Listen to the Interview
Product managers and product teams have the challenge of creating market-winning products — those are products that customers love and that create value for customers and the organization. Some product managers are not as effective as they could be, or they have actually become less effective over time. According to my guest, an effective product manager has six types of expertise. We’ll explore each in just a minute. This interview also gives me the opportunity to interview a legend in product management, along with providing you a glimpse at a side of him you may not know — as singer and songwriter.
He has been working within the high-tech arena since 1979 with experience in technical, sales, and marketing positions at companies specializing in enterprise and desktop hardware and software. His market and technical savvy allowed him to rise through the ranks from Product Manager to Chief Marketing Officer. He has launched dozens of product offerings. Before founding Under10, his product management consulting company, he was a Pragmatic Marketing instructor for over 15 years. His name is Steve Johnson.
In the interview you will learn the six areas of expertise that effective product managers need:
- Market, and
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of some questions discussed:
- What is the Umbrella Song about? Steve is not only a product management legend, he is also a singer and songwriter. Listen to the interview to hear a portion of the Umbrella song or visit his music on iTunes.
- What do product managers want their executive team to know about product management? One thing product managers want executives to know is that a sentence from a senior leader about what they want can be months of work for a product team. On the other hand, executives want their product managers to be more strategic – to be more business savvy.
- What expertise does a product manager need to be effective? First up is Technology expertise. I see a lot of “purple squirrel” job posts for product managers. Purple squirrels are the perfect candidate who can start tomorrow and hit the street running and is willing to work for peanuts. Many purple squirrel job posts have a strong preference for technology expertise. There seems to be a feeling that you need to have a deep technical understanding or you can’t play the game. Product managers need to be technical enough to understand the questions from development. But in a lot of cases, a strong technical expertise ends up meaning you basically are part of the development team and not really part of product management. The development team has to have technical expertise for the types of products developed.
- Next is Operations expertise. Operations cover different contexts depending on the product. I’ve been working on a software system for product managers and am finding myself more involved with operational questions. Examples include how much storage space will each customer need as part of a SaaS solution. I’m thinking about operation-related factors, such as performance requirements, capacity requirements, etc.
- Then Process expertise. Many organizations have a lot of process around development, but not other places. I find that really good product managers tend to see things as a process. I have a simple example. I took my parents to dinner earlier this week and I walked up to the salad bar. The plates for the salad bar were on the far left and the big bowl of lettuce was on the far right and all the toppings were in the middle. I immediately thought the plates are on the wrong side. I wanted to reconfigure the whole salad bar based on process. I find good product managers see their work in process terms. Many organizations, more than 50% according to one survey, don’t have product management processes in place. This sparked one of my favorite quotes, which is,
- What about Domain expertise? By that, I mean the area of specialty. I worked with a software company that focused on universities and realized in my conversations with them that my university experience was so out of date. I didn’t really understand what they were talking about. There are things about the domain of education that I’m just not familiar with, so when somebody says we’ve got to do something a certain way, I don’t know how to judge that because I don’t know the domain well enough. The converse occurs in software companies with people who don’t have software development domain knowledge. When you don’t know how it’s made, you don’t know how hard it is. It’s not just a button. I think everybody in the company needs to have some level of domain expertise. When they don’t, like in the case of salespeople, they rely on product management to provide that domain expertise.
- Market expertise is the fifth area. Actually, domain and market often overlap somewhat. Market expertise is knowledge of a market segment while domain expertise is the knowledge of an industry. If we were in the education industry, education would be our domain and North America would be our market.
- The last area is Business expertise. Product managers should be growing into business people. 42% of product managers have an MBA. Executives want product managers to be more business-minded and providing strategic value. Instead of talking about user stores, releases, sprints, and iterations with executives, they need to talk about return on investment, metrics that matter to the business, and how to make the business grow.
Useful links for product managers:
- Look Beyond the Product – Steve’s eBook
- Steve’s company, Under 10 Playbook
- Product management software
- Steve’s music, “Not Exactly Steve”
“When I do my job right, there’s no sign of it. Disasters just fail to occur.” – Herman Wouk
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.