My PM just talks and doesn’t do anything

How often have you heard this? I have heard this a lot from developer friends. In fact, some of my relatively junior developer friends even go a step further and say that they want to become PMs because they seem to have an easy life.

Is it really true that they have an easy life? Here is an amazing image from Rohini Vibhas’ page which exactly shows how PM’s roles are perceived.

PM Roles

source: https://medium.com/@rohinivibha/so-you-want-to-manage-a-product-c664ba7e5138

The part of interest in the image is:

PM colleagues

I am not here to defend what PMs do. But I just wanted share some of my experience:

I think there is a huge misconception about what is expected off a PM. Devs have a tangible deliverable and it is very easy to quantify what s/he is spending time on. However PMs deliverables are not always tangible. For example, having a 1:1 with head of the business and projecting the team’s work in limelight is a part of PM’s job. Not sure how many individual contributors know that this plays an important role in promoting their work and hence their careers.

PM works with different stake holders. It is also highly likely you don’t know what the PM delivers with other stakeholders, say Marketing, Sales, Design, Executives & Top Management. Actually, the biggest stakeholder PM works with is customers. Understanding customers is a long, hard & never ending task. This effort shows only through the “product sense” which PM brings. This effort, which takes a significant bandwidth of PM is not otherwise visible.

PMs are supposed to get work done by influence. So if you have seen a PM talking & evangelizing, he is probably doing his job

Having said these, there are a few hard deliverables which a PM is responsible for. Ask the following questions to your PM and he should have a straight answer? He should actually be able to provide you pointers to documents as well.

What is on the Product Road Map? What are the top 3 initiatives for the product?

Can you share the Product Requirement Documents for feature X?

What are the most difficult prioritizations he has done in the last 3 months?

PM is expected to prioritize day in & day out. Prioritization is easier said than done. PMs have to defend their decisions with multiple stakeholders with often conflicting interests and limited tolerance levels. It is a tricky position to be in. Hence the image is so apt. PM usually is running around like a headless chicken.

PM SElf

Happy PM-ing! 🙂

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Good & Bad PMs

Here is a legendary post by Ben Horowitz on what makes a good & product manager. So much worth the read. I would say this is 101 of Product Management. Here is the summary in a the tabular form. This one drives home the message clearly. http://a16z.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/good-product-manager.pdf

 

Good PM

Bad PM

Knows the market, the product, the product line and the

competition extremely well & operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence

Takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the

success of the product. Responsible for right product/right time and all that entails.

Knows the context going in (the company, our revenue funding, competition, etc.), and they take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan.

Just have lots of excuses.

Don’t get all of their time sucked up by the various

organizations that must work together to deliver right product.

Don’t take all the product team minutes

Don’t project manage the various functions,

Not gophers for engineering.

Engineering teams don’t consider Good

Product Managers a “marketing resource.”

Good product managers are the

marketing counterpart of the engineering manager

Good product managers crisply define the target, the “what” (as opposed to the how) and manage the delivery of the “what.”

Bad product managers feel best about themselves when

they figure out “how”.

Communicate crisply to engineering in writing as well as verbally.

Don’t give direction informally.

Gather information informally.

Create leverage-able collateral, FAQs, presentations,

white papers.

Complain that they spend all day answering

questions for the sales force and are swamped

Good product managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions

Put out fires all day.

Take written positions on important issues (competitive silver bullets, tough architectural choices, tough

product decisions, markets to attack or yield).

Voice their opinion verbally and lament that the “powers that be” won’t let it happen. Once bad product managers fail, they point out that they predicted they would fail.

Focus the team on revenue and customers

Focus team on how many features competition is building.

Define good products that can be executed with a strong effort

Define good products that can’t be executed or let engineering build whatever they want

Think in terms of delivering superior value to the market

place during inbound planning and achieving market share and revenue goals during outbound.

Get very confused about the differences amongst delivering value, matching competitive features, pricing, and ubiquity

Decompose problems.

Combine all problems into one.

Think about the story they want written by the press.

Think about covering every feature and being really technically accurate with the press.

Good product managers ask the press questions.

Good product managers assume

press and analyst people are really smart.

Bad product managers answer any press question.

Bad product managers assume that press and analysts are dumb.

Err on the side of clarity vs. explaining the obvious.

Never explain the obvious.

Define their job and their success.

Constantly want to be told what to do.

Send their status reports in on time every week,

because they are disciplined

Forget to send in their status reports on time, because they don’t value discipline.

 

Gmail Inbox – Invite can wait!

Google announced the launch of Gmail Inbox a few weeks back. People are queueing to get an invite! Ofcourse, the world is going ga-ga about the new generation of email!

Let us take a quick step back.

Remember the pre-internet era? Offices were filled with box files to store/retrieve information. The emphasis on having a structure/organization was very high. Information discovery was a skill and it was at a premium.

box_files

Image Source: here

When internet first started picking up pace, it reflected the same state. Some of the most successful sites were portals such as DMOZ. At some point, all hell broke loose! Google – the search engine came into picture. It abstracted all the organization from people’s head (and all the box files & DMOZ like sites went for a toss)

If each website is a node on the graph with links representing the edges, web is one hell of a mess!

Web Structure

Image Source: here

The above graph can be consumed with a simple search bar – a beautiful abstraction for the messy web.

Google_web_search

History repeats itself! Every where! Even in technology.

Outlook represents a generation of using structure for information retrieval. Box files in offices vanished when things moved online. But the structure remained in the folders of Inbox.

client-outlook-folders

Image Source: here

Gmail entered the scene. You could actually search your emails and find things that you want! People stopped focussing on managing rules and actually let search take over. Today’s emails looks like one hell of a junk box. (Try clicking on your all mails)

all mails

Image Source: here

Gmail’s search functionality abstracts all the complexities through a simple interface.

gmail Search

Image Source: here

People are inherently disorganized!

Just look at the number of todo lists apps! Given this is default human nature, Google’s model of abstracting away organization worked wonderfully well. But something is changing in the way information is consumed today!

We are moving from information pull era (when there was shortage of information and google was used to find out stuff) to information push era (where there is abundance of information and shortage of eye balls). The need of the hour is to filter important information which you care about from the large volumes of noise.

In this push era, the emphasis of organizing information is very important. An important email can fall between the cracks of all the information overflow. And we have been pampered with Google’s search capability. This only means that we don’t want to go back to the early days of building folders and classifying information manually. We need assistance in organizing information for task completion.

Here is where Google’s Inbox comes into play.

inbox logo

(1) It “bundles” emails: It helps you organize better.  It classifies information automatically and clusters them.Definitely better user experience than before. But hey! Inbox was supposedly a revolutionary new way of looking it at email. Seriously, this looks like a rebranded feature. Not really a game changer.

Here is a rule of thumb. To assess the importance of the feature, just ask one question. Would you pay for it? NO. Infact, people who have organized their emails will have much more granular filters than what Inbox provides. And the rest won’t care about organization and rely on search.

(2) It “Highlights” action items. (Google Now for Gmail): If you have a flights to catch or bills to be paid.. Google will remind you. For some this is really creepy. But this is like having a digital assistant to complete all the chores. And I WILL PAY to have an assistant do this.. This feature to me is a game changer because it enables you to access Google Now without having to own an android phone. That is a great strategy to dominate the virtual assistants market place. Well done Inbox!!

(3) Reminders & Snooze: Emails can be viewed as Task list or To do list.. Seriously, I think this is not going to make you more organized. In outlook, Emails can be marked as a task. Over a period of time, the list is going to pile up. You are either already doing something about your emails or you don’t care about this feature. More importantly, you cant use this for an inbox with huge volumes of emails. Inbox, Ding! Zero inbox philosophy for mail management is well known, but how many people actually follow it! So this is just a check mark feature and not a game changer.

(4) New UI: This is really good. Very neat UI! Well done Inbox. Material design is making things look better and obviously user experience is much better especially in a small screens. I am not going to pay for the UX change either. It is a necessary feature for a product, but just not sufficient to make me open my wallet.

With Inbox, Google is trying to help you organize your life around emails in an aesthetically pleasant and a better way! Google has made good strides. Credits to Google for doing this. Outlook has been aspiring (and only aspiring) to do this. But through Gmail Inbox, Google is not doing something really new or revolutionary in this roll out. Your emails will remain emails. The bad and boring emails are not too bad after all. And old email habits die hard. This product is not going to change your world. So just chill if you don’t get an invite for Inbox just yet!

It is easy to be an armchair critic. So in the next post, I will talk about a few features which can really take Gmail to the next level. Stay tuned till then.

Why do we need a Product Manager?

Product Champs,

Welcome to Product Thinker. I am Sundar, Sr. PM at Bing Ads. I have been doing a lot of study on Product Management in general, I thought I could use this forum to organize my thoughts, document & share my learnings and more importantly learn more along the way.

One of the questions which many people have asked me is “why do we need a Product Manager when a Dev Lead can do everything which PM does?”

One of the defence, I have heard supporting the endangered PM species is that the PM decides the “what” and Dev Leader decides the “How”. Trust me, this is the biggest BS I have ever heard. The Dev Lead brings in enormous amount of insights which PM can leverage and vice-versa. So, to say that the product directions are only decided by PM is a big flaw. If you hear such statements in Interviews / Campuses – That’s a red flag! You are clearly being over sold.

Now, Product Management is a “Role”. A Full time role. Not just a designation. Anyone who is interested and passionate about the product can wear the PM hat. But remember it is going to consume a lot of your bandwidth. Can a Dev Lead can do it! OFCOURSE!! In fact, quite a few successful product managers have background in development. A good Product Manager should know the product really really well. A Dev Lead is very likely to have that knowledge. So to answer the question, Dev Lead can handle the role very well! But his Development bandwidth is definitely going to get restricted.

So what exact is a PM Hat (It doesn’t matter who wears it)! There are many many good articles I have read about this topic. I will share quite a few links in upcoming weeks. This definition from Martin Eriksson just nails it.

what_is_a_product_manager

(Source: http://www.mindtheproduct.com/2011/10/what-exactly-is-a-product-manager/)

Business – Product Management is above all else a business function, focused on maximising business value from a product. Product Managers should be obsessed with optimising a product to achieve the business goals while maximising return on investment.

Technology – There’s no point defining what to build if you don’t know how it will get built. This doesn’t mean a Product Manager needs to be able to sit down and code but understanding the technology stack and most importantly understanding the level of effort involved is crucial to making the right decisions. This is even more important in an Agile world where Product Managers spend more time day to day with the development team than with anyone else inside the business.

User Experience – Last but not least the Product Manager is the voice of the user inside the business and must be passionate about the user experience. Again this doesn’t mean being a pixel pusher but you do need to be out there testing the product, talking to users and getting that feedback first hand – especially in a start-up.

So, How does it feel to be a PM?

pulled-all-directions

(Source: http://preparingyourfamily.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/pulled-all-directions.jpg)

Indeed! That’s exactly how it feels! You are pulled in different directions! All the more reason to have a full role called “Product Management”.

In fact, this is the most exciting part of the role. If you are happy to manage multiple expectations, talk the language of different people, define what makes your product successful and do what it takes to deliver such a product which the USER JUST LOVES!, you will love the PM role.

So, to answer the question – Do we need a “Product Manager” by designation! No. But do we need a “Product Manager” or “Product Thinker”, BY ALL MEANS – A RESOUNDING YES!!

Nasty plug, if you are interested in Program Manager role (Thats what Microsoft calls the Product Manager role defined above) in a team which ships algo products, drop me a note!