Category Archives: Product Management

F.A.S.T Approach To Product Strategy

A few weeks back I wrote a blog post on how you can bring technology and growth more close to realization by adopting 5S Tech Strategy The blog post talked about taking a 5S approach towards product development that could help create a more robust & user centric product. I am extending my thinking now at strategic level to make an attempt at addressing the problem we face today :- How to counter the rapid change happening around us.

In so many years , the only thing I would ever speculate would be about an outcome of a cricket match or weather in cities I would have visited , but that still came with certain level of confidence; Today policies , businesses & impact on people has gotten reduced to a level of speculation never seen before! Feedback loop that drives future has shortened and is demanding faster reaction time.

In this blog , I will talk about the F(lexible) A(daptable) S(wift) T(ransformational) approach to Product Strategy. Each of the four pillars have been described by taking examples that are recent and defining in how they are impacting lives & society.

Flexible

Pandemic has shown us that flexibility is a key attribute that any design will have to cater for future. If we do not carry that trait our ability to respond will be constricted.

Health & fitness as a product is currently driving the Indian urban market. People now are willing to spend a good amount of their disposable income towards gyms, health devices like Fitbit and many more. The running events or rather the Marathon events are slowly gaining popularity in India, especially in Metros. Number of professional runners in India who train themselves through out the year to participate in Marathons is increasing by triple digit figures year on year.

But due to pandemic this activity has been drastically , where the whole joy of running in groups , meeting up and combining social activity with physical sport has gone for a toss. So should they stop organizing events ?

The obvious answer is NO , most of these event management firms have shifted to a virtual format where-in they are still able to charge 50% of registration fee than a normal event and provided for a simple mechanism to upload results post your run. They are trying to be flexible about where you run , when you run and how you measure performance.

Key Take Away : The product should be Flexible enough to continue to cater to its addressable market and foster engagement with its user base

Adaptable

Breweries and distilleries will make the switch from booze to hand gel as the government relaxed manufacturing rules in a bid to make up for shortages of alcohol-based disinfectants. Credit: Stock image/Pixabay

In late March , Belgium gave the go-ahead to breweries, distilleries and other recognized alcohol-makers to exceptionally produce disinfecting hand gel as demand surges due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The Rubbens Distillery was one of the first businesses to cater to a new pandemic-related niche — making hand sanitizer in addition to gin. The pandemic has forced many European businesses to improvise. This Belgian gin distillery now has a popular line in hand sanitizer!

More examples across Europe reflect upon how the crisis forced thousands of companies to adapt — either to stay afloat, or to cater to a new pandemic-related niche. In France, perfumeries made disinfectant. In Denmark, a gourmet restaurant now sells only burgers. Elsewhere in this Belgian town, a lingerie manufacturer pivoted from corsets to COVID, and now produces face masks.

Key Take Away : The product / solution should be Adaptable to serve unrelated needs emanating from its customer base.

Swift

Swiftness to respond , is a great attribute to have. We often see inflexibility that comes when using different technology stacks and it becomes difficult for engineering teams to respond swiftly to changing market dynamics and retain market share. If you look at the new wave of platform hypothesis you would come across the following terms more often than ever :

Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless.

It is agile and nimble, always up to date approach that can help provide swiftness to your solution if the underlying platform is able to support the above tenets.

Whilst above is an example from how digital needs to transform and respond to changing business strategy. The following example is from manufacturing where 3D-printing platform have countered supply chain disruptions enabling on demand solutions for needs ranging from personal protection equipment to medical devices and isolation wards. the digital versatility and quick prototyping of 3D-printing has enabled the rapid mobilization of the technology and a swift response to emergencies in a closed loop economy.

An Italian engineering company, Isinnova, came up with a 3D printable respirator parts for free to help keep coronavirus patients alive , called a venturi valve, it connects to a patient’s face mask to deliver oxygen at a fixed concentration. The valves need to be replaced for each patient. The biggest supply crunch is with ventilators, but respirator parts like the ones in Italy and even simple nasopharyngeal swabs for testing are all in short supply. Meanwhile, the technology of 3D printing, which allows digital design of parts and the “printing” of them off a machine that creates them layer by layer, is ideally suited to emergency manufacturing because it is fast, cheap and can be done without a big factory

COURTESY OF ISINNOVA

Key Take Away : The platform / solution should be enabled to provide Swift response to the challenges that are thrown by macro factors governing the market.

Transformational

With above tenets in design , the product offering needs to be truly transformational to disrupt the market. May 26th was historic day in spaceflight era. It was a start of new journey. For the first time ever on this day , SpaceX launched a crewed mission to the International Space Station . NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley took this journey on Crew Dragon spacecraft and shepherded it into a new era of space exploration.

At $1.7 billion dollars, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle is the least expensive spacecraft developed since the Mercury Program, which, adjusted for inflation, cost the agency $2.7 billion!

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for Demo-2 inside the company’s hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Another fun fact is that the astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley drove to the launchpad in an electric car manufactured by Tesla, another of Musk’s pioneering companies, foregoing the “tin-can” Astrovan that has been the traditional crew transport since the US began sending humans into space in 1961 🙂 .

Self driving cars and reusable space rockets , we would have never imagined to move out from prototypes to production systems , but that is a reality now and maturing everyday!

Key Take Away : For a product to truly disrupt the market it has to be Transformational unless that happens competition will catch on and take over.

Evolving Through Aggregation – Product Thinking

I am quoting here from the great Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon

H. SIMON explains through his famous Hora and Tempus Parable how complexity may have evolved:
“Let me introduce the topic of evolution with a parable. There once were two watchmakers, named Hora and Tempus, who manufactured very fine watches. Both of them were highly regarded, and the phones in their workshops rang frequently – new customers were constantly calling them. However, Hora prospered, while Tempus became poorer and poorer and finally lost his shop. What was the reason?
“The watches the men made consisted of about 1.000 parts each. Tempus had so constructed his that if he had one partly assembled and had to put it down – to answer the phone say – it immediately fell to pieces and had to be reassembled from the elements. The better the customers liked his watches, the more they phoned him, the more difficult it became for him to find enough uninterrupted time to finish a watch.
“The watches that Hora made were no less complex than those of Tempus. But he had designed them so that he could put together subassemblies of about ten elements each. Ten of these subassemblies, again, could be put together into a larger subassembly; and a system of ten of the latter subassemblies constituted the whole watch. Hence, when Hora had to put down a partly assembled watch in order to answer the phone, he lost only a small part of his work, and he assembled his watches in only a fraction of the manhours it took Tempus.

I find this has lot of value for product managers to read and glean through. Pick facts through an unrelated systemic explanation as above.

There are couple of questions which I did like product managers to take as a riddle and read through for answers or thoughts :

  • How TO construct strategy as sub-assembly designs to pave a roadmap of evolution of design via aggreations of loosely coupled blocks?
  • How NOT TO consider the sub-assemblies merely as lego blocks bit instead find sub-assembly patterns as more concrete lego bricks made up of blocks ?
  • How TO find balance between increasing complexity and evolution of design to minimize disruption?

These principles would apply to any kind of ecolutionary iniative one would take up and can define impacts that are both technical as well non-technical.

Strategy & Traits Of A Product Manager

Product Managers are increasingly gaining ground in an era where shipping software to shipping the right software for customers is becoming important. With new approach of customer driven development , it will become increasingly imperative that the product managers have a strategic bend to make the cut.

The role is a complex jack-of-all-trades persona that requires mastery of a diverse range of skills from programming, engineering, and user experience design to legal, PR, and marketing. Product managers serve as the communication hub between the engineers and designers and everyone else in the organization. It’s a strategic, decision-making role that touches on just about everything at a technology company.

Some of the following traits can help products managers to be the brain behind the approach in product , platform or the ultimate solution:

  • Be a future visionary and product evangelist

Anticipating the what is coming by talking and analyzing stories around you is an important aspect of being a strategic thinker as a product manager. One needs to look inward as well outward , separate the philosophy from tools to create a meta layer of information that will allow to frame the vision. Socializing and presenting what is being build and encouraging people to play with the tooling allows you to create a community driven approach for bettering the product vision.

  • Master technical know-how

Developing a T-shape profile is very important aspect of product management , know enough to visualize , postulate and present various options.Understanding of technical concepts is very important to create a relationship with the technology team and then be able to communicate what the technology team might say , or refer to as challenges.

  • Master the art and science of syncing across multiple platforms

Product managers need the experience and know-how to manage one product and features across all platforms. There’s whole art and science of keeping your product aligned and synced across diverse platforms. One needs to organize the development of the product to match the way users consume it split up across different experiences.

  • A knack for communication

Communication is very important to keep stakeholders updated across the across multiple views. In modern day distributed set-up it becomes imperative to use multitude of tool-kits (slack , zoom ) to support effective communication and publish short-term road-maps with quick iterative execution. They should ideally be excellent presenters, skillful diplomats, and good listeners

  • Know their way around metrics

It goes without saying that all product managers must know their way around metrics. They should understand what’s behind a meaningful metric. Product Managers should be well versed in analytics and methods of extracting the proper data.

Be The Thinker In System

In the modern world knowing only one thing does not suffice and it holds true across the board. The area in product management seems to become the biggest testimony to this aspect. If you want to be a strategic contributor as a product manager then in that case it becomes important that one should first become the thinker in system. I recommend everybody taking this path to definitely add to your reading list the following book : Think In Systems  by Donella H. Meadows

Coming back to the main point , what I did like to reflect here is that today, you can’t host your product on one platform. Usually, your product lives on multiple platforms or even more the platform itself is an net-sum product suite —your website, partner API , connecting systems etc.  Product managers need the experience and know-how to manage one product and features across all platforms. There’s whole art and science of keeping your product aligned and synced across diverse platforms.

One needs to be build understanding by observing and mapping the System, for example using the well-known method of User Journey Mapping.  They’re valuable as a way to describe your understanding of a system, and are best applied in collaboration with your critical stakeholders. The value of mapping and modelling the systems you’re trying to influence is that it helps you to spot the trends and patterns within that system.

Focus on following aspects:

Flow

What information is shown to who, how is that information shown, and who can manipulate information.

Rules

What governs the systems and how it operates. The bounded and unbounded context. The macro effects on the system.

Mindset

Changing behavior is not a joke but encouraging a new approach or adoption is an important point that needs to be kept in mind of a product manager to be a strategic thinker.

How do you organize the development of the product to match the way users consume it split up across different experiences? 

Playing Position Of A Product Manager

We are faced with decisions and trade-offs on a daily basis.  Moreover, we are challenged to ensure that product features, target markets, and technologies align with overall business and strategic objectives.  Projects are advanced based not only on technical merits but also sales, revenue, and profit forecasts.

Product management is one of the most strategic yet least understood business functions in many organizations. The roles and expectations of product management vary considerably from one organization to another. Even within the same company, product management is often carried out in different ways.

This lack of agreement on what product management is may also cause role confusion and miscommunication inside the organization, leading to sub-optimal performance. Foremost role of product management is to help bring process and business savvy to the creation and delivery of products. 

Play out some scenarios and you will see what is happening around you:

  • Traditional consumer companies have always considered product management to be a marketing role, which is why it seems to make sense to put product management there. And it does make sense–if marketing is defining and delivering products. Alas, many technology companies consider the term “marketing” to be synonymous with “marketing communications.” So if the Marketing department is only about delivering products but not defining them, product managers should be elsewhere.
  • For technology companies, particularly those with enterprise or B2B products, the product management job is very technical. This is why we see many product managers reporting to Development or Engineering. However, we’ve seen a shift away from this in recent years. The problem appears to be technical product managers spend so much time writing requirements, they don’t have time to visit the market to better understand the problems their products are designed to solve. They spend so much time building products that they’re not equipped to help deliver them to the market.
  • Very few product managers find themselves in a Sales (or Sales & Marketing) department. It seems clear product managers in Sales will spend all of their time supporting sales people with demos and presentations. The product managers become the sales engineers.

In effect, subordinating product management relegates it to a support role for the primary goal of the department & product managers end up being project managers and Development gofers.

My passing thought would be that it would never matter where product management reports. What matters is how product management is made more accountable and that would mean trying to answer , what does “success” look like for a product manager?

Reflections By Steven Sinofsky

I chanced to read following article Steven Sinofsky on Building Your Product Team  published on the MixPanel blog. It had some great insights  which , I  have captured for my readers and fellow companions who cross their path with product management.

From the above blog

Steven Sinofsky is known as one of product management’s earliest champions. In fact, he was at Microsoft when the company invented “v. 1.0” of the product manager career path.”

While I read through the article , I made this story come out more as my questions in mind as reflections followed by relevant portions from the blog as excerpts.

Why did product manager came into existence?

What is the world beyond developers , testers and marketers? , do they make the whole picture…The answers to that is “no” . We need people who can act as “Pivot” & iterate on the product instead of the marketers , who in turn should worry about demand generation.

Steven states that “Microsoft needed a role that helped making changes further upstream. That way, there would be people who could facilitate changing the code, and minimise big fights”

What value product managers add?

Product managers help achieve intersection between customer feedback and how it impacts the codebase. The role demands ability to glean data and generate focus to mobilise the group towards most high value generating activity.

Steven reflects as “product leadership to be deeply personal, something that must scale within the product manager as the product scales”

What can make a product manager successful?

It is very necessary for a product manager to have deep understanding of the product & more so if the product is a software , then technical acumen becomes very important. In addition to this having ability to manage people and channelise their thought process is a very relevant soft skill that they need to possess.

Steven mentions in the blog that “knowledge helps facilitate a discussion. It makes one run through higher-level strategic thinking. It is important to understand the argument being made and then have a healthy way to address that.”

In Steven’s words “Skills in technology, user experience, and empathy (with internal team members and customers) are prerequisites that can be honed and trained. While building your expertise as a PM requires a mastery of all three areas, it’s important to remember that you’re never “done” building your skill set”

“There can be millions of debates that need to be addressed but sensing the meta-level information about the conversation – is the best entry point for problem solving.”

I think that is what makes a transaction based mind-set differentiate from a strategic outlook.

Qualms Of Product-Awareness

Product is a very generic term and changes its meaning depending on the context. As various stakeholders working to deliver an experience it is important to know how interactions impact your consumer space. This is more-over important for product managers operating in different context :- marketing versus technical product ownership.

Every interaction with consumer in the physical world or online is an opportunity to inform about our products and services. With channels through which we approach consumers becoming so pervasive , it becomes difficult to keep pace with the whole idea of creating product awareness. Although we invest time in creating prototypes , making MVP to test the market and then going full blow to complete the product only to get restricted by how to create awareness for the same!

img1-775x512

flickr/creative commons

Product awareness has to be attributed to both external and internal stakeholders for us to impress upon the work that goes into building it. You would have often heard this phrase “Oh! I did not know this feature existed”  , reason being that we have not done enough to educate & make our stakeholders aware of the product & what it does.

Following are few pointers on how one could achieve a better product awareness index :-

  1. Information about the product:
    • Share your belief about the product and why you think it make an impact 
  2. Functionality & Quality
    • Talk about the applications that product can achieve for various customer segments
  3. Seek Consumer applications of your products
    • Consumers think of better applications of your products that allows you to create or disrupt the segment. These would generally be your evolved customer base , that understand the value you provide through the product.

Choice of MVP : Evaluate Your Options

Many a times MVP(Minimum Viable Product) and what definition it carries get clouded with lot of factors. To start with , let me refresh couple of aspects of what a MVP(Minimum Viable Product) may stand for:

“It is a core artifact in an iterative process of idea generation, prototyping, presentation, data collection, analysis and learning. One seeks to minimise the total time spent on an iteration. The process is iterated until a desirable product/market fit is obtained, or until the product is deemed non-viable.”

Sometimes in doing above we tend to under-evaluate the cost of doing the MVP itself. Depending on what idea you are testing , there might be many things that might be involved in order to achieve the MVP state ( first iteration ) & although the software piece in itself might be easy or less time consuming , the offset of complexity does happen somewhere else. This leads to making choices of what the MVP should look like and more than often impacts the test results as well leading to premature conclusions about the MVP.

After observing and executing couple of MVP led designs , I have tried to put a simple way of looking at my MVP choices while working with the stakeholders. The spirit is to make stakeholders appreciate the choices they pick and how it can impact there test results.

In order to making evaluation of MVP choice more effective , I try to do following

  • Customer experience
  • Operational Complexity

The ideal state of an MVP would be to offer best customer experience with low operational complexity. But as everybody knows ideal state only nature provides and it is impossible for humans to achieve that ! Below graph is a representational state of making quick evaluation of your MVP proposal and seeing if the units within would face high level of operational complexity to achieve MVP state.

Some reading observations that you can get if you were to look at the graph are :

  • One of the biggest facts that this can help decipher is that if you are in a zone of delivering a good experience with high complexity , then it would be better advised to go for the best experience to improve outcome analysis as customCaptureer experience is determinant of the MVP state and its future outcomes.
  • The other outcome one can observe is that if high operational complexity does not bring about a notch above customer experience then rethinking the design is important
  • If you get best experience on low operational complexity then you might be operating very close to end state design and one should avoid iterating as it may lead you in over-engineering zone

Happy evaluation !

Make Process The Winner!

We encounter problems statements everyday and there are ‘n’ number of ways to solve them. In addition to this there is no good or bad way of solving them !

Over a period of time I have come to see that we generally get into conflict due to internal workings and although we do arrive at solution but the journey does become painful for individuals who might be pivoting to solve it.

One of the things that I tried to experiment and improve upon was trying to make ‘process’ the winner & keeping ‘problem’ in centre of the ‘solution’ . Most of the time we make mistake of putting people in centre of the solution and try to solve for them whilst , it should be other way round where we focus on problem and make ultimately process the winner so that people then are able to scale themselves using a solution which was designed to support process.

Looks simple in the way I put it .. but honestly it becomes difficult and requires one to really sieve out various layers to iterate on solution that makes process the winner !

Bloated Duck Of Ideas…

While working through ideation process it so seems that river stream flows very fast and the rapids are furious when they come down on you , only to be gated by dams in form of viability and ability to implement them to achieve scale…

Now this is more operational view of the idea itself , when discussed but glaciers which generate those idea streams often think that they have been subjected to a speed gun and roadblocks are being created. Reality is that implementation don’t happen overnight and it is somewhat useful to pressure test a concept.

Idea generation process requires calibration ( and yes there are software for everything !!) but having mindset to do that is very important. Getting a better understanding of the outcome from idea and locking down larger versus smaller outcome scenarios is very helpful to build perspective for people who are part of it , who will get impacted and the originator itself.

This approach may help build a strategy of achieving what you want from the idea and prevent creation of a bloated ducks , who have swallowed more than they could digest 🙂

Also remember too much analysis will create paralysis.. so tread with caution…