Have you ever observed a bunch of fans watch a soccer match in a pub? They all seem to know best what strategy to follow, what to do next etc. Now go into a product related meeting with managers at a company and look what is going on there. Listen to the comments people are making, the thoughts they are having and to what extend they are listening to the experts in the room.
I often do experience this. Product management is a little bit like marketing creatives: everyone has an opinion. Even the consumer out there has an opinion. Actually, some executives suggest to run product management by surveys. The majority of asked users decide about the next feature. The rest is project management only. It is as easy as that. Is it as easy as that? For sure not. I do see at least three dimensions where this thinking is falling short:
- Users don´t know what might be the best solution for what they need (you know the story about the faster horses, do you?)
- Listening to users today only partly gives the needed answers for tomorrow´s products. (There is anticipation of technology developments needed. Think of the tablet phenomenon or the touch screen.)
- Users only see their part of the delivery system (aka the user interface). Actually they don´t have to understand the complexity of delivering the service to them. And they shouldn´t. But this doesn´t prevent us from having to go beyond the obvious.Think of a service like a flight. It is much more than the airplane and the stewardess serving us. There is a whole machinery behind delivering the service to customers. (“Nonstop you” is a nice Lufthansa slogan that describes this pretty well.)
So, Product Managers need to make their points in discussions. Going beyond the obvious means elevating the discussions to a different level. Refuse to discuss only visuals for example. A couple of times I experienced situations where people didn´t listen to the results of my qualitative user interviews. They didn´t want to know about the personas created. The mental model was too abstract for them, etc. They only woke up when I started sharing screens. Then suddenly everybody had something to contribute. But they were not able to reference their input back to the framework introduced before. So it became generic without adding any value.
Soccer coaches are typically hired for at least an entire season. And I am sure they don´t always listen to the fans. What counts is coaching a winning team. Let your Product Managers build winning products. Input welcome, but decisions stay with your product coaches.
During the last couple of months and countless inspiring talks with very diverse people, it is becoming more and more obvious that there a many great opportunities for your company. And some of those are around product management and its function in the corporate world. Let´s call out the most important ones:
- Good product management is the answer to your strategic challenge. If you get it right, you will manage your company in a way that it produces the right products. And if you produce the right products, then there is a much higher likelihood of success. Don´t get lost in all those IT and business discussions. Be consequent!
- Don´t make the mistake to believe all product managers are more or less the same. There are huge differences. I think I should write a separate blog post on how to assess the quality of product managers.
- Product Managers listen to customers. And executives should listen to (good) product managers. Why am I writing this? Well, because in most cases there is at least one executive who says: “believe me, I am more senior than you. And I know what needs to be done.” If this person is good at product management (aka listening to customers), then it is ok. If not, your company will get into trouble – sooner or later.
- Product management is the leading function. Why? Because it ensures that your company is building products “customers love” – enabled by IT and by business. It is the function that helps to pave the way into uncertainty and how to deal with it.
- Don´t believe product management is mere tactics. If you do it right then it becomes very strategic. Let me give you an example: changing from a static website to a data driven app (which is increasingly the case) requires not only investments in IT, but also a fundamental rethinking of business modeling. You need to anticipate future user behavior and align your company deliverables to leap frog your competition. This doesn´t happen over night and requires focus of the entire company.
So, when are you prepared to really focus on the needs of your customers? Good Product Managers can help you with that. But you have to give them the empowerment they need. And bet on the right candidates 😉
By Jörg Malang
Reading about supply chain management educates me that there are basically two dimensions to look at it: risk in supply vs. risk in demand. As long as you can accurately predict the demand of your products, you can optimize your production capacity and therefore reduce costs. But as soon as you have to take risk on the demand side, it will become more important to react quickly to changes in demand. Speed over costs!
And this stuff is not about agile development. It is part of our lecture “Operations Management” @HEC Executive Education. Those concepts are not new. Companies like P&G, Zara and others have optimized their value chains giving good example cases.
I am writing about this because I was very often in the situation where the Executives wanted me and my team to innovate and at the same time precisely forecast the demand and save costs. Intuitively I was reluctant to even try this. Working agile means being able to react to changes in demand. When you are building, measuring and learning this is exactly the same challenge. You need to be able to read the signal of your customers as soon as possible in the process and to adjust the “production” accordingly.
In the traditional supply chain model this would be described as “speed to react upon changes in demand”. There would be a business case for heavy investments – as long as your products don´t fall into the commodity space. Then you won´t achieve high margins. But what else than achieving greater margins is innovation about?
So, companies, believe in your ability to innovate. The reward will be superior margins!
Disruptions: Mobile Competition Shifts to Software Design – NYTimes.com.
As said, it is time to make technology serve users (and not vice versa)…
Impressions from the Best of Both 2013 in Berlin
Create a new conference format that goes clearly beyond investment pitches by start-ups to get funding. Bring people together who would normally only meet occasionally, but not necessarily discuss with each other about what is really important to them. Hope that they meet on peer level. Hope that they discuss content and go beyond clichés like start ups are faster and bear higher risk.
This is what I would hope for if I organized a conference like this year’s Best of Both in Berlin. Hosted by SWAB, a German foundation focussing on bringing the two worlds together, it gathered more than 200 people from the old and new economy respectively.
A lot of interesting speeches and statements, but beyond “vision, sales and leadership” there was not so much concrete input. On the other hand, the representatives of the new economy also focused on things one would expect them to say (e.g. ” watch out, the social wave is coming” or ” we are just at the beginning”). As very often in similar situations, it felt like them creating fear and leaving behind uncertainty among the more traditional folks. Just as @Ibo put it: “there is a lot of uncertainty around digital. But nearly no one dares to admit it.”
The good news wasn’t discussed: that there are ways to deal with the challenge of transformation. Social or big data are much more than technology. It is a fundamental change of behavior of customers. I was happy to hear Cafer Tosun from SAP Innovation talk about Design Thinking. This focus applies the same way to an old economy company trying to deliver a world class service to its customers as it applies to a startup that is trying to build products that customers love…
Finally, Burkhard Schwenker, the CEO from Roland Berger Consulting was also trying to identify the common ground of old AND new economy: good entrepreneurship. And with that speech the conference ended.
All together this type of content only represented a small share of the whole program. I personally believe this is a missed opportunity for a conference with its legitimate ambition to bring together both worlds that are facing similar challenges. But thank you to SWAB for hosting this event and to Caspar von Gadow & Team for organizing it. Keep it up!
Looking forward to interesting discussions. And also hoping that the “old” economy is not only interested in giving money and the “new” economy is not only interested in receiving funding. At the end of the day it is also about products and strategies to be delivered… Let´s see tomorrow!
Typically “lean” is used to describe how to develop products. But you can also look at it from a service point of view. If you aim at delivering a world class service to your clients, it makes sense to have a very clear picture of your customer in mind. A customer is playing a vital role in service delivery, she/he needs to contribute to the process – otherwise the result won´t be as expected for both sides.
What do I mean with this? Let’s take an example: every car hire customer is rewarded a certain level of attention by the front line employee. Who wouldn’t know those customers who are very demanding and seem to be eager to get as much attention as possible? The car hire company might decide not to serve this type of customer. It could be that this means not generating revenue from e.g. VIP like customers at all. This would then allow a higher level of standardization and a would then result in a more equal share of resources and attention respectively.
Personas serve as a proxy for behaviors of real world users. You could see this a typology. So, if you create (and try to serve) too many of them, you won’t be able to a) satisfy them all well enough and b) streamline the product you build. Less is more: have ONE problem and ONE persona in mind when you are building great products.
Thinking lean = standardizing = appealing only to a few or only one persona