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Product Talks Sydney – gender in product management

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Join myself and the Sydney product community as we discuss and explore the role of gender in product development. The 2016 Pragmatic Marketing survey found that 63% of product managers are male, increasing to 79% in more senior roles. What role does unconscious bias play in product management and what does this mean when engaging and influencing diverse stakeholder groups to drive deliverables? It’s bound to be an interesting and robust discussion. Hope to see you there.

Does Gender Play a Role in Product Management?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016, 5:30 PM

Brainmates HQ
Level 6, 100 Clarence Street Sydney, AU

44 Product People Attending

The 2016 Pragmatic Marketing Global Product Management survey found that 63% of product managers are male, increasing to 79% for more senior product roles.While gender equity issues persist within corporate Australia more generally, in a role where stakeholder influence and the ability to manage across multiple domains is critical, what role does …

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The intersection between product management and diplomacy

The intersection between product management and diplomacy

While product management discussions often focus on the more technical aspects of being a product manager, (such as road mapping and prioritisation) it is important not to overlook the equally critical skill of stakeholder engagement.

For all product managers, the need for strong stakeholder relations  is essential in driving initiatives to market; in course correcting and iterating, and refining in-market propositions.

As a product manager you need to be commercially and technically skilled as well as a consummate diplomat in order to navigate and drive alignment across the business.

Engage key stakeholders early

I’m often surprised at product managers who assume that they can get traction and endorsement for their proposition at an executive steering committee or decision forum without prior engagement of key stakeholders.

A skilled product manager knows that you need to actively engage your stakeholders prior to any decision points. This enables you to have an early view of likelihood of support as well as an indicative understanding of  any likely points of contention or concern. Early engagement means you are able to respond, clarify and intervene where necessary.

In preparation for core decision forums, product managers need to:

  • Identify key decision makers – ask yourself, what is their core area of accountability? What aspects of your proposed strategy are they most likely to be interested in?
  • Identify key influencers – they may not necessarily have decision rights but can be well regarded within the business and often sought  for their opinion. Sketching out a stakeholder map can be a useful exercise in this regard.
  • Schedule 1:1 meetings with each stakeholder. Make sure that meetings are scheduled enough time in advance to be able to respond to any questions or objections raised, some of which may require additional analysis or research

Stakeholder engagement sessions can also be a great development opportunity for your team. They are an opportunity for them to learn,  as well as to share their expertise. So make sure you use them, where appropriate, as an opportunity to build and develop the skills within your team as well as credential your team across the business.

During your individual stakeholder meetings

Make sure that you actively listen to your stakeholders. Address any queries or concerns. That does not mean that you have to change your proposition (although in some cases it may be warranted), but you do need to demonstrate that you understand the core value drivers of your proposition and can manage any associated risks or issues.

Communicate and summarise the business value your product proposition will deliver:

  • What customer problem or need does your proposition solve for?
  • What does success look like?
  • How will you measure success and value delivery?
  • What are the high level financials underpinning your proposition?

Actively ask your stakeholder(s) whether they have any questions or areas regarding your product about which they would like more information or clarification.

Finally, explicitly advise them that you will be seeking their endorsement at the formal decision forum/committee and ask whether there are any outstanding issues/concerns which need to be addressed.

Follow up and drive alignment

Post your engagement meetings, make sure you follow up and close out any remaining questions.  The stakeholder meetings are not just ‘for show’, but are a genuine opportunity for you to explore, uncover and validate the key value of your proposition. They are an opportunity for you to drive alignment across the business.

Thank them for their time and consideration of your product strategy.

While no guarantee that your product strategy will be endorsed, effective stakeholder engagement will buy you stakeholder capital and will enable you to build trust and confidence in your proposition.

You won’t always get it right

As a product manager you need to be able to engage across many business units and domains and drive a consistent and well-informed ‘story’ in support of your proposition. Being well informed and knowledgeable will enable you to engage with your stakeholders with confidence.

As with all stakeholder negotiation, you will encounter both advocates and detractors. There will also undoubtedly be a good degree of healthy conflict and tension in your discussions due to competing priorities, pressures and perspectives.

Stakeholder engagement is an art and skill which requires practise.

You won’t always get it right and it will not always go smoothly. But being open to a diversity of stakeholder views and perspectives will help you successfully navigate and negotiate across the business.

A continued focus on active stakeholder engagement and management will ensure that your product management career will live long and prosper.

Managing Product Portfolio Financials

financials

Not just the domain of finance managers

At last year’s Product Camp Melbourne I was asked to deliver the keynote presentation, specifically in relation to financial management for product managers.

In the plethora of product management related posts and discussions around agile, UX, roadmaps and the like, managing product portfolio financials seems to have taken a back seat. Don’t get me wrong, the ability to prioritise, design products using customer led design and get to market quickly and effectively are all critical skills for today’s product manager. But equally, knowing your product financials intimately is something that product managers cannot, and should not, shy away from.

Core to product management is value creation – value to the customer and value to the business. Knowing your product financials is essential in identifying where the opportunity exists to realise benefits and deliver optimal value… at scale, and in knowing what may dilute or detract from that value.

Many product managers struggle with defining their product financials. While an overly complex dashboard only serves to distract, I am also not a proponent of the ‘single, magic number or metric’ that is espoused by some. Instead I am an advocate of a product dashboard which enables the product manager to understand in a snapshot how their portfolio is performing across a range of key measures and then drill down within each measure.

Whatever the case, your product portfolio dashboard needs to reflect the core value drivers of your product proposition:

  • Your metrics must be measurable – you need to be able to track them back to business/value driver
  • They must align to your product and business objectives
  • They must be actionable – i.e. you have to be able to do something about them; to intervene and make an impact

Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of The Lean Start Up, cautions against the use of ‘vanity metrics’ – portfolio metrics which make you feel good but which are not actionable. Ries advocates a per-customer, per-segment focus to drive actionable insight. The ability to action and do something in response is key.

Financial management skills are also key to a product manager’s ability to influence and engage key stakeholders across the business. A strong understanding of portfolio financials enables you to build trust and confidence in your product strategy – it buy’s stakeholder capital and credibility.

It’s encouraging to see product management training increasingly including a focus on financial management. As a product manager, you have to be financially literate.

Product financials are not something to fear or avoid. ‘Lean in’ to them; own and manage them; use them to take control and grow and lead your portfolio.

You can access a copy of my keynote presentation here.

Dog fooding – and why it matters in product management

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It should be obvious, but is often overlooked – good product management is not just about building and shipping. As a PM you need to understand the end to end customer value chain, in particular, how your customers use and interact with your product or service.

While consumer research and customer feedback is valuable, I am a proponent of “dogfooding” – the process whereby a product manager regularly uses their product to understand the true customer experience. Only then can they get a sense of what is working really well and what is not.

It is often the smaller, less obvious product features or service elements that deliver the opportunity to materially improve the  customer experience and value proposition.

I recently had an experience interacting with one of my products which made me realise that the language we used was jargonistic and likely to make our customers feel overwhelmed and/or disengaged. Working with the Communications Team, we put ourselves in the shoes of our customers – we stripped out the jargon and simplified our communication message. We then tested it with both customers and frontline staff. The result – higher levels of satisfaction with the product and greater levels of customer engagement. And our staff? They too related better to the proposition we were asking them to sell and service. The sales numbers went up.

Dogfooding is not an alternative to customer journey mapping and customer research. It is another tool in the Product Manager’s toolkit which can identify design issues and opportunities in both the product and service experience. Product managers more than anyone, have a responsibility and the means to amplify those things that are working and change those that are not. In doing so, they can further differentiate their proposition and make it even more compelling.

Enjoy the meal – and if you don’t, then change the recipe! (Woof)

If you are the one

If you are the one

Being a good Product Manager is not just about getting the job done.
I’ve been recruiting product managers for many years now. I’m a big believer in the value of diversity in my teams and have recruited many product analysts and product managers from non-product management backgrounds. For me in hiring, I look for attitude and skills as well as cultural fit. It’s about the value these can bring to my team and the opportunity for that person to both contribute to and grow within the role. I also want people in my team who are open to learning and new ideas.

I’ve debated with many the merits of recruiting ‘hard core’ product managers over those who have a passion for product but have other domain and career experience. I’ve hired both – depending on the needs of the team and the needs of the business at any given time.

Either way, it still surprises me how many candidates present at interview (both experienced and would-be product managers alike) with their own experience as their primary point of reference for the world of product management.

Let me give an example. I recently interviewed a product manager who was looking to join my team; to transition from a product role that was limited to BAU product management. She wanted to expand her experience and move to a role which offered both BAU product management as well as product design and development opportunities. During her second round interview, I asked her to outline her approach to product design and development.

“Well, I don’t really develop products, I just manage them”, she replied.

My response was to then ask her what framework or approach would she take if tasked with designing a product proposition for our business.

“Umm..maybe talk to Sales?”

Not a bad starting point and definitely a source of valuable insight, however not an answer which demonstrated her understanding of best practice product design.

My advice to anyone wanting to further their career or move into a role in which they have limited experience, is not to let that constrain you. Take the time to keep up to date with current debates and best practice in the field you are in or want to be in.

Had she done so, this candidate could have answered my question along the following lines:

“In my current role I don’t have the opportunity to develop product propositions. However, as part of my BAU management role, I have to assess product performance which means I actively monitor, analyse and understand how my products are peforming compared to key competitors and whether they are still delivering value to our customers. To inform this view I regularly talk to and observe customers, talk to sales and other channel owners such as our digital team. I am also very interested in exploring the jobs to be done framework in designing products.”

There are many fantastic resources available to product managers – both incumbent and aspiring. Whether you are an experienced product manager or someone just starting out on your product management journey, take the time to grow and learn; take inspiration and insight from other sectors, other product managers and people making a difference in the businesses they work in.

To start your journey of ‘exploration’ here are some of the people I regularly follow and resources I refer to:

Product Management and Innovation

Brainmates 

Mind the Product

Eric Ries, Author of The Lean Startup

Leading the Product, Australia’s National Product Management conference

Inventium and Founder, Dr Amantha Imber

 

Design

The Design Council UK 

Cass Sunstein, Professor at Harvard

The Science of Us, a playful look at human behaviour

Dr Dan Lockton

John Maeda

No one can afford to have their own experience as their single point of reference.  Whether you are already a product manager or looking to become one, to be truly effective and innovative you need to continuously grow and learn. Think of it as your own, personal continuous improvement program. Good luck – hopefully next time you go for your dream role, “you will be the one”!