Rich Mironov is a legend in the world of product management. He is the founder of Product Camp, a collaborative unconference for product managers and marketers that has spread across the world. He also is the author of the book The Art of Product Management: Lessons from a Silicon Valley Innovator. Today he provides full-time and short-term product management direction to technology companies.
While our discussion is in the context of software product management, much of the insights apply to product managers in any industry.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:
- You coach a lot of people who are new to product management. What do you hear are the reasons people want to be product managers? Typically three reasons or explanations are given. People becoming product managers want to make a difference in the products that are created. They also want to have influence. This influence can be from a positive or negative position. The positive position is the desire to help guide product selection and overall product strategy. A negative position is people seeking power for themselves. For people that are seeking personal power, they will likely be disappointed in their choice of product management. Further, they’re not the people others want to work with. A related reason that people get into product management is to be involved early in the product development process to help guide the creation of the right product – products that customers love.
- For all of its appeal, the role of product management has challenges – what are the frustrations people encounter in the role? Many of the challenges lie outside the scope of the individual product manager. One challenge is sales teams that are given free reign to close deals by committing to new features that don’t yet exist in products. Pressure can also come from the engineering/development side if a culture of “making it perfect” exists. There are no perfect products, only ones that customers love and buy. Another issue is making too much of an investment too early in architecture. For software products, the architecture needs to be sufficient for the current product, not for some future scale that may never happen. A key challenge is not having sufficient time to talk with customers. For product managers to be effective, they need to be spending about 30% of their time externally with customers and the remaining 70% focused on internal work. Finding that 30% is a real issue for many product managers. If they’re not working closely with customers, they cannot reasonably know customers needs, emerging trends, and the direction of the market.
- Organizations are creating many of these challenges. What is your advice to product managers to navigate them and increase their influence in the organization? Great sales people are masters at understanding other people, and in this sense, product managers need to be salespeople. A good tool product managers can use in understanding others is the Myers-Briggs temperament assessment. This is also related to the ability to talk with customers in a way that helps to uncover unmet problems without making assumptions or adding bias. The most important tool product managers have to overcome challenges is providing evidence from customers and evidence can only be collected if they are spending sufficient time with customers.
- Organizations are also trying many approaches to being innovative. It is the current mantra – to be more innovative. Let’s discuss what is not working and is working. The number one thing that seems like wasted effort is the so-called innovation day. Employees are excused from their regular activities and responsibilities and brought together to be innovative. Making innovation a one-time activity removes innovation from regular responsibilities. Innovation days also create expectations and a great deal of information to consider. The follow-through after these events is often insufficient and can leave employees feeling frustrated when little is actually accomplished. Another issue are the barriers the organizations create to innovation. As an example, one company uses a 15-gate process for product development; that is, 15 hurdles to overcome towards developing a product. While risk in the product development process is to be considered, 15 gates certainly slow progress. A lot of wasted effort could be eliminated by killing off product concepts much earlier in the process. Product managers need to provide real evidence for the value of a product concept and why customers will buy the product. Some of the things that are working and have been helpful to product managers is the adoption of lean startup processes, focus on user experience, and agile project management.
- Find out more about Rich and his work at his blog.
- Learn about the Product Camp unconference movement Rich started.
- Rich’s book, The Art of Product Management: Lessons from a Silicon Valley Innovator.
“There’s nothing more wasteful than brilliantly engineering a product that doesn’t sell, or a project that doesn’t matter.” – a frequent phrase of Rich’s.
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