backtotheproduct

To understand the future, you have to go back to the product


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How to get hired as a product manager

First off – this post talks more on existing product managers looking for a new opportunity and how best to approach it.

For anyone looking to become a product manager for the first time, coming from sales engineering, development, support or training – congrats! You’re in for a crazy ride and one of the most fulfilling careers you could ask for. You may find what comes next as a glimpse into your future, but there are many great articles focused more on becoming a new product manager. I highly suggest googling them and starting there.

Now, on to finding a product management job you’ll love, how to get hired for that position, and some tips based on my own personal experiences.

If you’re like me, you may not have a single reason that “broke the camel’s back”, but rather a list of medium-sized reasons to find a new job. For me the triggers are:

  • Reached a plateau in learning – you’re doing a great job, things are going well, but you’re not expanding your knowledge – not learning anything new
  • Getting bored – it’s just not as exciting as it used to be
  • Worried about the time warp – basically you can see yourself blinking and losing 5 years at the company without any significant changes

Once you’ve identified the reasons to move, you may or may not actively start looking. At a start-up I once worked at, one day the doors closed and there was no surer kick in the ass way to get me to look for a job. But many times you simply start exploring what’s out there – as product managers we always monitor the market – the job market is exactly the same.

Now what?

Here’s a few tips on how to get hired as a product manager (senior, director or VP)

Tip 1 – A cold network is a dead network

Keep it warm!

Everyone talks about networking as so important. I agree. But nothing smells so much of desperation and denial as someone who blasts their contacts and network looking for a job *only when they need one*. This is like your best friend who suddenly finds himself a girlfriend/boyfriend and suddenly drops off the face of the planet, only to come crawling back months later asking to do shooters at the local bar to forget all about their nightmare. Unlike your best friend, your professional network is not that invested in your happiness. They are though the most valuable resources for job seeking. I read a blog post once (which I can’t remember, wait here it is:  http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/maintaining-a-warm-network/) that goes into a pretty detailed way of keeping your network warm. I don’t do half of the things he mentions, but almost all of them are effective.

How does this apply to product management: Product managers are this wonderful mix of socially competent, business savvy, technology experts (i.e. Can wear a thinkgeek.com card reader yet still impress clients during sales presentations). We love networking, associations and clubs. Use this to meet more product managers inside and outside your industry.

Tip 2 – LinkedIn is your gateway to the world

Keep it updated!

I seriously cannot imagine doing a job search before the world of LinkedIn. Yes this does date me as a 30-something technophile, but LinkedIn is such a great tool that it horrifies me to think of a job hunt without it. More importantly there is a rising amount of “HR Recruiting Specialists” roles appearing at companies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by recruiters while employed. Keeping your LinkedIn network warm (see Tip 1) and keeping your profile up to date is very important. One extra tid bit – be sure to give your headline something meaningful – if you’re looking for a job then say it! By default LinkedIn will use your job title from your current job, but you can customize this as you see fit. Here’s a good example of what I mean: http://jorgensundberg.net/how-write-your-killer-linkedin-headline/

How does this apply to product management: A recent survey I read states that over 90% of product managers are on LinkedIn. I would say that it’s actually even higher than that. Besides all the recruiters and head hunters, other product managers are a great way to find jobs in your area. On top of this, LinkedIn has really invested in their Job posting section – pony up for a Premium Account and use every single LinkedIn Premium Badge job seeking edge you can. It’s not cheap, but then again, what’s your price for finding the right job?

Tip 3 – Get social in a meaningful way

Keep it relevant!

With the widespread use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, blogs (such as this one) and other ways to communicate, picking the right channel is key to staying relevant. Become connected with others, read blogs, grow your Twitter followers, and most importantly – stay relevant. If you’re continuously looking to learn and grow like I am, then not understanding these modern ways of communicating reflects badly upon your ability to stay relevant. Personally I keep my Facebook for personal contacts, Twitter and LinkedIn for professional networks, my Back to the Product blog for product management interests and that’s it. But you don’t need to have a blog to understand how it works, where it’s powerful, and what’s going on in technology today. These are all things recruiters look for and hiring managers count on when bringing in new people. I’ve developed teams of product managers and product marketers, and I’ve always looked for the same things – smart, ambitious, opinionated, willing to learn and constructively debate any topic – and relevant in today’s business and technology world. Getting social is a great way to demonstrate this – and share those experiences with others (besides the fact I continue to find writing one of my most enjoyable past times).

How does this apply to product management: As a rule, we tend to look for external validation for many decisions we make. Be it customers, the “market”, sales, support or engineering. Because of this, many product managers have blogs (or read them), participate in Product Camps (or even organize them) or even conduct live podcast radio sessions with thought leaders (I’m looking at you Cindy Solomon). All of this increases our exposure as product managers and increases our chances of connecting with a great job out there. All we need to do is hear about it.

I could go on with many more tips, but I’ve tried to summarize them here to emphasize how important they are when looking for a job. I’m currently building yet another product management team, and will definitely be looking at the above items when recruiting.

How about you? What has been your experiences when hiring product managers, or on the flip side, looking for a product manager job?

Please share your stories below in the comments.

-Hakan Kilic


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Product Management ToolKits

For every product manager I’ve worked with, I uncover yet another “unique” problem that is so completely different from any other problem in the industry that it’s almost impossible to solve – but not really. There is always quite a bit of overlap, repetition and similarity, albeit wrapped in a different skin. This is actually quite a good thing, as long as one can see past the view that all things are unique, and realize that some fairly general rules of thumb can help you out. This brings me to the topic of today’s post – product management toolkits, and how useful they really are. I’ve worked with many frameworks, processes and consulting teams, so I feel I have a decent idea of the different approaches teams take to creating toolkits, and how product managers actually use them in the field. I recently reviewed the “Take Charge Product Management Toolkit”, from Actuation Consulting. Greg and I have worked together before, and I was very interested in understanding his new toolkit.

Now if you’re in a product management position today (technical, business, marketing, or the variety of other titles, including VP), toolkits can really help give you the starting point you need, or help improve incrementally some internal templates you may already be using. The hardest part, I find, is the introduction of such a toolkit – is it your VP bringing in a new template to change things around, or some member of the team taking the initiative to improve the process. Let me show you what happened when I shared this toolkit.

Day 1 – Read the toolkit, liked what I saw, and wanted to share my findings (read on for more details on that)

Day 2 – Emailed my team sharing this toolkit asking for feedback, as we had been looking for strategic templates for new products

Day 7 – 0 emails, 0 phone calls, 0 feedback. Puzzled I push forward

Day 14 – I have one-on-one discussions on strategic roadmapping using material from the toolkit, and everyone is impressed with my business understanding

This is the lesson you need to learn when using toolkits – they should never be used as is, they should always be incorporated into your own business reality, and many times people will resist a new template but absolutely adore work you produce using it!

Now on to some reviews of this Toolkit:

-Take advantage of the free, 30 minute consultation they offer. You’ll always have questions, and asking for live examples of how to leverage it is invaluable.

-Examples – personally I avoid templates without some examples pre-filled. This “learn by seeing in action” is quite powerful, and I’m very happy Take Charge Product Management decided to include them in this toolkit.

-The templates make you really think about the basics of business, selling and moving product. Sometimes we forget that if our products can’t sell, we are the ones that can make the most impact. A PM that doesn’t grasp the sales funnel should not be a PM. They shouldn’t own the funnel, but they should be comfortable understanding it.

-Every organization should have a product decision (aka Opportunity prioritization) process. It’s a good template, and will likely be the one that you’ll tailor the most. Great starting point.

-I haven’t seen many formal RACI matrices out there – the biggest takeaway is that there are many stakeholders in the life-cycle of a product, and this template makes you face that fact.

If you’re a business minded product manager looking for a starting point, or to help improve certain processes, the toolkit is great. In addition to it, you’ll also want to get yourself some tools to help better understand how product management can play nice (and excel!) in agile environments, and how to define the line between the technical and marketing roles in product management. With that, you’ll have a full set of tools to push your product management process to the next level.

Remember, as I told a friend recently, the best way to build up your experience in product management is to BE a product manager.

This blog post will give you more information and also how to obtain the Take Charge Product Management Toolkit


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Product Management Talk – community event

 

If we’ve ever talked, you’ll probably know that I’m a big proponent of product management community events, either ProductCamps, GrandView on LinkedIn, and this past Monday I was also able to participate on the Global ProductManagementTalk. It’s an interesting idea, formed originally by Andrienne from brainmates and Cindy Solomon. It combines a lot of ad-hoc technologies, originally using Twitter for the most part, but now also leverage Skype for BlogTalkRadio – an easy way to record a skype conversation into a pseudo radio show and audio archiving for later reference. They also leverage a ton of other random free sites – including PRlog, BunchofLinks, and others – to get the word out.

In general I encourage these types of initiatives, as they give a free, public forum for discussing topics in product management, combine some interesting technology (I’m a geek at heart), and allow follow up conversations to occur. Greg Geracie, President of Actuation Consulting, and who I met originally when I was at Ryma Techology, was the co-host of the event, and I presented discussions around a topic I had been blogging about recently, namely the differences – and benefits – of cenetralized or decentralized product management. It’s very contextual on which is best for your organization, and from the companies I’ve worked with, critical to understand the business drivers behind which is most suited for you.

The recorded session can be accessed here

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/prodmgmttalk/2012/07/16/centralized-vs-decentralized-prodmgmt-w-hakankilic

Overall it was a lot of fun, and I quite enjoyed the experience. Have a similar organizational challenge going on right now? Let me know how your experience turned out!


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Agile, Waterfall – Wait its WaterGile! (Trademark it!)

How Agile Product Management has evolved in the last few years (reposted from Ryma blog)

An interesting thing has been happening in the market, and it’s not just that everything is moving to the Cloud, or that Facebook is about to go IPO, it’s the very real, and very concrete adoption of agile methodologies across the software industry. Originally a concept that gave birth to the Agile Manifesto (I know I can’t believe I’m referencing Wikipedia), Agile has really taken over as a concept everyone strives for, but rarely achieves. Why is that?

From a corporate stand point, many of the other processes at a company, like fiscal budget planning, employee performance reviews, and marketing campaigns, go through yearly planning and longer cycles. Can you imagine if you “iterated” on your performance review weekly, with a full day spent reviewing your objectives and decided what to focus on the next week? But wait – maybe that’s not such a bad way of approaching it, it provides quicker feedback from your manager and peers and keeps you completely aligned. And that is the heart of the issue, people just aren’t sure how much better that faster iteration is for everyone, they have this fuzzy feeling that there’s value to be had, but it’s hard to draw a line in the sand to say just how much.

*Most companies and product managers I’ve spoken to strongly believe in agile, specifically in the following:
*Responding to customers’ needs quickly.
*Outpacing their competition.
*Spending less time negotiating with engineering and more time coding.
*Bringing more innovation to the market.
*Spending less money “keeping the lights on” (unless it’s a huge margin product, I’m working on a blog post on that topic, stay tuned!)

Yes waterfall processes exist everywhere, either hindering teams or worse, forcing them down a path of least resistance on a journey they know is not as efficient. But is Agile really the cure? Forcing an Agile process from development into a waterfall-oriented company is doomed to fail – and really tick off a lot of people.

Hence the term I’ve coined: “WaterGile”.

Every time I’ve mentioned this word, I get a resounding “that’s my world!” – followed by hearty laughs and a few silent tears. And it really does reflect what’s going on in the industry today. Agile development teams are islands within larger engineering organizations, product owners are popping up everywhere, and eyes (or heads) are rolling when people say “we’re trying to move to be more agile”.

The one thing I have to say on this is don’t despair, if you aren’t using sprints, iterations and backlogs, you still might be achieving the core values of agile, which is collaboration, customer feedback and responding to change. Just starting to write epics and stories? Good for you! But if you’re not, good for you too! Understand that Agile works well when it fits within an organization, sometimes that’s a longer process than you’d imagine, and often there will always be waterfall-type cross-functional dependencies.

But react to the market, have a mechanism to collaborate with customers, have something in place to make decisions based on that market data, and get those requirements to engineering with the context they need.

Are you WaterGile? Love to hear about!


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Centralized vs. decentralized product management

What every executive should know about organizational structures in product management (reposted from Ryma Blog)

In my years of speaking with organizations, one question continues to come up – how do we better align our product teams with our business and development units to drive growth. It’s a tough challenge, and one that executives try to address by deciding on whether the product management team reports to an enterprise management team, or an individual General Manager/Business Unit leader. On one hand, you can drive a corporate wide strategy and optimize development investments across your entire portfolio. On the other hand, you can get deep vertical expertise to drive change that really moves the needle for a specific business. I always compare it to an age old saying – you just don’t know what you don’t know.

And because of that, I’ve seen organizations switch between those structures, sometimes as fast as every 12 months. That’s a dizzying pace, and I don’t envy the people who have to go through that much churn and change. But like a shark, if you aren’t moving, you’re dead.

Here are some simple guidelines as you think about your organizational structure, and the benefits of each type. These examples are based on real-life situations of what I’ve seen work, and what has really made a mess of things. It’s brutal honesty, so read on only if you’re prepared to take the sugar as well as the salt.

In theory Centralized Product Management provides:

*Easy alignment with corporate strategy
*Cross product portfolio management
*Identification of market problems that affect multiple business units
*One face to the customer in terms of common UI (look, feel and interoperability).
*Elimination of costly development duplication

In reality, you can run into the following problems:

*No one is actually doing portfolio management because it’s too hard and too time consuming, or there’s simply no infrastructure in place to support it.
*Collaboration is painful, as there’s no easy way to share information across business units.
*Political nightmare as business units that bring in the lion’s share of revenue feel they aren’t getting the attention they deserve, and simply escalate to the executive team immediately.

In theory Decentralized Product Management provides:

*True accountability for a specific line of business and deeper understanding of the Profit and Loss.
*Deep vertical knowledge and market expertise for that particular market segment.
*More ownership by individual GM’s, Presidents or BU heads for their contribution to profit.
*Superior, tailored product designs that don’t lose competitive feature differentiation due to generalization and “platformification”.

In reality, you can run into the following problems (I’ll avoid just repeating the above list in reverse):

*Product Management teams no longer feel responsible as business owners, as the GM is handling that.
*Complete disarray on everything from common market research activities, to having several “customer focus groups” target the same customer base by different PM teams.
*Lack of truly game-changing transformation for the business.
*No standard process or even the same personal capabilities across the product teams.

So in the end, I’d point out two things – don’t just centralize product management because of the capabilities of the product managers, and don’t be afraid of shaking things up as needed. The two structures are very different, and achieve very different objectives. Some just don’t make sense for a certain phase of a company – new markets, big platform needs and lots of acquisitions tend to need more centralized management, while big growth targets, very different market segments and strong business leaders can leverage decentralized product management better.

Good luck – it’s not like a McDonalds franchisee, head office may not always know what they need.


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The vision behind Back to the Product

After working for many years in product management, and then at a technology and consulting firm specializing in product management solutions, I find myself in a unique position to understand product management. Not the product management that some people euphemize, but the real thing, as experienced by countless developers suddenly thrust into product management, consultants trying to establish some sort of formal definition, and the countless other professionals trying to deliver great products. I plan to use this blog to talk about all things product management and product marketing related, perhaps provide some resources that can be used, and ultimately, push product management into the spotlight. For to understand the future, you have to go Back to the Product.