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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Strategic Product Management challenges: from idea to products in the market

Photo by Clint Gardner @ flickr (CC-BY NC SA 2.0)

I wanted to start this series by focusing on some of the challenges that we face as Product Managers. A key challenge I see repeated in many organizations is the lack of capacity to leap from idea to results, from intention to implementation.
Product Managers focus on generating product ideas, business model, revenue streams, competitor analysis, etc. But that is quite useless unless it leads to coherent action, and ultimately to delivering products to the market. In fact delivering on an idea is - in my mind - the only valid evaluation for a great Product Manager.
Do you have a great idea? Do you know the market very well? Good, but where is the product? No product, no value.

Company strategy is a first step in covering the gap from goal to action: define the goal

As I stated in the previous post, the Strategic Product Manager must focus on translating the company strategy into a coherent Product Portfolio. This is the process of transforming business objectives into concrete product goals. However, that is just the first step in covering the gap from ideas to implementation.
A common pitfall is that once the Portfolio is approved the Product Manager retires from the involvement with implementation. Later, when deciding on what projects to start the teams involved will make critical, strategic decisions. If the Product Manager is not part of the decision process, how can she make sure that her Vision for the product is implemented?
Having the best roadmap and then implementing the wrong projects is equivalent to having a bad roadmap.

Now that you have the roadmap, how will you execute on it?

Product Management must work with the line organization, with the teams that will develop the software and do what often does not happen: to transform ideas into action! For this to be possible the Strategic Product Manager must be equally capable of transforming the implementation feedback (from the teams) into information that will influence our ideas about strategy (product roadmap and product portfolio).

Ideas are nothing without execution.

A key aspect of the Strategic Product Management is to be involved and review the actual projects started and reassess the product strategy, product portfolio and product roadmap based on what is possible to implement once the rubber meets the road and the product development starts.
To effectively implement a product strategy the Strategic Product Manager must be part the decisions on team and resource allocation to certain projects. Reviewing and giving feedback on a second and important portfolio: the Project Portfolio (which projects are started, how much investment they get and when they should stop?).

Castles are built with rocks and mud, not clouds

Strategic Product Management is much more than just thinking big thoughts. Strategic Product Management is about creating the necessary relationships and information flows in the organization, that will allow the implementation teams to execute on the strategy for the company and the products. Later in this series we will take a look at some of the practices that help both the Product Manager and the Organization to transform a great Company and Product strategy into a coherent Project Portfolio. These will include organizational as well as project techniques designed to help convert ideas into real value: products in the market.

at 13:07 | 0 comments
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Thursday, March 07, 2013

What is Strategic Product Management? - solving day to day problems with the long term in mind

Photo by Giovanni Orlando @ flickr

The release day is close. So many things to do, how to prioritize what to do next? How to discern what is really relevant from what is seemingly urgent, but with little impact in the product? How to make decisions with a cool head when faced with a looming deadline? Many teams are stuck with these questions and have little support or help to understand how to overcome these questions.
One team that I worked with at some point coined the phrase "being a slave to the backlog" to describe the feeling of powerlessness, and being imprisoned in the relentless rhythm that took them from story to story through overtime and much stress without a clear vision or direction. They truly felt slaves to the backlog.

Seat of the pants Product Management

In the best case some teams might just take the problem by the seat of the pants and soldier through the project, delivering consistently, but losing any motivation or innovation potential that a more sustainable approach might give them. After all, there’s a reason why Scrummers are constantly remind us and themselves that we should aim for "Sustainable Pace", the mythical marathon rhythm that will take you through the death march.

Some step back, understand what it is that they you trying to achieve

This is not what software development is supposed to be. We are supposed to feel confident that we know the direction we must take. We are supposed to feel secure when we make decisions on what to do, and most importantly what *not* to do. How can we achieve that feeling of purpose and serene conviction of understanding the problems we are trying to solve?

Enter Strategic Product Management.

At first Strategic Product Management may sound like a mythical god-like creature that is here to solve all our problems (and indeed for some teams it will at first feel like that). However, Strategic Product Management is something much simpler. It is the set of practices and habits of creating a more concrete Vision as you go and being able to apply it on a day-to-day basis: to avoid the Siren’s song of Urgency and Fire-Fighting; to help us re-check our purpose at every step of the development process.

Why Strategic Product Management?

All decisions we make affect the quality and the Vision-fidelity of our product. It is when we are most in a hurry that we need crystal-clear decision criteria that lead us to the Product Vision we created. It is because of these that we must always "begin with end in mind" and define our Strategic Product Goals (aka the Product Vision) and regularly review those based on the feedback we collect throughout the development of the product.
However decisions about what to focus, prioritize or remove come at unexpected times, and all throughout the project, and it is because of that Strategic Product Management must be conceived as a set of cycles, of loops of learning that guide our development work. Strategic Product Management is the act of putting your day-to-day work in the context of what you are trying to achieve and focuses on these areas of work: Strategy, Portfolio and Roadmap
In a later blog post I’ll outline the detailed practices that I have been experimenting with to put in practice what I’ve now tried to define: Strategic Product Management.

at 16:12 | 3 comments
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