Archive for the ‘Product Management’ Category

Vision

It’s worth spending time creating a compelling vision statement because it’s something that will be repeated over and over again as it’s the key driver to drum up excitement, passion, investment, confidence and trust that the product direction is aligned to the business, solving a real problem and then, in turn, delivering significant value for the business and customers.

First things first, craft your vision statement which should only be one clear sentence, wherein a nutshell it should explain what you’re looking to deliver, to who and why:

Vision statement

Then create a product vision board specifying who the target market is for your product, problems the product solves, clarifying what the product is and how the product is going to benefit the business and customers:

Vision board

Lastly, having a vision diagram is a great way of providing stakeholders and the business with a visual image of the status of the product capabilities of where you’re at with the product today and where you’re heading. Having colour coding for ‘live’, ‘in progress’, ‘planned’ and ‘to do’ would cover it – there are plenty of mind map tools to help you visualise your product, one of which is Lucidchart which comes as a plugin for Confluence also. It’s important to keep the product diagram focused on high-level features rather than detailed technical solutions around systems as that would be more of a technical architectural diagram:

Vision diagram

Having a solid product vision isn’t just to help the business allocate resource, but it’s also essential for the development team to know exactly where they need to head and why.

Once you have a compelling product vision, it’s time to find out how to get there by creating your VMOST!

Once you’ve defined a compelling Product Vision and VMOST, you will need to map out the ‘what’ and ‘when’ and the Product Roadmap is a great way of visualising the journey.

The Product Roadmap is also a good way of managing expectations with stakeholders, a great visual to collaborate over and view dependencies, as well as giving assurance to the engineers that you do have a well thought out data-focused plan rather than changing your mind daily based on who shouts the loudest.

Key points of a Product Roadmap:

  • It should be at a high-level eg. Epic, feature or iteration level – Epic level is a preference as then it maps nicely to the teams’ product backlog items (PBI) under the epics.
  • It needs to include dates spanning the next twelve months whether monthly or quarterly.
  • The bars on the chart show when items start and when the development will be complete (live hidden).
  • One of the most important things is to educate development teams and stakeholders that the drop dates are an intent (not commitment) of focus/delivery and that things will change, so it’s advisable to avoid spending significant amounts of time making each item exact, as the desire from the business would be to have a rough idea of the twelve-month view rather than knowing whether something starting in six months will be delivered exactly a month later than that for example.
  • The roadmap needs to be easily accessible by anyone in the business where they can use their network login and can also access it from outside the office eg. on the train – if it’s hard to access, people just won’t view it and assume there’s no plan.
  • It needs to be updated frequently – if it’s regularly out of date, again people just won’t access it.

Product Roadmap examples

Roadmap sample 1

Roadmap sample 2

The most important purpose of the Product Roadmap is for you to provide a sign of intent for when product items will be delivered over the next twelve months (your journey to reach your goals/product vision), with the keyword being ‘intent’ here ie. Not an exact drop-dead delivery date. Product Managers with experience of the teams’ velocity could use gut feel also which is acceptable or rough t-shirt sizing from the lead developers, rather than dragging the dev teams away for hours/days to roughly size big pieces of work which will either 1. Change anyway and 2. Be extremely inaccurate as unknowns result in estimates going through the roof.

Lean

A product team is never short of customer problems to solve or ideas to validate, so if there are activities in the idea -> customer flow which are wasteful, then this impacts delivering customer/business value, motivation and time to market.

In the middle of the 20th century, Toyota created an efficient manufacturing concept called Lean which grew out of their Toyota Production System. It is based on the philosophy of defining value from the customer’s viewpoint and continually improving the way in which value is delivered, by eliminating waste or anything which does not contribute to the value goal.

The core 5 principles for adopting a Lean way of working for a digital product are:

  1. Define Value – Understand and define what is valuable to your customers.
  2. Map the Value Stream – Using your customer’s value as a reference point, map out the activities you take to contribute to these values throughout the idea -> customer flow. Also map out all of the activities which don’t contribute to delivering customer value which is essentially waste and should be reduced as much as possible.
  3. Create Flow – Once you have removed the waste from the value stream, the focus should be on ensuring that the remaining activities which are valuable, flow smoothly without interruptions or delays, with some strategies including: DevOps practices, automation, breaking down steps, creating cross-functional departments and training employees to be multi-skilled and adaptive.
  4. Establish Pull – The goal of a pull-based system is to limit your work in process (WIP) items while ensuring that your highest priority customer Product Backlog Items (PBIs) are in a ready state for a smooth flow of work. By following the value stream and working backwards through the idea -> customer flow, you can ensure that your product development will be able to satisfy the needs of your customers.
  5. Pursue Perfection – Every employee should strive towards perfection while delivering products that customers needs and love. The company should be a learning organisation and always find ways to get a little better each and every day.

Some examples of my experience on reducing waste to deliver more customer value:

We introduced DevOps, where we optimised our release pipeline making it 83% quicker to deploy software updates to the team environment and 92% quicker to deploy builds to live.

We reduced the time to market for a new website from 18 months to just 4 weeks! This was achieved by identifying waste through value stream mapping, then using that analysis to simplify the code base and reconfigure some of the hard coded elements of the code (waste) to make them remotely configurable through a CMS.

The last example had the most impact where we merged a floor of front-end developers with a floor of back-end developers to create cross-functional high performing teams.

Good luck in your journey to become Lean!

If you’re a product owner, associate product manager or product manager wanting to understand the full breadth of the product manager role, I’ve put together a generic product manager job description, so that gap analysis can be done to learn and gain experience in your knowledge gaps, which will set you up for success in the world of product management.

It’s unlikely that you will be provided with guidance or training on the full breadth of the product manager role and it’s up to you to proactively fill in your knowledge gap by testing and learning new ways of working with your product, reading books and being curious by collaborating with different areas of the business to find out more about the customer, their role and product performance.

About the role:

The Product Manager will join the product management team and take the pivotal role of managing their product line and its outcome on the customer and business.

The candidate will manage the entire product life-cycle across their product line to solve customer and/or business problems using Agile and Lean principles, by collaborating with their cross-functional team (which also includes a product designer and several engineers), as well as key stakeholders including other product managers across other product lines, BI, commercial, operations, marketing, brand, customer support and legal / compliance teams – the Product Manager is at the heart of the business, so building strong relationships and having good communication skills is important.

The Product Manager is expected to:

  • Define, manage and share the vision, missions, KPI’s, strategies and roadmap for their product line.
  • Own and manage the product backlog, so that the highest priority PBI’s are ready to be solved / validated with a PRD / hypothesis.
  • Manage all aspects of in-life products for their product line, including customer feedback, requirements, and issues.
  • Proactively collect and analyse qualitative and quantitative data to aid prioritisation and to explain why the problem is worth solving.
  • Have a deep understanding of customers by talking to customers and customer support frequently.
  • Collaborate with marketing to continually grow the product.
  • Discover new ideas / problems in collaboration with stakeholders.
  • Drive action across the business to get time sensitive product iterations to market on time.
  • Review how time to market can be reduced across their product line using Lean principles.
  • Manage stakeholder expectations when there are multiple constraints.
  • Adapt to change quickly and creatively find ways to validate ideas with customers in a Lean way.
  • Proactively remove any impediments from getting the value from idea to the customer.
  • Clearly describe what problem we need to solve, the value and customer flows to the development teams and stakeholders.
  • Dynamically switch from live support / BAU to long term strategy on a day-to-day basis.
  • Monitor product performance daily and communicate wins across the business.
  • Monitor and research the market to understand competitor SWOT.
  • Present product performance to senior stakeholders quarterly.
  • Create and share a product delivery update every two weeks.
  • Be the player and use the product frequently including user acceptance testing.
  • Line manage and mentor associate product managers.

Overall

  • Embracing their product line knowledge and effectively sharing with other team members and stakeholders.
  • Evangelising their product.
  • Striving to make progress towards their KPI goals everyday.
  • Leading the go to market (GTM) strategy within Agile methodologies.
  • Focusing on outcomes rather than outputs.
  • Accountable for the success of their product line.

Position Qualification & Experience Requirements

  • Passionate about solving customer problems.
  • Proactive with stakeholder engagement.
  • Proven track record of managing all aspects of a successful product.
  • Strong time management and organisational skills.
  • Experience with Scrum, Kanban and Lean principles and methods.
  • Strong problem solving skills and willingness to roll up one’s sleeves to get the job done.
  • Will give exemplary attention to detail and have excellent communication skills.
  • Is creative with an analytical approach and can easily switch between creative and analytical work.
  • Outgoing, positive and forward thinking.
  • Excellent communicator of product updates, trends, priority and the rationale behind them.
  • Have an obsession with creating great products with your team that customers love.
  • Has a high EQ.
  • Become the voice of the customer – be an expert on quantitative and qualitative insights.
  • Experience with tools such as Tableau, Aha!, Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Jira, Confluence, Lucidchart, Firebase or other equivalent tools.

Martin Luther King inspired millions to stand up against inequality and injustice, because he started with WHY.

Apple is worth $2 trillion and managed to build a cultish loyal following, because Steve Jobs always started with WHY.

Simon Sinek is able to repeat his success again and again and inspire others to do the same, because he focuses on WHY.

The Wright Brothers managed to invent, build and fly the first motor operated airplane, because they started with WHY.

Becoming a billion-dollar business or change the course of industries requires a rare special partnership between one who knows WHY and those who know HOW.

Employees give 110% to the mission, when they know WHY.

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Another inspiring book by Simon which I’d recommend to anyone in a leadership role.

As 2020 came to an end, I reflected on how I fell in love with books at the start of 2019.

After reading Kaizen by Sarah Harvey and the way I digested the contents and reflected, gave me inspiration to continue…which quickly came into a constant hunger to learn from other people’s experiences and beliefs when it came to product management, leadership and personal development, which has helped me validate, improve and shape my understanding.

The top 3 books which made the most impact / I’ve learnt from most last year:

1. Managing Product = Managing Tension by Marc Abraham

2. Inspired by Marty Cagan

3. The Product Manager’s Survival Guide by Steven Haines

Roll on more learning in 2021!

Very inspiring book by Simon Sinek, where he explains a concept called Circle of Safety, where only when people feel safe will they pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.

“When we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”

The book explains well that a title doesn’t make you a leader, but instead leading with purpose having empathy, trust, integrity and creating a safe autonomous environment is key to being an effective leader.

Simon includes stories of the damage which unhealthy cultures can have, includes detailed explanations of the science behind why some teams pull together and some don’t and has fascinating insights into how leadership has changed over the generations which includes an extra chapter on how to lead Millennials.

It’s a must read for anyone responsible for defining and delivering a vision.

In this book Nir Eyal provides a simple yet powerful model to help your customers form habits that connect their problems with your solutions.

The Hooked model focuses on:
An initial ‘trigger’
Which drives an ‘action’
Where you get a ‘variable reward’
Which causes an ‘investment’ due to reciprocation

Nir provides some fascinating insights into how companies have successfully adopted this model eg. Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Tinder and case studies from The Bible App and Fitbod, where Nir tells his story of the personal benefits he got from Fitbod.

Social media companies and video game makers know these tactics already, but Nir wrote this book so everyone can build products that help people do what they really want, but for the lack of good product design, don’t.

A must-read for everyone who cares about driving customer engagement.

Product Owner is a job role that came out of Scrum and although many organisations use it as a job title that is interchangeable with Product Manager, it’s not correct. In Scrum the Product Owner is defined as the person who is responsible for creating PBI’s and grooming the backlog, in Agile it was defined as the representative of the business, and neither entirely describe the full breadth of a Product Manager’s responsibilities.

Product Owner is a role you play in an Agile team, whereas a Product Manager is the job title of someone responsible for a product and its outcome on the customer and the business.

Now a lot of Product Owners out there are great Product Managers, and they should just change their title. But a fair number of Product Owners have simply completed a certified Scrum product owner course and are told to just get on with managing the development backlog, which sets them up to fail as they never consider the broader role. So if you’re tasking a Product Owner with the broader product management responsibilities, make sure you provide the training they need to master the full breadth of the role (and then change their title).

The structure of the product organisation and culture also has a bearing on whether you have the autonomy to fulfil the Product Manager job. When using Agile / Lean methods it should be the Agile team (Product Manager, Product Designer and Dev team) who make the key product decisions / trade offs, instead it can often be held centrally at a senior management level, where multiple Product Managers / Owners are assigned random projects from a roadmap to just execute which is a more Waterfall / Project Management approach. Those who find themselves in this situation should find haven in a more empowered/Agile/product led organisation which will accelerate their learning and understanding of the full breadth of the Product Manager job.

Really glad I bought this book by Noel Tichy – the inspiring stories and explanations gave me plenty of opportunity to self-reflect about my leadership capabilities, which has explained a lot and given me confidence that I’m heading in the right direction.

Tichy explains how organisations that have a Leadership Engine win because they have leaders at every level who teach others to be leaders. Teaching and learning are at the heart of these organisations.

“A crucial element in this process is that winning leaders and winning companies use mistakes as coaching opportunities rather than causes for punishment. Treating mistakes as learning experiences, in fact, is one of the ways in which winning leaders encourage others to develop edge and take the risk of making tough decisions.”

I’d definitely recommend this book.

Enjoyable short read, where Roman Pichler describes the key product leadership challenges, along with ways to use your heart and mind to work effectively with the dev team and stakeholders to create value together.

Roman talks about mindfulness and the leadership-related gains for product people it can have such as greater serenity, increased empathy and better decision-making.

To focus on the important, but less urgent work you need to “be willing to set boundaries, say no, and let go: You can’t do everything without either neglecting your core responsibilities or sacrificing your health, neither of which is desirable.”

But also success doesn’t happen by magic, as Roman explains that “in addition to embracing a can-do attitude, achievement requires effort and discipline. The better we want to become at something, the more effort we have to invest.”

Leaders need to “be a role model and exhibit the behaviour you want to see in others. Listen empathically, speak truthfully and kindly, and make an effort to be open-minded.”

A must read for both new and experienced product people.

This colossal 786 page desk reference provides a fantastic perspective for professionalising Product Management, inspired by Steven Haines vision for this profession.

Throughout the book it focused on a Cross-Functional Product Team, which most people would immediately think would be just a PO/PM and dev team, but instead it was refreshing to see product in the centre of the whole organisation and that product team including someone from marketing/sales, customer service, operations, development, legal…..also in my experience when a product manager brings this team together is where the magic happens.

Steven explains regardless of development methodology, it’s important to remember that the product manager is in charge of the product’s business, not just the product’s functionality, design or features.

“No one will bestow Product Management leadership on you. It is yours to own, to internalize, and to practice”

“Product Managers will earn greater levels of credibility across the organization when they understand and act on proven facts and relevant data”

This book will remain on my desk and I’d recommend it to any ambitious product manager.

A very timely book by Marc Abraham with Covid adding more tension to everyone’s lives.

Whilst it does take experience and confidence before you can lean into tension effectively, Marc explains that embracing tension is also not easy, but it is absolutely worth it!

Marc explains the benefits of ‘accepting radically’ with tips on how to allow your mind to accept things for what they are (and aren’t), so that you can focus your mind and energy on things you can change which result in more productive outcomes.

“Tensions are inherent to products and that we as product people should find ways to embrace that”

“Pressure is an integral part of life, work, being. We might as well accept this tension, starting with a full awareness of how we perceive tension and how others around us view our perceptions and behaviours”

“When curiosity is combined with passion in the exploration of a subject, an individual may be able to acquire an amount of knowledge comparable to that of a person who is exceptionally intelligent”

“Keeping on top of your product means continuous learning and improvement, with a relentless focus bettering your ways of working”

What a brilliant way of explaining the benefits of DevOps and Agile, through this novel by Gene KimKevin Behr and George. Spafford.

This book takes you on a journey where it articulates beautifully the problems which a lot of businesses have pre digital transformation – the politics, the waste, the chaos, the inefficiency of getting ideas to customers, lack of innovation alongside the benefits of adopting a DevOps culture and practices to solve these problems.

It amazed me how accurate the book is and brought back fond memories of the DevOps journey we went on in my previous job, the value it created and a challenging time when I had to juggle similar competing priorities all at once like Bill and Chris did with big projects relating to urgent security, compliance, stability/performance, tech debt and live issues alongside everything else all at once.

Coincidentally half way through reading we were releasing one of the biggest software releases I’ve been involved in, so it made the reading even more exciting and inspiring.

“Every industry and company not bringing software to the core of their business will be disrupted”

You can’t get a more comprehensive book on product leadership than this by Richard BanfieldMartin Eriksson & Nate Walkingshaw, where they explain in detail what it means to be a product leader, how they launch great products and build successful teams.

“For many product leaders, work life is a constant tension between delivering value to one group and telling another they can’t have what they want. Shipping product, and its associated value, is the reason these product leaders get up and go to work”

“It is not about individual success, it’s about getting the best out of others”

“What is common in high-performing teams is that they are cross-functional, collocated and autonomous”

How to identify product leaders:

🔸️ Plays well with others
🔸️ Seeks challenge
🔸️ Gets their hands dirty
🔸️ Always acts and thinks “team first”
🔸️ Is comfortable wearing lots of hats
🔸️ Displays curiosity
🔸️ Communicates well
🔸️ Possesses selling skills
🔸️ Has exceptional time management skills
🔸️ Is a visionary
🔸️ Shows equanimity/grace under fire

This has to be the best book I’ve read on product management. I loved the way Marc Abraham has put his heart and experience into every chapter making it extremely authentic and realistic when talking about the different techniques and the challenging scenarios that a product manager often faces.

The book has a good structure to each subject which includes the goal, related tools and techniques to consider, in-depth look, key takeaways and how to apply these takeaways.

Marc explains “Product Janitors..

..because product management can be such a broadly defined role, there is a risk that product managers end up doing a bit of everything-mopping up the things that other team members do not want to do..
..as a result, these product managers are unable to act effectively, by which I mean they fail to identify and manage products that are valuable, usable and feasible”

“When you spend more time talking to ‘internal stakeholders’ than your customers, you’ve lost the ship”

Another nugget from this short read “if I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solutions”- Albert Einstein

A short read by Kevin Brennan which provides a high-level guide on 52 approaches covering the full breadth of Product Management.

Because of the way it’s laid out, it makes it easy to refer back to when you’re next putting together a business case, product strategy, product manager’s job description etc, so it makes a good desk reference.

It was nice to read Steven Haines view on product management. Another good book for anyone wanting a solid overview of the product manager role…

“Many people confuse product management with product development, and some confuse product management with project management…

..The system of product management touches and influences all the organic supporting structures-all the business functions. Think of the human body; product management is in the circulatory system, the neural network, and, of course, the command and control center (the brain).”

Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos says “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

And the final nugget from the book “measure twice, cut once”.

Want to know more about the product manager role?

New to product management?

Stuck spending most of your time on tactical work and need a recap on the fundamentals of being a product manager?….

…then I’d recommend this book by Josh Anon where he’s written a really good comprehensive guide to becoming a great product manager.

The way this book uncovers the key capabilities that drive improvements in software delivery performance is brilliant.

It was interesting to read the science behind the research findings and the rigorous research methods used which was predominantly done by surveys, which I’m a big fan of.

I’d definitely recommend this book by Nicole ForsgrenJez Humble and Gene Kim