Should a Product Manager be one of your first 15 employees?

April 27, 2010

I was talking to a friend the other day who is a CEO of a 25-person, VC-backed, software start-up in the greater Boston area.  He was talking about the great Product Manager he just hired, which got me thinking…

When is the right time to add a Product Manager to a start-up?

In the early days of a start-up, all of your efforts are focused on creating the product and validating your product concepts with potential customers.  And of course, unless you have a very rich uncle or your own truckload of gold, there are the endless fund-raising activities.

So if you don’t have a Product Manager, who can act as the primary voice of the customer to ensure that you are creating a product that your customers will buy?   We all know that everyone in a start-up will help collect and communicate customer needs, but who will synthesize all of these needs into generalized product requirements?

Let’s consider some options…

In a typical start-up you have a CEO, CFO, CTO (or VP of Engineering), a few Sales Reps, around 5 Developers, an Office Manager (who also handles Admin and HR tasks), and an IT Specialist who keeps the network and computers going.   In other words, you have about 10-15 people.

It’s unlikely that the CFO, Office Manager, or IT Specialist could represent your customers — this is not their role and they will have enough of their own work to do anyway.

The Developers could potentially represent your customers — but their primary function is to create the product, so the more time they spend meeting with customers, the less time they will have to create the product.   And there is no guarantee that they will be able to meet enough customers so that they can identify generalized requirements.  So, this is probably not the best use of their time.

Likewise, the CTO is probably not the best choice.  Someone has to ensure that Development progresses smoothly.  This means sorting out architectural issues, planning the efforts of the Development team, and allocating tasks to individual developers.  The CTO could also visit with customers (either in-house or at customer sites), but this could decrease the efficiency of the Development team or elongate the schedule.   Some issues arise very quickly within a Development organization and they need to be resolved very rapidly — before their effect becomes wide spread.  So if a problem arises and your CTO is on a plane somewhere visiting a prospective customer, who will solve the problem?  And how much time will be lost waiting for a correct solution?

So, how about the Sales Reps?   After all, they have been talking to prospective customers about the product’s proposed capabilities, so they should have a good idea of what these customers think.   Right?   I’ve worked with a number of sales representative in early stage companies and they have one thing in common — they know how to identify a potential customer and convince them to purchase their product.  They have an excellent knack for telling a story so that the customer has a good picture of how the product will help them and so that the customer is completely convinced that they simply must have the product.

Sales Reps are also very much focused on the customer in front of them.  They know that every sale is about the relationship that they have with that customer — and less about whether the product does (or does not) contain some small feature.   Therefore, they tend to focus on the general capabilities that the product will deliver and may not even know all the individual features that the product contains, especially if the product is highly technical.   As a result, Sales Reps are not so great at synthesizing requirements from a group of customers into the type of generalized requirements that Development needs.

The only person left is the CEO, who is often one of the founders.  Thus, it is safe to say that the CEO really understands the value proposition of the product, what the company is trying to achieve, and undoubtedly they have a very good idea how much (or little) of the product has been completed so far.  However, these characteristics are exactly why the CEO needs to spearhead the fund-raising activities for the company.   After all, potential VC investors will want to meet the CEO so that they can determine if they have confidence in the CEO’s ability to delivery the goods.

And let’s not forget that the CEO is also the ultimate closer in many sales situations — the person that some customers will want to meet before signing their first contract.  In other words, it sounds like the CEO has already got one, if not two, full-time jobs.

Thus, I’m forced to conclude that a product manager is critical to the success of a start-up company and should be one of the first 15 people who are hired…

But then again, I’ve spent a fair number of years in various product management roles, so perhaps I’m prejudiced…

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How productive is your software development process?

April 23, 2010

Do you wonder how productive your software development process is?

Do you wonder whether an Agile or Extreme Programming approach would increase your development productivity?

Are you worried that your job will be outsourced because your company wants to increase your development productivity?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could actually know the answer to these questions, instead of having to guess or rely on opinions, theories, or experimentation?

I recently had an opportunity to attend a Nashua (NH) Scrum Club meeting where Michael Mah from QSM Associates (www.qsma.com) gave a presentation on tools and techniques that his company uses to accurately measure the productivity of a software development process AND to compare the productivity of a project to the industry average for similar projects being done by similar teams.  It seemed almost like magic.

First a bit of background…

I have always thought that any software project consisted of 4 key characteristics or dimensions:

  • People — The number of people who are involved in the project.  This includes everyone who contributes to the development, testing, building, integration, and management of the project.
  • Content — The number of  features that will be included in the project.
  • Schedule — The schedule, or completion date, for the project.
  • Quality — The level of quality that must be attained by this project.

And while you may wish to optimize all of these dimensions for your project, the relationship between them is absolute.  So if you optimize one dimension, another dimension (or two) must be changed to compensate.

We have all seen this in practice.  As an example, consider that recent project where it was on schedule, until a key customer insisted that you add “just a few more critical features”.   For some strange reason, the project then finished later than planned.   And people were surprised.   Wow !!

Now, let’s look at the magic that QSM can do with the same information…

It turns out that QSM refers to these 4 dimensions using slightly different terms, as follows:

  • Effort — The number of people who are working on the project.
  • Produced Software Size — The number of “stories” for which software was produced, or the content of the project.
  • Duration — The duration of the project.
  • Discovered Defects — The number of defects discovered during FQA (Final Quality Assurance), or the quality of the code that was produced.

However you can still accurately determine values for these 4 dimensions and use them to calculate the productivity of a software project.    So when this information is entered into QSM’s software tool, it generates a series of graphs that compare the productivity of your project to other projects with a similar dimensions.   (Please see QSM’s web site for more information.)

This allows you to accurately and reliably analyze the productivity of your project AND to compare it to other similar projects.  So you can also predict, as an example , whether it is (or is not) a good idea to move some (or all) of your development team off-shore.

And in today’s environment, where your products need every possible competitive advantage, wouldn’t you prefer to find out this type of information without experimenting?


Do you remember CALS?

April 21, 2010

I was talking to someone the other day about standards for exchanging electronic product data, and then I realized I had forgotten something important that was also very personal to me.

Perhaps you can help refresh my memory and identify the DoD program that came after CALS.

Years ago, there were no real standards for exchanging electronic design data.  CAD/CAM was still in its infancy and software packages like AD-2000 were just being demonstrated.  As time went on, a number of CAD vendors arose — each with their own unique file format.  But in most companies, the paper drawing was still considered the “official design record”.

The US government became increasingly concerned with exchanging design data because they often wound up paying their suppliers multiple times for the same information, which increased their costs.  As an example, if a new submarine hull was built by Newport News Shipbuilding (in Virginia), the major refit for that hull was often done in a year or two by Electric Boat (in Connecticut).   And since each company needed proper documentation to perform their work and the previous documentation belonged to the other company, they would reproduce the design artifacts themselves — and charge the government accordingly.

Into this situation came the NASA IPAD (Integrated Programs for Aerospace-vehicle Design) Program Office.  The IPAD Program was partially funded by the US Navy and included over 100 key leaders from computer suppliers, software providers, aerospace companies, government and military agencies, educational institutions, and consulting firms.   The goal was establish standards for exchanging electronic design data among the various suppliers that NASA planned to use in the creation of its next generation space vehicles.   Standards of this type would then allow NASA to drive downs its costs, by eliminating the need to duplicate design artifacts.   The IPAD Program also leveraged a significant amount of work that was being done during the same time-frame by the US Air Force ICAM (Integrated Computer-Aided Manufacturing) program.  A summary of the IPAD program can be found here, although it was published well after the program was underway.  (For those interested in more information about IPAD, I suggest the NASA Technical Reports Server at this link.)

Eventually, as with most government programs, the scope of the IPAD “solution” (or perhaps “problem”) was extended to other government agencies, who hoped to leverage these ideas and reduce their costs.

The follow-on program was initially known as CALS (Computer-aided Acquisition and Logistics Support), but was renamed over time to “Continuous Acquisition and Life-cycle Support”   (See Wikipedia for a short article or this NASA reference.)   Many of the same people from IPAD were active in the CALS program, which was eventually expanded to cover all of the US Department of Defense (DoD).

Many of today’s standards for exchanging digital design data, such as IGES, STEP and countless ISO standards, owe much of their history to the IPAD and CALS efforts.  In addition, the entire PDM (product data management) and PLM (product lifecycle management) industry owes much of its existence to the IPAD program and their efforts to create the “Relational Information Manager” (or RIM), and the IPAD Information Processor (IPIP) for managing and sharing digital design artifacts.

I was very fortunate in that Robert Fulton (R.E. Fulton), one of the key visionaries behind this program and the NASA Program Manager, was also my father.  So I literally learned about “engineering data management” at the dinner table.

Which brings us to my question…   The CALS program eventually evolved into another DoD program which specified that the US government “owned” the digital data for the products they had paid to have designed and that all data had to be submitted in specific digital formats before the supplier would be paid.

My question is — What was this program that came after CALS called?


Should Product Managers have a PMP Certification? — Part 2

April 20, 2010

My first post on this subject (Should Product Managers have a PMP Certification?) generated a lot of discussion and some very good ideas that were new to me.   Thanks to everyone who contributed.

Unfortunately, nearly all of the comments were left within various LinkedIn groups which limited the ability of people in other groups to participate.  Whoops — not what I had in mind.

Therefore, I thought I would summarize the thoughts from all of these groups up to now to help facilitate the discussion.  Apologies in advance for any editing mistakes I made and the names have been withheld to protect the innocent (or is that “the guilty”)…

Pragmatic Marketing Alumni Group

From Steve, a Global Product/ Project Management professional with a PMP

I got a PMP certification recently to understand what it involved and how it related to product management. It can’t hurt to get a PMP, but recognize that a PMP focuses on projects (schedule, budget, scope) , not products (technology, business, market).

The product management profession needs a certification program equivalent to that provided by PMI. PMI is 41 years old. It took over 17 years for PMI to create the first version of the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), the basis of the PMP certification. Over that time they helped to establish project management as a recognized profession and fueled a tremendous market for an entire army of project management training vendors that did not exist before PMI was founded.

Product Management needs its own Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge, its own certificate programs, and its own equivalent continuing education (PDU) program. I believe the nearest equivalent to PMI for product management is the AIPMM – the Association of International Product Management and Marketing

The AIPMM is only 12 years old but is following a track similar to PMI to make Product Management a recognized profession. I believe they can create an explosive demand for Product Management training programs that will significantly expand the market for training vendors like Pragmatic, Blackblot, Pivotal, etc. Thus, AIPMM is an enabler for these vendors, not a competitor.

I intend to become actively involved in AIPMM. I recommend you and anyone else interested in making Product Management a recognized profession do the same. You should check them out. (www.AIPMM.org).

Boston Product Management (BPMA) Group

From Steven, Author

Certification is not needed. BUT, product managers must know how to manage projects + tools, terminology, etc. Taking 2 days PMP training should be sufficient. However, nothing beats real experience. Try using project management techniques to plan and manage a product launch. Works wonders!

Product Management (LinkedPM) Group

From Yves, VP Business Development and Senior Product Manager

I was faced with the same dilemma. I appreciate you raising the question, as I would like to hear other product managers’ point of view on the topic.

The way I solved it for myself was by achieving the following two things:

First, I received the NPDP (New Product Development Professional) certification from PDMA (Product Development and Management Association: pdma.org) which focuses on Product Management while encompassing some aspects of project management.

Similarly to the PMP certification, (1) one must demonstrate a fair amount of on-the-job experience, (2) one must hold a bachelor’s or higher university degree, (3) and pass an exam (at the time I passed it, there were only 300 NPDP certified professionals worldwide).

Thereafter, in order to maintain the NPDP certification, ongoing activities are also required; Activities that are related to product management that is, not project management. This is where it makes more sense for us, product managers, as you do not have to be a full-time project manager to maintain your certification. You can focus on your product management profession.

Second, I also obtained a Master’s certificate in IT project Management from George Washington University. The core curriculum of the program addresses all ten areas of knowledge tested in PMI’s certification exam.

As you mentioned, when working for small companies, a product manager often ends up playing the role of project manager as well, which is why I think the second certification comes in handy. It also lasts for life. It is a nice credential to add to one’s curriculum.

Creative Product Managers Group

From Chirag, Product Manager

I agree with your view of PMP certification as a “nice-to-have”, and not as a “must-have” or a “should-have”.

280 Group:  Product Management & Product Marketing

From Joe, VP Product Management

My recommendation is that Product Managers be aware of Program Management tasks and issues, but that PMP Certification is not required. I feel that you can learn about these tasks and issues without being certified. My gut feeling is that rather than getting certified, a Product Manager would be better off spending the time and effort developing market/problem analysis skills.
My unscientific crystal ball also tells me that if a Product Manager has an official PMP designation, that the company may be inclined make the Product Manager responsible for Program Management deliverables.
My experience is that Product Managers often fill a vacuum and perform Program Management functions. However, nothing comes for free. The time and effort required to make sure that resources are properly deployed and aligned often takes away from the Product Manager’s ability to analyze problems/market opportunities and then communicate the results of that analysis throughout the organization.
But in today’s market, the ability to multitask across a range of disciplines can differentiate you from the masses that respond to each Product Manager job posting.  A PMP Certification is a shorthand way of letting resume screeners and hiring managers know that you have certain knowledge and skills.
So if you have the time and resources, I feel that a PMP Certification can help you get a Product Manager job, but that the certification itself isn’t necessary to be a good Product Manager.

From Bob, Product Management, Business Development, and Acquisition Integration

I agree with you both. PMP would be nice to have and could assist in landing a job. I have found myself often project managing as SOP.

From Avijeet, Principal Product Manager

I am PMP certified and would agree with Dean that it is difficult and time-consuming to get PMP certified. The certification just shows that the incumbent has a practical understanding of project management best practices. A product manager need not be PMP certified, but he or she should be able to understand what various project management plan/budget versus actual metrics mean and initiate necessary discussions at right time.

Although a product manager does not have authority to initiate or scrap a project, but he will definitely be held accountable, if he or she did not bring up the new initiatives and changes to current projects at right time. The knowledge of the math that goes behind knowing this right time would help a product manager to work with project managers much more smoothly and successfully.

In summary, PMP certification is not must, but knowledge of project management best practices would be a critical success factor for a product manager.

Internet Product Management Group

From Randy, Managing Director

I think you could think of it this way —  What is the down side of getting a PMP when you are a product manager?
I don’t see one that I can think of.   It adds to your value proposition and may help you land a job.

AND

It seems these days that more and more companies due to the down turn are looking for Product Managers to also assume PM task.
I am a big believer in Face time with clients, but companies are at skin and bones to make a profit, so they think that is a good way to merge talents.
Another fact of the matter is a lot of management and people in general don’t truly understand the role of a Product manager, and seem to blend it with PM work all the time.
You could be right adding a PM might make you do more work, but in tough times be glad you are working that much.

From Craig, Principal Consultant

I am often asked to take on PM responsibilities to the detriment of my product management role. One disadvantage that you did not mention is the inherent conflict of interest between project and product management. The former needs to focus on meeting deadlines while the latter needs to focus on the customer and their needs. As a product manager at heart I find myself constantly balancing feature creep with meeting my timelines. That said, while I am an advocate of keeping these hats on different heads, it does make you more marketable in todays’ job climate to bring more value to your employer through versatility.

My Conclusions:

  1. Project management is a necessary part of being a good product manager and you can’t be effective without a good understanding of project management tools and techniques.
  2. Having a formalized project management certifications (PMP or similar) is a good way to demonstrate your project management proficiency, but is not a necessity to being a good product manager.
  3. Devoting too much time to project management can detract from your primary role as product manager — which could seriously impact your product and your company.
  4. Some employers seem to be unclear about the differences between project management and product management, or they try to save money by combining these two roles into a single position.
  5. It is certainly desirable to have a formal product management certification (of some type).   And it would certainly help promote the distinction between project management and product management, as well as help advance the product management profession, if there was a well-recognized product management certification program that was utilized by many product managers.

Thanks to all who have contributed so far.

What do you think?  Have we captured all of the key elements?  Or are we missing something that you think is important?


Should Product Managers have a PMP Certification?

April 19, 2010

I have been thinking about software Product Management and the value of having a PMP certification for a while.  So I read the following post by Bernadette St John with interest.

How I See the True Value of the PMP Credential

She makes some very good points about the value of the PMP certification to project managers, but I still wasn’t sure whether software product managers, like me, should be certified.

Product managers spend (or at least should spend) a fairly large amount of time visiting and/or interviewing customers and prospective customers.  After all, you need to understand what your target market expects (or wants) if your product is going to be successful.  You also need to spend a fair amount of time with Development to make sure that they understand the requirements for your product.  Otherwise, they will not be able to work as efficiently as they should and you will waste precious Development resources.

And of course, there are all of the “other” consumers of your time:

  • Announcements, reading, and other research about your target market.
  • Announcements, rumors, and/or information regarding your competitors.
  • Sales people who need your help to close that big deal.
  • Marketing people who want to ensure that they describe the product correctly.
  • Technical support people who must be aware of the new product capabilities.
  • Consulting or implementation personnel who need to prepare to install (or customize) the new product version.
  • Documentation personnel who need to explain what the product does and how it should be used.
  • etc, etc, etc.

All of these efforts could easily consume 100% of your time.  So, do you really have enough time to “manage your project” also?

In a small company, you don’t have any other choice, because you are responsible for getting the product out the door.  It must have the right content, have appropriate quality, and be delivered to an agreed-upon schedule.  In essence, you often MUST be the project manager for the release — there isn’t anyone else — especially if the company is large enough to have multiple products, each with their own release cycle.

In larger companies, especially those where multiple teams contribute separate, but related, portions to each release of a large and complex product,  a separate project manager function often exists.  Thus, the product manager is responsible for managing their team’s deliverables, but is not generally responsible for the entire product release project.

It seems obvious that a product manager must also be a good project manager to be successful, but it still doesn’t answer the original question about PMP certification.

A PMP certification requires you to fulfill three requirements:  (1) a fair amount of on-the-job experience, (2) a certain amount of formal training, and (3) passing the certification exam.    And as Bernadette points out, ongoing activities are also required to maintain your PMP certification.

I believe that any good product manager could complete the formal training and pass the exam.  I also believe that you could successfully meet the on-the-job experience requirements.  However, once you get your PMP certification, which of your activities as a product manager can be reduced to allow you to fulfill your ongoing PMP activities?  Or would you simply work longer each day?

My conclusion is that software product managers should consider a PMP certification as a “nice-to-have”, and not as a “must-have” or a “should-have”.   There are already enough demands on your time and you are already forced to make compromises that impact the quality of your product.

So, if you are reading this, have your PMP certification, and have been able to maintain it over time — congratulations.  However, if you have been (like me) considering getting a PMP certification for a while, I suggest you put those thoughts aside and make plans to visit one additional customer (or prospect) instead.  It’s a better usage of your time.


New markets for the Apple iPad?

April 8, 2010

The Apple iPad is finally here.  And the first batch of die-hard Apple fans have waited in line for hours, purchased them, and hurried home.  The blogs are simply overflowing with comments.

But I think the iPad’s impact in business applications will be much more far-reaching.

Today, there are a wide variety of hand-held applications in use in a wide variety of industries.

For instance, some doctors use laptops connected to wireless networks in their office to reference and update their patient records.  Other doctors use Palm, Windows-mobile, Blackberry, or even iPhone devices to review information, record observations, and order treatments, tests, and/or medications.  Patients are also issued similar devices to collect, record, and report treatment results.

In a similar manner, discrete manufacturers often use personal computers or hand-held devices to provide instructions (including images), to manufacturing personnel, technicians and the like.

This means that every software provider that wants to offer solutions to these industries has to develop, test, and deploy their products for each one of these devices.  They also have to develop, test, and deploy server-side components that are usually unique to each hand-held device.   It is hard to even list all of the testing permutations that each of these software providers must currently endure, especially if you take into account the various operating systems versions that must be supported for each hand-held device.

Into this environment comes the iPad.  If it is just another device, then each of these software providers must adopt yet another device and devote even more development, testing, and deployment resources.

But what if the iPad can achieve enough popularity with businesses so that it replaces one or more of the current hand-held devices?   What if users become so thrilled with the iPad’s large touch screen user experience so that they don’t want to use any of the other devices?

Imagine how much more productive these software companies could be if they only had to develop, test, and deploy a single version of their application — for the iPad.

I’m not an Apple fan in general, in fact I’m writing this post on a Microsoft laptop and use a Windows mobile phone.  However, I’m a big fan of software products and recognize that if you have fewer platforms to support, you should be able to get better products to market even faster.

But on the other hand, I expect a lot of iPad-like devices in the near future just as there are now a number of iPod-like devices, which will make the lives of these software companies even more complicated.   I just hope that the end result is a much better user experience for the users of these devices.


12 Social Media Secrets – Part 2

April 8, 2010

The good thing about going to the dentist is that you have time to think.   You can’t talk much — not with someone’s hand in your mouth.  And they usually don’t know you all that well — so they don’t have much to say to you either.  So you are left to your own thoughts.

In my case, that meant a return to my earlier post about the 12 Social Media Secrets, because I realized that I hadn’t talked enough about the types of tools and information that I would like to see.

12 Social Media Secrets – Part 1

I believe that the usage of social media in the next 5-10 years will explode to a level that few of us anticipate.  Thus,  it will be common for a company to get thousands upon thousands of inputs (tweets, emails, blog comments, etc.) about its products on a daily basis in the not too distant future.  If you doubt this, consider how many text messages people around you are sending and receiving each day.  Five years ago, text messaging within the US was not all that common.  Now, we have legislation pending or in place that forbids texting while driving because too many people simply “must” text at every minute of their day and unlimited text messaging plans are considered commonplace.   The data flood is coming, and sooner than we think.  (Some would argue that it is here already…)

Therefore, we are going to need tools to process all of the inputs we receive from customers (and prospects) about our product and I, for one, want to be sure that I’m getting good information from all of the market segments that I care about.  I can’t afford to be misled by a few, vocal participants or to ignore a particular market segment that might be critical to the success of my product.

First, I’d like to know as much as I can about the people behind the inputs.  This includes:

  • Gender (male or female)
  • Age Bracket (e.g., less that 21, 21-30, 31-40, etc.)
  • Marital status
  • Employment status (Full-time, Part-Time, Retired, Unemployed)
  • Country where  they live
  • Closest city
  • Number of people within 10 miles of their house

Other information like race, primary language, household income, number of children, etc. would also be useful — but is more controversial and therefore much less likely to be available.    The goal is to ask for information that is anonymous enough that people will feel comfortable providing it while also gathering enough information so that you can make intelligent decisions.

And besides, if I know that you live outside of Boston (like I do) and that there are only about 35,000 people within 10 miles of your house — I can guess that you live in a medium-sized town in one of the Boston suburbs.   And from that I can approximate the medium income for people like you.  It won’t be exact, because some Boston suburbs have much higher medium incomes that others, but it might be close enough.

However, for this information to be useful, it needs to be consistent across all of the social media tools that my customers are likely to use and kept in a single location so that users don’t have to run around updating multiple sites.  A Gravatar is a good start, but it needs more information.

Second, I’d like to be able to analyze the quantity of the inputs I receive.  For example:

  • Number of inputs ( Tweets, emails, blog comments, etc.) received from the same user in a given period.
  • Number of inputs from the same market segment (gender, age bracket, marital status, employment status, geographical area, etc) in a given period.
  • Average number of inputs for each market segment during a given period.
  • Market segments that didn’t provide an “average” number of inputs during a given period.

Third, I’d like to have an application that can automatically organize the inputs I receive.  For example, I’d like to be able to distinguish between an input from a dissatisfied customer and one from a potential new customer.  Of course, I can establish numerous different input channels — but there will always be an input that is in the wrong channel.

I’d also like the ability to aggregate all of the inputs that I receive — so that I don’t have to manually organize my Tweets and then cross-reference them with emails received from similar people in similar geographies.

Lastly, I need tools to allow me to quickly organize and manage all of the inputs that I receive.  For example, that dissatisfied customer who complains each day that their cell phone is difficult to use because the screen is impossible to read in bright sunlight has a very valid point.  However, I don’t want to read the same complaint over and over again for weeks on end — I won’t have the time.  I need to be able to manage all of my inputs effectively and efficiently — so that I can gather the key messages very quickly and then spend the rest of my day improving existing products or creating new ones.

I see lots of opportunities for this approach within social media — but not a lot of tools that provide anything close to what I’m looking for — at least not yet.


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