Top 4 traits a Product Leader should NOT have

A lot has been said about qualities that product leaders must possess. Let’s spin it around a bit and look at the topic from the opposite direction, and crack down the top traits a product leader should NOT possess.

Here’s my top 4.

1. NOT having a vision

Knowing where we are heading to is a fundamental know-how a product leader must obviously be aware of. Product leaders are required to inspire their teams, they can’t inspire if they don’t have a vision.

Not having a vision leads to loss in focus, lost focus leads to nothing but a me-too product.

2. NOT having a strategy

It’s not sufficient to just have a vision and not know how to get there. Strategy is the chosen path to achieve the vision and make it a reality.

Product Strategy has to be crafted meticulously to ensure it aligns with the organization’s values, capabilities, and resources with the opportunities in the external environment.

3. NOT innovating consistently

Every competitive advantage has a lifespan, so consistent innovation is the key to stay relevant in the market.

4. Aspiring for more followers

What are you going to do with more followers, anyway? As someone put it “the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers“. A leader’s job is to groom his subordinates to become leaders in their respective area of ownership. Product leaders must focus on the success of the product and eventually the business, and not aspire to have more followers.

Hope you liked the post, please do comment on what you think!


Prioritization of Product Features

I have been thinking of doing a post on the topic of prioritizing product features for quite sometime as most product managers do this activity regularly. Product Managers in many companies do the prioritization exercise differently, but I’ve attempted an approach which I believe is comprehensive.

Here’s an approach I’ve followed in my experience — I call it the “Business Value Model”. The prioritization activity involves assigning “weights” (in the form of unit-less points) for each feature in the backlog against a variety of parameters such as the following:

  1. Value: the value of the feature will be a function of Benefits and the associated Effort Estimate.
    • Value = f (benefit, effort estimate)
    • Benefits: assign a number (from 1-10) for each of the benefits the feature provides. The benefits must be from customer requests.
    • Effort Estimate: assign a number (from 1-10) depending on the effort estimate from a look-up table. Something like 1 for 3 days, 2 for a week’s effort, 3 for 2 weeks effort, and so on.
  2. Benefiting Customer Size: a number (from 1-10) depending on what percentage of existing customers would benefit from the feature.
  3. Benefiting Market Size: a number (from 1-10) depending on what percentage of prospects in the open market (i.e. potential customers in the pipeline, general market, etc.) would benefit from the feature.
  4. Competitive Necessity: have just a handful of numbers to choose from depending on what the feature will do to the product with respect to the competition. For example:  2 for closer-to-competition, 5 for competitive-parity, 10 for beats-competition.
  5. Strategic Requirement: assign a number (from 1-10) depending on the alignment of the feature with business strategy, product vision, etc.

The framework is available for download here: PrioritizationTemplate

Remember: Every new feature will need to be looked upon from the angle of tapping new markets. Here’s an excerpt from one of my earlier posts, related to Win-Loss Analysis: Some customers might have unique needs which we might not even be aware already. In such a case, it is essential to profile the customer and research the need in the market place — may be we will end up discovering completely new market segments which we can go after once we have built the required product capabilities.

Would love to hear your thoughts!!!

Responsibilities of a Product Manager

Okay, the title of the post should really be “Additional responsibilities of a Product Manager”.

We all know that great product managers build products that the customer, and the market in general, needs — and there are numerous blogs and posts on the Internet that talk about building “market centric” products. But, is that enough? As someone put it “once you’ve discovered what needs to be built, go through hell to build and ship the product”.

In my opinion, a product manager, in addition to having the pulse of the market and knowing what exactly is required to be built, will also need to shoulder the following (incomplete list of) responsibilities:

  • Be market centric: Educate the organization (both management and R&D) on the significance of market driven products. Sales teams are always close to the management (as they bring in the money), but the products we intend to build will need to solve customer problems and have competitive edge, and in addition any innovation would make the product really successful. The focus should be in observing and listening to “customers” more than anyone within the organization.
  • Shoot down “flying monkeys”: Jim Holland (of fame) has a very interesting post – check it out here. On my personal front, I’ve had a similar experience in the past wherein the Business VP interacts with R&D and directly assigns them work completely bypassing product management. He did that based on requests from the Sales team. That was a perfect recipe for chaos and potential disaster!
  • Educate the management: Constantly educate the management, and the organization in general, with crisp presentations on market demands, market trends, competitive landscape, technology direction, et al. The intention is to educate them that the product vision, roadmap, direction, and development is in sync with the market needs and trends.
  • Get off “implementation mode”: Think and communicate like a business leader. This will help product managers gain respect from R&D.
  • Get off “sales mode”: Think and communicate in terms of P&L. This will help product managers gain respect from the entire organization.

Now that is what I call stellar product management!

Would love to hear your thoughts based on your experience.

Key attributes of a successful Product Manager

One of the most common questions in interviews for Product Managers is the question on key attributes of a successful product manager. It may also be asked in a different way as “what makes a product manager successful?”

Whilst success for product managers is contextual based on the Key Result Areas defined by the organization, some of the attributes common to all types of product managers are the following:

    1. Market Knowledge
    2. Communication and Influencing skills
    3. Product Knowledge

Now, let us look at each one of them:

1. Market Knowledge: There has been a wide acceptance of the authority of product managers — that they do not have any authority over others in the organization. Whilst this may be true from a people-management perspective, product managers could gain authority on product development and projects just by being an expert of the market. Being an expert in market matters such as target market characteristics, market trends, purchasing power of customers, competition, technological landscape, et al. Try it yourself — it works.

2. Communication and Influencing skills: This skill is probably equally important to product managers as that of the first one. Being a market expert with poor or no communication (both verbal and written) and persuasive skills is a disastrous situation for a product manager to be in – it doesn’t put the market knowledge into fruition.

3. Product Knowledge: Finally, knowing one’s own product is very essential. This will give confidence to the product manager while evaluating his product’s gaps and limitations with respect to market needs. This is also essential go gain respect within the organization. It is an awkward situation when a product manager puts together a requirement for a new capability, and later discovers it is already available in the product.

Your thoughts are most welcome.

Which stage of Product Life Cycle is most difficult to handle and why?

I believe the “sustaining” phase (AKA the “maintenance” phase) after product launch is the most challenging. Product development can be done with particular “objectives” , and once the product is launched it is extremely important to ensure the product is sustained the manner it should.

This is the critical phase in PLC that will ensure the product does not derail from where it should be heading.

The “sustaining phase” ensures that the product lives up to the demands of the changing market needs. And knowing when to exactly decommission a product is part of sustaining efforts.

Thoughts welcome!

Importance of Sales Engineering in Product Companies

According to Wikipedia:
Sales engineers advise customers on how best to use the products or services provided. They may also collaborate with the design, production, engineering, or research and development departments of their companies to determine how products and services could be made or modified to suit customers’ needs. Sales engineers use their technical skills to demonstrate to potential customers the usefulness of the product or service and how it may suit the customer better than a competitors’ products. Courtesy:

My comments:

All that is said above is absolutely correct. But I would like to discuss the significance of Sales Engineering from Product Development and Customer commitment perspectives.

I attended a Product Management working session with Sales Engineering a couple of weeks ago, and really understood the importance of them in a technology product company.

Then, back at the hotel room, sitting in a corner of my room and wondering about all the disruptions with internal systems, I realized that it’s such a nice approach to have a representative of Product Management out on the field with the Sales reps and ensuring that the correct solution is being proposed to customers, every time. In fact, Sales Engineers will also need to be empowered “not to approve” Sales reps from proposing incorrect or unavailable solution to customers.

No more false commitments will be made by Sales reps, period.

Sales Engineers (or Solution Engineers or Application Engineers as the role is referred to in different companies) do not only check false commitments to prospects, but also present the solution to “technology” & “usability” buyers, especially in the case of complex products.

So, in summary, having Sales Engineers will ensure that Sales do not commit to customers that may:
 a. Create unwarranted disruptions within the internal organization or processes
 b. De-rail the Product Roadmap in a big way such that it will create chaos and confusion

Are you working in a technology product company, and wonder about the numerous disruptions in Product Development? It is time to think about the importance of Sales Engineers for a moment!

Who should a startup hire first? Sales Reps, Engineers, or Product Managers?

This is a tricky question and everyone in Sales, Engineering, and Product Management feel their contribution to the organization is (strategically?) important and hence should be hired first.

Well, let’s take each job category and analyze its importance as it pertains to a startup — of course, we will exclude Operations and Support teams such as HR, Finance, Admin, Customer Support, et al.

Sales: Traditionally, Sales folks believe they are the “darlings” of the organization and sell anything (even stars on the sky!) to sign a deal. What they really do not understand is the ability of their organization to meet customer commitments on product delivery and sustain the product post-sales. So, a lack of understanding of the following items puts them in the back seat to be hired first in a startup: Current product offerings, clarity on roadmap, lack of understanding of the go-to market needs, unable to decide what product has to be proposed to which customer, etc.

Engineering: Well, this is an easy nut to crack. What will an engineer build if he does not know what is to be built? Engineering will need guidance from a market/customer facing team on what should be built. So, Engineers need not be hired first.

Product Management: When any company understands the importance of Product Management, it gives Product Managers full freedom to define and own “Product Strategy” which comprises of the traditional four P’s (Product, Price, Place, & Promotion). We could include another P to represent the market/customer Problem that is intended to be solved. Of course, the Product Managers will work with various stakeholders with supporting research material to build Product Strategy. Engineering will build the product and Sales will then sell it. In effect, Sales and Engineering are really “supporting and execution teams” to Product Management in executing the organization’s product strategy.

So, the winner is Product Management — startups should hire Product Managers first.

Thoughts welcome!