Product AMA — July 14, 2023
I held a Product AMA on LinkedIn on July 14, 2023. It was quite active with many people asking questions.
To more easily share the questions and answers, I’ve compiled them all here (in some cases augmented beyond the original). But the Linkedin thread has a lot of interaction, follow up questions etc. that are worth reading. You can find that original thread here.
If you have any other questions, please add them in the comments. I’ll compile and answer them in future AMAs.
Questions and Answers
Q If you are working on 2,3 products at the same time, how do you allocate your time and efforts.
A I’ve done this, and first of all, I don’t recommend it as context switching is difficult and if a product is important enough to build, market, sell etc. it should have at least one PM who focuses on it as their full-time job.
Having said that, the answer depends on the state of the product and it’s objectives. To me, everything goes back to these two. What are you starting with (state) and what do you need to achieve (objectives).
From there you can determine (roughly) where to focus. i.e. in my case, in my very first PM job, I had 2 product LINES. One was a Unix product that had 5 individual products (that were often sold as a suite) and the other was a pair of 2 distinct Windows products that were sold separately.
The Unix line was mature and profitable, the Windows line was young and losing money. Even though the Unix line represented a LOT more revenue than the Windows line, I had to put a disproportionate amount of time into the Windows line to make it profitable.
i.e. I probably ended up spending about 50% of my time on each, but that was after the fact. i.e. I did what I had to do with each to achieve the objectives. I didn’t decide in advance how much time to spend on each.
A key point here is define objectives with your manager (Director/VP etc) and assess if those objectives are achievable by one person. At minimum, have clear priority of which products and objectives are more important to the company so that you can allocate your time accordingly.
Your manager should understand that context switching comes with a cost and there is a real benefit to having continued focus.
So in short — Product Objectives + Product State (Maturity, Issues, Business important etc) aligned with Business Priorities drive where you need to focus.
Q What’s a good target conversion rate for an additional paid product with the existing B2B customer base?
A I don’t know. 😀 It totally depends on the product, who it targets, what kind of use cases it covers, market needs, competitive alternatives etc.
This should really be tied to some kind of (rough) business case that was used to justify building the product. i.e. back when the product was conceived, what arguments were used to justify building it? What were the goals/assumptions? Not that those exactly define what you must achieve, but they were based on some marketing understanding (I hope) and should be used as a basis for answering this question, at least initially.
e.g. if the justification was that, this new product addresses a need of 25%-50% of existing customers (based on the evidence back then), then you could use that as a starting point. i.e. over some period of time you’d look to target at least 25% of your customer base.
As you learn more once the product is in the market, you may realize that 25% was low (or high) and make adjustments to your product, go-to-market etc. Markets are not static either, so there’s always variation that you need to track and understand.
Sorry for the vague answer, but there is no single answer.
Q We’re bringing a new feature out of beta next week and have yet to set an adoption target for its intended customer segment
- No competitors have a comparable feature
- An (unfortunate) instrumentation issue prevented us from tracking much info during beta usage 🤷🏼♂️
- The team has set our preliminary adoption target based on feedback from the beta group, survey data, and other qualitative inputs
Challenge: I want to make sure we’re not missing any blind spots on input data that could inform our target.
It’s admittedly a somewhat academic exercise, but I’m trying to introduce more hypothesis-driven processes to the org and could use a second opinion on how to calibrate expectations — especially when quant data isn’t available.
A Everything is a hypothesis. 😀 One thing you could try is a pre-mortem.
i.e. think ahead (e.g. 90 days or whatever timeframe makes sense) and assume you didn’t meet your targets. Now ask what could have been the reasons that you caused you to miss your targets?
e.g. it could have been many things like false or incorrect assumptions about market size, onboarding process, marketing execution, communication, etc etc.
Now dig in one more layer and ask yourselves what you could have done to address that? i.e. were there false assumptions or other activities etc. to pre-empt those mistakes etc. Then use that to inform whatever plans you have.
Now do the same thing with a positive outcome and ask yourselves these two questions:
- What would have to be true (WWHTBT) for that to occur? Work backwards, step by step and asked WWHTBT at each step.
If you see a gap or issues, ask How Might We (HMW) address that gap or issue. Use this knowledge to inform you plan as well.
All of this should (in theory) give you better insight to what it takes to achieve these targets and whether those targets are realistic, achievable etc.
Or just ask ChatGPT. 😀
Hope this helps.
Q How do you juggle tech debt, innovation and client wishes in such fashion that most stakeholders feel heard and appreciated?
A My initial visceral reaction to the question is that perhaps your stakeholders need to grow up a bit. “feel heard and appreciated”. 🤦🏼♂️
Stakeholders — whomever they may be — need to work as stakeholders, focused on clear, and ideally aligned, objectives.
Things like tech debt, innovation and client wishes are too far in the weeds to be honest. Start with: “What are we trying to achieve AS A BUSINESS?”
That’s where the stakeholders should be outspoken so they can be heard. Align on clear, measurable, timebound objectives and then let people worry about how to achieve them. Track progress of course, but worrying about tech debt shouldn’t be front and centre. If Innovation (make sure people agree on what that word really means) is a priority, then define it and prioritize it.
BTW, my friend Dave Mangot wrote a great article on Tech Debt that I share every time someone mentions that term.
Technical Debt is not a Technical Problem
Known or unknown, the thing about technical debt that leadership needs to understand.
Q How do you see the product role changing over time? We’ve seen product people that specialize in data, marketing, tech and more. Will one kind trump the other or have we hit the sweet spot?
A I’m writing about it a bit in an upcoming blog post but to answer your specific questions:
As professions mature, roles do become more segmented and specialized. e.g. look at Marketing and Sales and how roles in those areas have evolved over the last 10–20 years. So I do see continued segmentation and specialization, but I don’t know where it will go, but I did answer something similar about the future of Product Management from Guiseppe Milo. [NOTE: Guiseppe’s queston and my answer at below in this post]
Q How do you best handle the challenge of changing stakeholder perception of seeing you as a feature factory that drops everything to do what they ask?
A Have them talk to me. I’ll sort things out. 😀 This is a big issue in a lot of companies. It’s a belief system in how a company should be run, so it’s not easy to change.
One of my questions when I hear situations like this is where is the Head/VP Product or equivalent? Why are they not working to change this situation?
Regardless, change takes time. One approach is to work bottom up. i.e. with your team, see if there is something you can investigate and present up to the leadership that aligns with company objectives that is a net positive.
i.e. something innovative but supported by sufficient customer/market evidence. Build some support from one or more stakeholders who have influence in decision making to help you in this initiative.
If you can get that support, and execute well, it should open the door to more of this kind of initiative.
For example: this is how the iPhone came to be. Engineers at Apple thought the touch screen tech was revolutionary and had potential but knew Jobs wouldn’t listen to them. They got Jony Ive (Design Chief) on their side and he influenced Jobs and the ball got rolling. Not easy to do, but one approach.
Q How does one achieve the right mix and focus of technical/business skills/delivery skills?
A I have a framework I use to assess PM skills and define learning plans with their managers. Given most of us have/had no formal education in the job, and the job itself is not well defined, the learning has to come on the job.
The best advice I can give is find good managers and work in better companies if you can. Startups can be great from some perspectives, but often they are chaotic, unstructured and not great for learning. In the cases where startups grow and thrive, become scaleups etc, if you’re there for that whole journey, you can gain a lot of skills and understanding as the company changes around you and you contribute to that.
But you don’t know that going in. So. to start, I recommend people work in more established, larger orgs, ideally with great managers — interview for the manager, not just for the job — and you will learn a lot by seeing what successful orgs look like and how they function.
And then be intentional about your skills/ability growth. Understand where you are strong/weak and work on those weaknesses with your manager to develop them. Just like any other job/activity, strong fundamentals help and exposure to challenges improve you even more.
No short path I’m afraid.
Q Where do you see most product teams falling short? What gaps will need to be filled as the tech landscape evolves?
A I wrote about this in this article: https://swkhan.medium.com/the-5-dysfunctions-of-product-management-teams-534c2602f88d
The 5 dysfunctions are:
1. Poor Job Definitions
2. Under-skilled Product Managers
3. Poor Processes
4. Unclear Objectives
5. Weak Product Leadership
And the biggest issue IMHO is #5. If we could fix #5 — i.e. have strong Product Leaders who actually understand Product (not simply product development) — i.e. in the same way that MOST Sales leaders understand Sales etc. things would be a lot better.
I spoke about this on two podcasts:
Product Voices with JJ Rorie — https://www.productvoices.com/post/five-dysfunctions-of-product-teams
Q How to deal with unreasonable HiPPO attacks especially when you are building a product from Zero to One and there are SMEs involved, there’s not enough data to support anything 🤦🏻♂️
A You mean like these kind of Hippo attacks? 😀 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5A1fbi0Rtp4
But seriously, can you give more info on what these attacks are?
This is incredibly situational. I would say that it is CRITICAL to start by aligning on objectives. EVERYONE, Hippo on down should have clarity on objectives (Specific, Measurable, (ideally) Timebound). i.e. what are we trying to achieve, how will we measure success, and why are were doing what we’re doing?
Then when these “attacks” happen — you can refer back to the objectives, and get an understanding on the issue. Have the objectives changed? Is the work being done not aligned with the objectives? Is there a knowledge or understanding gap that leads to these attacks? etc.
What I’ve found is that MANY companies don’t have CLEAR , MEASURABLE and commonly understood/agreed upon objectives they work towards. Often they are loosely defined if at all, and there isn’t a common understanding.
It’s much easier to align on objectives and debate the best way to achieve them.
WRT the data — or lack of it — you’ve got to work with what you’ve got and try to get clarity on where your evidence is strong and weak. i.e. a big part of product development is risk management and mitigation. Map out where your evidence is strong and where it’s not and map out assumptions (implicit and explicit) that you’re making in your decisions.
Make those assumptions visible to your team members and other stakeholders so every is aware and then work to identify evidence to tied to key assumptions to test them and understand which are correct or not.
Q What’s your opinion on the practice of having a “Business Product Manager” and an “IT Product Manager” working on the same thing?
A So someone more business focused and someone more technically focused? Like a PM and a Technical PM?
I think that that is a reasonable distinction of roles and provides a way to enable focus and scale for Product Managers. I’ve worked in that model myself, but it’s a model that requires some thought. I’ve heard directly from some IT leaders that they “tried it but it didn’t work”.
1. The two roles must be in the same org and part of the same team. i.e. IT PM can’t be in IT vs. the Biz PM being in a Biz org etc. They should both be in the PM or Product org.
2. They need to have clear objectives and aligned goals. i.e. working towards the same major outcomes though with different focus for each.
3. They need to collaborate closely. No handoffs, no silos etc. Work together, but each focuses where needed. Kind of like Dev/QA work together to deliver software but with different focus areas.
4. Need to have support from leaders. Leadership needs to support them and help them succeed. No giving up on them in short course.
If the above is done it can work well. I’ve written about it here in the context of PM/PIO.
QHow do you prioritize a feature request from your CEO, versus one that is solving your users’ issues?
A You don’t. The best way is to have a clear context of objectives and strategies and then everything gets viewed through that lens. Thus it’s not about HIPPO idea vs. something else, it’s about what moves the product/business forward in terms of objectives that have been defined. I’ve written about it here.
How to say “No” as a Product Manager
Actually, it’s not about saying “No”, it’s about understanding and educating on the Why and How?
Q How do YOU differentiate between products and services in a world that is chasing Everything as as Service?
A To be honest, I don’t. The line is definitely blurred. It used to be that products were tangible items we acquired, and services were activities performed by others that benefited us and that we paid for in some way.
One key difference is ownership (product) vs. access (service). e.g. owning a car vs. leasing a car (service) to get somewhere.
Technically, software has always been a service. Even with boxed software, we were sold a license to use,. We didn’t have ownership.
If we were to be technical about it, most technology Product Managers should be renamed Service Managers as that’s what they are creating and delivering.
I will add one thing. The move to service is not necessarily one that benefits consumers. The shift from product (ownership) to service (access) keeps control of the value with the producer.
Q What is the most challenging product launch you have ever managed and how did you overcome the obstacles to make it successful?
A It depends on how you define challenging 😀 Let me say that launch is process, not an event.
The most challenging launch, which was probably the biggest, was back in 2005. It was the biggest release — functionality wise — in the company’s history and represented about 18 months of work.
The launch — pre, during and post — took about 9 months.
Not only did we have to align the company on what was done and then decide how to take it all to market, but we had a LOT of external education to do with partners, analysts and customers.
We had a great Marketing organization so that made things much easier. I think we had done a good job internally at keeping key teams aligned with our work. We had an extended beta that brought in some real world feedback early on and teams like Marketing were tied into it, thought not as much as we’d (Product) would have liked.
Launch depends so much on clear objectives, prep/planning and communication. I think we did a lot of that right, thankfully, though there were some post launch issues — like some REALLY wrong messaging in some areas — that despite our protests were approved. Had to do a lot of cleanup on that, I remember.
Overall, huge positive impact for the company
Q Where do you see the overlap and boundaries between product and UX functions in a company? What does a healthy relationship/balance of this look like?
A It depends :-) on how you’ve defined UX and Product Management. There’s a lot of breadth in that space that could use some better definition.
I’ve worked with some great UX people and we navigated together how we could work together. I’ve viewed them as collaborators. The main area of collaboration was in user research. In most cases we conducted it together, sometimes they led, sometimes I led, but there were instances where we did it separately and shared our results. I’ve always found that separate approach less effective.
I think it’s easier to say what PMs SHOULDN’T be doing if there are UX team members working with them. i.e. anything tied to mockups, design documents or other similar initiatives that are clearly within the Design domain.
I’d love hear from some UX folks on this. i.e. how they separate the two.
Q What’s the future of Product Managers? Are we going to be merged with Marketing?
A Here’s my prediction from about 5 years ago: Shortened due to space limitations here, but please read the details on Quora.
1. Increased focus on Product Success, vs. Technical Success
2. Better (more standard) understanding of roles and responsibilities
3. Formal education programs around Product Management
4. Real tools to help optimize Product Management
So no, I don’t think Product Management will become a part of Marketing. I do think that Product Management will move closer to where it should be — a more business-oriented function — working cross-functionally with Design, Eng, Marketing, Finance, Sales etc to drive product success.
Q What’s overlooked general practice in Product Management?
Two things come to mind.
- Real strategy when applied to products
- Clear Product connection to business results
Strategy is not easy. We’re not really taught it in school and most tech PMs aren’t enabled in their orgs to actually define and drive it because it is not simply a “PM thing”, it’s an organizational “thing”.
The Product connection to business is related. Yes, the products drive revenue etc. but most Product Managers I’ve spoken to don’t have clarity and insight into the business side of their products. They don’t have access to financials, costs, revenue by SKU/region etc. Business planning often happens without the PMs in the room. The PMs are then required to execute on some pre-defined business plans/objectives.
Both of these issues should be addressed and will likely be in the coming years as Product Management evolves. I have a blog post coming out that touches on this topic.
A little feedback please
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