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May - 2005 - issue > In My View
Four deadly sins of product management and how to avoid them
Dewaine Miller
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Entrepreneurs and venture capitalist live or die on product management. Whether it is done well or poorly dictates the success or failure of the enterprise. It is the foundation on which companies are launched and empires are built. All too often, cutting corners in product management can lead to catastrophe.

What is a Product Manager?
Titles are confusing in our business. What one person calls a product manager another person refers to as a product marketing or marketing manager. It is certain that the roles cross a number of disciplines from determining which products get developed to how they are promoted.

Product managers are individuals at the beginning of the process who observe and respond to market needs. The enterprise’s core competency, vision, mission and strategic objectives direct them. Product managers guide the company through ideation and the selection of potential products. They delve into market research with passion and develop personae, prospect problem statements and use cases in preparation for the marketing requirements document (MRD). They build business cases detailing revenue and profit models, pricing, go-to-market strategies and buy versus build alternatives.

We know this. So why are we not getting the results that we should?

Wrong Person, Wrong Job
If you put someone in charge of product management who has never been a product manager before, you take a tremendous risk. The breadth of knowledge required to do a quality job in product management is daunting for someone with limited experience.

Hire the brightest and the best! Hire someone who has been in charge of successful product launches. Pay above the market average. You don’t want someone average, do you? If you have successful launches, what extra you pay for the brightest and the best is trivial. Clearly define roles, responsibilities and accountabilities, and then most importantly, delegate the authority to get the job done. Abide by the rule that every major product must have a dedicated product manager.

No Corporate Focus Or Discipline
The famous base ball player, Yogi Berra, supposedly said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to wind up some place else.” Truer words were never spoken. A Silicon Valley CEO was giving a presentation to a venture capital firm a few years ago in his corporate boardroom. When asked whether his new fault-tolerant mid-range computer product could also be sold as a departmental server, the unraveling of an otherwise excellent presentation began. The CEO fell into the trap. He displayed a lack of focus.

He neither believed in his plan nor had the discipline required for proper execution. He didn’t receive the funding. It is just as important for you to determine what you don’t do as it is what you do.

If you don’t have an overall corporate plan with the discipline behind it, there is no chance that you can have a good product marketing plan. Have the business team develop or revisit the corporate vision and mission statements as well as core objectives. It’s even beneficial to have a BHAG (a Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

Post these goals and visions prominently and use them as a test and guide for product management decisions. Build a process to achieve your core objectives. Develop a list of critical success factors required to obtain each objective. Assign action steps to team members. Hold regular team meetings to track progress.

No Product Management Process
Has this happened to you? Features are added; features are deleted. Deadlines are not met. Release dates escape. Revenue and profit are missed. Everything seems to be ad hoc. Who suggested that feature initially? No matter how well you execute it, a bad plan will yield a bad result. It is worse emotionally to have no plan at all even though the result is the same. It is demoralizing and chaotic with no one on the same page because there is no page to speak of.

Remember this. Your opinion, though fascinating, is really not relevant. The only opinions that matter are those of your target market prospects and customers. The product manager owns the process and is accountable for delivering products that address the needs of the target market. Product management should have a well-constructed process and set of criteria for evaluating new product features.

For new products, install a stage gate process from ideation through product release. The stage gate process requires thorough understanding and support from senior management but provides the business team with absolute control and direction of the product development process.

Lack of Speed Kills
Some years ago Borland was in a race with Microsoft, a race they lost for a lot of reasons. Borland was in the process of releasing the Windows version of their database product, Paradox. They knew that Microsoft was behind them with a fully featured and tested Visual FoxPro release, and Borland knew they could get to market faster, which didn’t happen. Microsoft pre-released a somewhat problematic version of the product and shipped it for free to any developer that wanted a copy months before the Paradox release. At the time, Borland had over 5,000 dBase and previous version Paradox developers in their sights. It killed the Borland release, and massive layoffs and office closings quickly followed.

Don’t cut product management corners. Follow by the process and accelerate your pace. Consider a limited functionality product that has real market value. Product marketing should gather sufficient information from the target market to determine which features should be released first. Price it accordingly. Add compelling features with shorter product release cycles. If you are really up against the wall and want first mover status, get out a broad pre-release. Don’t try to make the product perfect. Be certain to let your market know that it is not a final production release and provide ample appropriate documentation.

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