As mentioned in a previous post, product management remains my core skill set. Over the years, I have used many resources such as pragmatic marketing and have adapted them to fit my purpose.
I continue here some findings and perspective on the product management function in a tech company.
The product management key tasks and deliverables
By nature, product management is articulated around three main domains
- Product strategy:
- evaluation of the market, its dynamics, the competition, the clients, the standards, the regulation, the prices and costs. Negotiations with sales and management
- Inventory of market requirements, release frequency and timing, price book, market share, P&L…
- Product technology:
- evolution of the technology, review of the architectural and design principles of the product and releases, negotiation with engineering and presales,
- technical product requirements, release content, technical roadmap, engineering debt
- Product marketing
- Production marketing collaterals, presentation in trade shows and channels management
- Product presentations, brochures, web sites, demos,
Many product managers are proficient in one or two, rarely in three dimensions.
Market analysis is a function that can be separate from product management and sit for instance in research or in marketing in large companies. It provides the situational awareness necessary to understand:
- What are the problems in the market the product can solve?
- Who are the competitors and what are their trajectory and SWOT?
- What is the size of the market today and in the future? What market share can be attained?
The technological dimension of market analysis is a natural complement to the strategic part, evaluating standards and competitive capabilities, gap with current offering as well as the evolution of the technology state of the art and timing to include in the roadmap.
Depending on the maturity and seniority of the product management team, quantitative analysis can be an integral part of the product management function. It relies on reviewing the product’s performance against the market and the customers demand and on sizing each opportunity in terms of cost, cost-benefit and price to facilitate decision taking as it pertains to committing to development work that are beyond or outside the roadmap.
The conditions for rigorous quantitative analysis are a strong financial background as well as management guidance in terms of gross margin objectives and conditions for deviation.
A controversial topic in quantitative analysis is the product pricing and pricing strategy. Traditionally reserved to sales and management functions in start up environments, whenever a company scales and has strong financial guidance in terms of costs and margins, this responsibility tends to transition to where the decisions can be taken in terms of trade off between cost opportunity in the roadmap: product management.
Sales functions have a strong input, in many cases a veto or overwrite capacity, but it is important that product management can record and show what would be the price of a feature, a change request, in normal conditions, with a normal customer, before are applied extenuating circumstances such as end of quarter pressure, strategic customer, competitive pressure, etc.
Product strategy is charting the position of the product offering in the market. It requires a good understanding of the current position, a strong vision of the direction to take, as well as the creation of unfair competitive advantages. This part of product management is usually more qualitative and an effort to put metrics and quantitative KPIs for decision making usually revolve around the creation of business cases. These documents, financial in nature present the product or release market potential in terms of revenue, margin contribution, costs and effort for approval from management prior to commitment to develop.
Product planning is the core of the product management function and relates to the charting in time of the product evolution. It requires a strong inventory system and series of tools for the recording and tracking of user stories, requirements, features, releases… into a coherent, resource and time-constrained framework. The roadmap, the release milestones, their content in features, the dates of availability and non functional requirements are some of the artefacts produced within this discipline.
The program strategy is a market facing phase that consists in crafting the product or release market positioning and associated high level collaterals. It also touches upon the go to market strategy and helps with the channel, VARs and intermediaries, both in terms of selection, alliance management and creation of specific collaterals.
Sales readiness is an important part of the product management function. In many cases, the product manager is an important part of the sales cycle when it is necessary to support customer meetings, RFP defense, partner meetings, trade shows, etc… As the number of sales people and prospects increases, it is easy for a product manager to find herself pulled in many travels. While it is an important part of product management to get customer feedback and ideas, many customer meetings are more sale than ideation. This system does not scale well unless a strong pre sales / sales engineering function is put in place. It becomes then crucial and the responsibility of product management to ensure that this team is trained and equipped with the collaterals to support the sales function and process.
Good product managers are sales best friends. They know the product in depth and can convince the most skeptical customers. Unfortunately, since there is traditionally one or a couple of product managers per product and several hundreds or thousands potential clients, it is difficult for product management to assist in all sales meetings. The sales activities that require product management travel should be prioritize to ensure that the best support can be provided for the most important meetings. Product management must produce the training and collaterals necessary for pre sales and sales engineering to perform sales support efficiently.