March - 2007 - issue > Sage Speak
David Dichmann
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
As against the traditional role of a product manager, where he needed to be conversant with the company’s product and related technologies, the scenario today calls for substantial knowledge of business and traditional marketing principles. Expertise, in terms of a degree or knowledge in computer science and business administration constitutes a neo product manager.

Secondly, a product manager must be prepared to invest time and effort in working both within and outside the organization. Not only must he help engineers understand the market requirements and product requirements, but also be an ambassador to the company; he must visit and interface with customers openly, and get a pulse of their problems and demands, and communicate the same to the engineering team.
In a global market, it is impossible to visit all customers and interact with all customers face to face. A product manager must therefore adapt to the virtual interface tools and personalize electronic interactions.

Also, it is important that he sieves customer pain-points and anticipates the needs of the market accordingly. The ability to sense the future direction is not so much about tactical execution, but about conceptual research based on customer interactions, and strategizing; that alone provides the opportunity to expand the horizon and be creative.
Having said that, many product managers tend to value technology over its application in the marketplace. You can make glorious technology, but who cares; if you don’t have a market, you cannot sell. Hence the need to identify the viability of the product to make it marketable.

Also, certain people focus only on what the customer is asking for, whereas the solution for the problem may not always lie in what they ask. It is important that a product manager recognizes the larger problem and addresses it accordingly.

The third challenge for a product manager is to tide over internal political mishandling. Since he is not the head of engineering or corporate marketing, nobody directly reports to him, yet he must get both departments on board and make them work towards fructifying his vision. He must build credibility, so as to have the support of the management as well as the engineers. There is no class that imparts this skill set; rather it is achieved through the power of personality. A product manager must push himself to make people accept his point of view; at the same time, in case he is challenged, he must have the facts handy to defend his stand. The key to overcoming this roadblock is to bring the thoughts of all the stakeholders on the same plane. That’s a mighty ask, but one that is essential for a successful product manager.

The author is Sr. Product Manager, Sybase, Inc. He can be reached at dichman@sybase.com.
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