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IPMA Pune Event Report: Experiences in Product Management by Amit Paranjape

Product management means many different things to many different people, and is in fact quite different depending upon whether the product is new or mature, whether the company is small, medium or large, whether it is an enterprise product or consumer product, and a host of other things. A lot of issues that product managers need to keep in mind, and skills that they need to develop was covered in Vivek Tuljapurkar’s IPMA Pune Talk covered by PuneTech earlier.

Here are Amit’s Experiences in Product Management:

  • Early days of a company
    • Product Management is not a well-defined role or a group or even a person in a small company. Focus is only on sales and development, and product roadmap is decided in an ad hoc fashion.
    • As number of customers, and breadth of solution increases, the ad hoc processes start to break down.
    • Must create a Product Management as a layer between developers and customers. And everybody views this as bureaucracy and added overhead. This can only be done if there is strong backing from someone for the PM role. For example, the development team might get hassled by all the ad hoc requests that come from the sales organization, and will insist that a PM group be created and that all requests are channeled through PM. This is internal change management and it takes time to settle down.
  • Roles of PM in early days
    • Create a process for written specs, well defined test cases and support for QA
    • Be a friend of the development/delivery organization and the sales organization
    • In general, build relationships will all the stakeholders
    • Take over program management of all custom development projects
    • Recruiting product managers – biggest challenge.
  • As the company gets bigger
    • As the company gets bigger, the challenges change
    • Need to start worrying about requirements of individual products vs. the product suite, and solutions
    • Worry about difference between product and solution and module
    • Most of the time, you don’t really know what you’re doing – you’re just trying to do a good job in the face of uncertainties and ambiguity.
  • Products vs. Solutions – the perennial debate in Enterprise product companies
    • A solution is something that solves a business problem of a customer. This is what sales sells to the customer. Solutions can be based on customer industries (e.g. consumer goods, automotive, finance), or it could be based on business processes (e.g. Procurement, Demand Management)
    • A product is a specific piece of technology that engineering can build and which solves some particular problem. A combination of products that work together seamlessly is a solution
    • The reason for separating out products and solutions is to ensure that a small set of products can be used to build many different solutions for various customers
  • Overall Learnings
    • A PM must be paranoid. You need to worry about everybody and everything, because whenever anything goes wrong because of anybody, it ultimately comes back to you. So keep track of what various development teams are doing, what potential problems are. You need to keep track of sales teams, and what they’re promising customers, and how they’re positioning the product.
    • You need to work by influence. The people who can make your life miserable (sales, dev, etc.) don’t report to you, but still you need to make sure that they listen to you.
    • All PMs need to be entrepreneurial in their thinking – jugaad is needed at all times. Because things are always broken or breaking as far as a PM is concerned, problems to be solved, fires to be put out.
    • Blaming others is not the answer. Ultimately the buck stops with PM, so PM needs to solve the problem, irrespective of who or what caused the problem.
    • Relationship management is the key. If you maintain good relationships with various stakeholders, your life will be easy.
    • You are constantly in “sell” mode. You need to convince sales people to do some things, and consultants to do some things, and development to do some things.
    • In a fast growing company, where there isn’t lots of structure, be ready to temporarily take on the roles of development manager, or customer project manager as and when required
    • Make sure you do competitive research
    • Make sure you keep track of customer satisfaction levels
      -Recruiting
    • Recruiting product management people is a challenge
    • Skills required for PM in small companies are different from those required for larger companies. Small companies are ad hoc, with tactical goals, with a narrow focus, and a consultant/developer mindset. Large company PMs are process driven, worry more about long-term strategic goals, have a broader focus, and think more like sales people than developers.
    • Do not make the mistake of hiring “experienced” PMs from large companies for doing a small company PM job. This usually does not work well.

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Comments

One response to IPMA Pune Event Report: Experiences in Product Management by Amit Paranjape

  1. The talk was informative and crisp and so is the report here. Thanks, Navin. I want to put forth my views related to two points of discussion.
    1. The discussion on Product versus Solution was indeed interesting. A Solution, as explained by Amit is an aggregation of products woven by Workflow and the Product could be described as “point” solution. Further, the context for the solution could be the business processes like procurement, distribution etc. Just to add to this, I feel a Product is a repeatable solution to recurring problem in limited context of a domain. (similar to a pattern) When I sell a Requirements Management tool ( a Product)to many software development companies; I have found the common problems faced in the domain and have presented the “point” solution. But when it comes to give a complete integrated CASE environment for the same companies, perhaps the solution needs specific synthesis. Thus, a Solution may consist of various Products but may not be repeatable per se in the same domain.
    2. The role of Product Manager is to bring the ROI through the development and delivery of the product. I find the term for a similar role in Agile-Scrum, “Product Owner” is apt one. The Product Manager definitely needs the Entrepreneurial attitude (Amit rightly said this) to bring in the ROI and Business value. The Product Manager really owns everything about the Product (the buck stops here)The dynamism needed in ‘Inbound ‘ role and ‘Outbound’ role of a Product Manager to fetch business value; advocates agility needed for the job.

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