Product Management Toggle

A recent survey (2009) by the Standish group identified that only 32% of all software projects are delivered on time and on budget. That means 68% are late, cost more than expected, didn’t satisfy customers, were missing features and generally had problems. 24% of projects got put in the rubbish bin! The customer just gave up.

For me, the discipline of product management is about eliminating waste, using your resources to the max and ensuring that the team adds value. I have been a product manager for 6 years, most recently as Head of Product for Yahoo! Answers, and I have come to know how best to use the genius and inspiration of the whole team to achieve consensus, define value, fail fast, learn quickly and achieve results. I won a You Rock! award at Yahoo! for creating a superb team whose whole was more than its parts. This comes from trusting people, giving them an inspirational yet attainable vision and removing blockages.

Product for Startups

Any startup venture needs to quickly establish what it thinks is true about the world and the people in it. Whether the assumptions of the startup are proven true or false, the road to success involves turning these assumptions into data and doing so as early as possible, ideally before building most of your product and spending most of your resources. The application of Lean Startup principles to the 8 building blocks of a startup’s value proposition (i.e. it’s Lean Canvas) can reveal which data to collect, which things pose the greatest uncertainty, where to go first!

In fact, there is a lot of similarity to a company building and releasing a new product and a startup releasing it’s only product. Lean startup principles can be used in bigger organizations very effectively. Prototyping, customer development and rapid iteration are key aspects to discovering the solution under conditions of high uncertainty (i.e. a new product).

While established companies work on executing business models, startups exist to discover new business models that are repeatable and scalable. The main benefit of a startup release is to capture that data that allows us to further refine or pivot. Helping startups with this kind of thinking, and encouraging them to ‘get out of the building’ are perhaps my favourite projects that I work on.

Product for Mid-Large Organizations

It is only natural that businesses that become successful devote a great deal of their resources to protecting their success. In larger organisations, this can manifest itself in heavy structures, lengthy sign-off procedures and slow response to change in the company’s environment. Often, when I visit medium to large organizations the things that I hear are things like:

  • We have lengthy documentation
  • The tech team deliver things too slowly
  • The business people change their minds too often
  • We don’t really know what other people are working on
  • There is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality between tech and business teams
  • We release a couple of times a month but would like to once a day
  • Our software or website often has bugs that we never seem to get rid of
  • Customers didn’t respond to some of the things we released recently

Those things can be solved directly with better product management – getting away from old school project management where we stick to the plan (contract) rather than being committed to value and satisfied customers. Introducing an agile strategy, doing short cycles of development, replacing documentation with communication and using data as a basis for decision making all help to push the organisation in the right direction. There is still process, but process that adds value. When walking into a bigger organization, I would engage in the following tasks:

  • Defining roadmaps
  • Defining strategy and vision
  • Writing specifications
  • Creating a superb team atmosphere
  • Defining ‘done’
  • Using agile, and lean processes


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