI chart for an Agile development group that uses scrum methodologies. Creating this chart as a group will allow the product manager or product owner to clarify who is responsible for which tasks and decrease confusion among group members.
TABLE 2-2 Agile Group RACI Chart
|Develop QA tests||I||I||I||C||I||R||I|
Taking a DACI direction
For many organizations, creating a RACI chart like the one in the preceding section works well. Product managers face further complications. They’re trying to move forward on various fronts. Without clear decision making, entire projects can stall while everyone gets to the point of saying yes. This situation is why many product managers turn to a DACI chart. It’s just one letter different, but the organizational impact is dramatic when all levels in the company adopt it. DACI stands for
- Driver: Who drives a decision to a conclusion?
- Approver: Who approves a particular decision? For best results, keep the number of approvers low .
- Contributor: Who contributes to a decision?
- Informed: Who is simply informed about the final decision?
The DACI model is great for clearing up decision confusion. For the picnic example in the
preceding section, the vice president of human resources is the driver . She wanted a team Building event for the company . The CEO is the approver for the plan to have a picnic, and the contributors are the employee activity council who helped the vice president of human resources with decisions like inviting employee family members or not. The rest of the company employees are informed about the event.
It’s the same event, but there’s a world of difference between who drives and who is
responsible. Multiple people can be responsible, but only one driver is allocated in the
DACI model. Who is in charge is crystal clear . Who is allowed to approve, who can
contribute a point of view , and who can stop the project is also very clear , as shown in
T able 2-3 .
TABLE 2-3 Agile Group DACI Chart
|Agile Group DACI Chart||Product|
|Decide on product vision||D||C||I||I||I||I||A|
|Decide when product is ready|
|Get a user story ready for the|
team to review
|Agree that user story is ready to be made part of the sprint||I||C||C||D||C||C||I|
Using RACI and DACI effectively
The best time to create a RACI and DACI chart is at the beginning of a project. Program
management would be called in to assist in working through the details since this is a
company process If you wait to create this agreement after conflict arises about who does what and who can decide what, agreement is harder to reach. Depending on which issues you expect in your project, plan a working meeting to detail every task that needs to be finished and then clearly allocate responsibility . If your team is having difficulty making and sticking to decisions, hold a DACI meeting and hash the issues out. You may need a facilitator . Human resource personnel or trainers often have training in facilitation. Ask them to run the meeting for you so that you get impartial results. And a key decision maker is always welcome at the meetings to provide weight in a tie-breaking situation.
Once you have agreed on a DACI or RACI configuration, you can reuse it from project to
project. If you find yourself in disagreement again or there’s a large turnover in the team,
it might be worth hashing out a new one.
One last benefit: If you’re drastically overworked, a RACI chart makes this imbalance
obvious to everyone. Then you can negotiate taking certain tasks off your plate.