AMA from Product School


Enterprise Product Management

What are you working on today, career-wise?

For me, I have always found a pull towards the business (dare I say), the dark side. So today I am focussing at my startup on marketing, but not traditional B2B marketing but B2D (business to developers). Lots to learn.

What is your opinion on how companies are changing their outlook on Product Management?

The most progressive organizations and companies see PM as a pillar in the org chart at the same level as engineering, marketing or sales. 

They are starting to look at PM as being the hub of the product. Stay away from organizations that see PM as an affiliate of engineering or marketing. Product Management deserves to stand alone and have a seat at the executive table.

How do big companies maintain balance in their project portfolios to include disruptive initiatives and incremental initiatives? How can a PM contribute to portfolio management?

Wow, what a great question, I have experienced this in spades at HP, Cisco, and VMware. It is important that the PM leadership team maintain a set of products at different stages in the lifecycle. 

The budget needs to be ring-fenced so that new innovative, but costly, products can have a lifeline. It’s important as a PM to work on a variety of those products, from the new cool ones to the ones where you have to take your turn helping manage a product or release into the end of the lifecycle.

As a PM, what are some of the techniques/hacks you’ve picked up over the years and would recommend to effectively prioritize items on a PM’s backlog?

It’s really important to have a product leadership team consisting of Engineering, Marketing, CTO office, and PMs to prioritize. It’s even better for that team to explicitly do a “where would you spend $100” across different product areas: platform vs. UI, technical debt vs. new features. (I discuss this in my book)

How much of your attention is on the competition versus say, customer-focused innovation? Do you do the balancing act or you are just focusing on delighting your customers What would you do if the competitor launches a feature that is absolutely wonderful?

There is a great danger in chasing competitive features. It’s important to know whether they buy or sell features (if you don’t know what that is, look it up here). 

The importance is to have a roadmap where you retain some % of the engineering calories for working on late coming, must have, competitive features. Even better, differentiate your product in different new ways versus chasing those competitors. That being said sometimes you just have to do it. It’s all about trade-offs.

What challenges have you run into, from a UX perspective, as a Director of PM at an enterprise like Cisco?

UX is an interesting thing. While organizations that move the dial on that have a specific individual or team on UX, it is important to not just look at the “look and feel” but to explore UX from an end to end use case. 

For example, when I was at VMware, we documented about 20 end to end flows through a product and not only tested those end to end use cases, but also looked at the UX (how many clicks, context switches) and eventually the roadmap invested more in making the holistic UX much better for our customers.

Two schools of thought with user research interviews: Pay them because it shows you’re serious, versus, don’t pay them because you should find passionate folks who are willing to help you solve the problem for free. Which one do you align with?

This is always a conundrum. We have paid to get feedback and tried to get passionate people (hence lower response rates). 

I think it’s important to get feedback from both paid for and passionate about the product/features. All too often we get just feedback from our users, but don’t understand well why those who don’t use/buy our product act the way they do.

Have you used the “Jobs to be Done” framework? And if so, how do you feel it overlaps (or doesn’t) with Personas.

Have not directly used that framework, but it is similar to defining personas that use your product and then define end to end flows that your users do to get their work done.

Transition into Product Management

I recently transitioned from Product Analyst to PM. I’m currently at Samsung and trying to decide if I should go for an MBA or look for a mid-sized startup. Any advice?

Interestingly I take a lot of questions on whether PMs to be should do an MBA or not. My personal experience (not having an MBA) is that nothing is lost in not having one as long as you have a strong finance and marketing background (courses or experience).

In general, I have seen great MBA PMs and I have also seen MBA PMs who don’t really understand the domain and live just in PPT. It all depends on what your transferable skills are and how you deploy them.

I’m a hardware PM that has been working on a product for 2.5 years. Should I wait to apply to jobs after the product is released? Is it ok if the Hiring Manager can’t see the product yet?

The general question is how long do I look at working on a project before I upgrade? Generally, you want to experience a complete lifecycle. If your career is peppered with a variety of shorter stays (less than one product lifecycle), it won’t play well with a hiring manager. 

If you are waiting for your product to get out, then build your transferable skills, learn something new. Consult for stock at a startup. As one of my managers once said, we want to see someone who has been to war and returned with the scars to help us figure out what to do and what not to do.

For somebody new to Product Management, what skills should they develop?

The best thing you can do is understand all the disciplines that you will be surrounded with as a PM. Understand the technology you will be working in, marketing programs, sales enablement, finance analysis, even psychology. There is no single item that makes you a great PM.

What advice would you have given Wayne Greene 10 years ago in the field of Product Management considering his goals and obvious aspirations to influence beyond his working peers?

One of the things I have found is that as we build our at home family, there comes a stage where you kind of run out of time as you invest in your kids, etc. 

What I would say to myself is to make sure you continue to invest in networking during that stage. It’s so much easier to find like-minded people online. Don’t wait until you are looking for a new job to start networking…

Though I did my bachelors in Computer Science, I am not that intrigued by coding. Would PM be a good fit for me in this scenario?

One of the best paths into PM is from Software Engineering. The best approach here is to become a Product Owner in the engineering team and use that as a springboard into Product Manager.

Which tools should one be familiar with in order to be a successful PM in software development?

Well, to be a PM surrounded by software types means you need to understand all the recent changes in application architecture, SaaS, and the tools they use in DevOps such as incident management, monitoring, JIRA, etc…

What’s the best way to transition from a Market Intelligence role to a PM role?

I would suggest trying to join a PM team where they have 3-5 people owning a complete product and then you can take on one aspect of it including competitive/market intel.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

For the PMs out there, there is so much to learn, to do, experience to gain. One of the things I suggest is giving my book on Product Leadership a read.

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