Tag Archives: Ebook review

Book Review – Stealing the Corner Office

Had been busy for a while, but have managed to read a book in the downtime. The book is titled “Stealing the Corner Office“. I have posted a brief review in the resources section. It’s a little expensive to buy in India, but the lessons it imparts about the workplace are invaluable. In case you are a corporate citizen with access to an online library, do read this book. If you are building your own collection of useful books, then you must buy this one.

Book Review: The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing

Strategy and Tactics of PricingThe Strategy and Tactics of Pricing is actually a management textbook, typically prescribed as a required reading or a reference text in a course on pricing for undergraduates or MBA students. However, the book is very well written and is a must read for all product managers. The book has also received glowing reviews on Amazon.com.

If you wish to understand how pricing is done, or take part in pricing discussions with senior leadership, or price a new product or service, read this book.

About the Book

The book talks about the 3 core principles of strategic pricing, that strategic pricing should be value-based, proactive (where you anticipate large deals, competition response and develop models to account for those) and profit driven (focus on your targeted profit). It then shows the limitations of cost-plus pricing, customer driven pricing and pricing for market share. A Wikipedia article has a detailed description of the different pricing strategies.

The other chapters in the book cover

  • value creation and what it means to the firm and its customers
  • pricing structures
  • pricing communication with stakeholders
  • pricing policy and pricing levels
  • pricing over the product life-cycle
  • driving implementation of the pricing strategy
  • understanding costs and basic financial analysis
  • competition and pricing sensitivity analysis
  • Following the ethics and laws on pricing

Overall, a complete reading of this book 2 or 3 times should make one confident to take up a pricing task and drive a pricing strategy. This information is of great value to a product manager in any role (on-site or offshore) for all types of product sales models (subscription, licensing, freemium, cost+maintenance and others). The challenge will be to keep these learnings since pricing decisions come around very rarely, and are normally taken up by the Director/VP of product management.

For Product Managers

Product pricing is a very important dimension of product management. And it is a sensitive and critical issue in most organizations. In many cases, pricing approval is actually done by the CEO or Executive Management. In the pricing exercise, there are multiple stakeholders and everyone wants the “best price”. However, the definition of best price is different for all. Sales wants the upfront price lower than competitors, finance wants to look at the cost/price variance and the best ROI possible and marketing wants to dictate the price. So it is the product manager’s role to build a valid structure for pricing the product/service or the deal and then come up with a logical product price (which could actually be higher than the competition’s price) for different situations.

This book explains pricing very well, and you should definitely keep a copy on your desk as a reference. It is as useful for pricing SAAS products as it is for pricing consumer or enterprise packaged products.

Note: In case you have a traditional software engineering->product management career path, you may want to pick up a few courses on corporate finance and management accounting. They will help you a lot if you are ever involved in pricing decisions. A part time MBA could also be useful.

Book Review: High-Tech High-Touch Customer Service

Hightech HightouchHigh-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service is a book by Micah Solomon, a writer and business strategist. He is well-known in the field of customer service, particularly on B2C customer service. However, the book is about customer service in general and is of some relevance to people in the B2B world too. If you are the product manager of a consumer facing product, or are looking to understand how customer service impacts your product sales, its lifecycle or its quality, you should read this book. Additionally, you could also recommend your HR team to buy this book for the customer service team in your organization.

About the Book

The book is divided into 3 parts, part 1 covers Timeliness and Timelessness in customer service, with several examples. Part 2 is called High-Tech, High-Touch Anticipatory Customer Service and it talks about your company culture, its customer service, the importance of autonomy in the service team and the ability to anticipate customer needs and it has several examples on these themes. Part 3 talks about customer self-service, social media and the principles to assimilate with these new paradigms.

There are 13 chapters in the book, and you can read through it in a couple of days, or browse through it a few chapters at a time. It also has examples of customer service within many organizations, such as Zappos, SouthWest Airlines and Apple.

For Product Managers

Fundamentally, there is no ground breaking insight in the book, but there are a lot of common sense principles discussed here, which we occasionally lose sight of, in the rush to design the product and get it out of the door. Today, a significant part of enterprise product management activities is about defining incremental releases and tracking the existing deployments and the client satisfaction with the product. This is actually as important as defining features and benefits for the new release, to sell to new clients and accounts.

Additionally, in the B2B world, a very important metric for retaining and growing accounts is CSAT or Customer Satisfaction. This is usually a numeric value, which determines the success of failure of your product in a vertical, geography or customer segment. To ensure customer satisfaction purely from brilliant features of a product is a really tough ask, and so customer support also has a very important role to play in improving and maintaining CSAT.

Of course, as a consumer market product manager, you must remain on top of all customer issues surfacing after the product release. And CSAT is also measured reliably if you are closely tracking the social media outlets.

This book gives several ideas for bringing together the strategy to retain existing users and gain more users. It would be a great exercise for any product manager to identify how they can integrate these ideas into product features and follow through with customer support trainings for the same.

Note: In case you manage a high technology product, I strongly recommend that you spend time with your customer service team. Understanding the product deployments and troubleshooting problem scenarios is a great exercise to gain insights into product usage.

Book Review: Rocket Surgery Made Easy

Book: Rocket Surgery Made EasyUsability studies are very important for consumer facing websites, as they directly impact the funnel metrics (downloads/visits, engagements, conversions and journey abandonment). If you are a product manager for a web-based application or website looking to increase incoming traffic, then you should definitely learn about usability design and testing.

Steve Krug’s first book called “Don’t Make Me Think” was about online usability and was a big hit among web designers and consumer web enthusiasts. It answered the question “why is usability important”, and provided specific recommendations for website design in the following 3 parts:

1. Guiding Principles
2. Things You Need To Get Right
3. Larger Concerns And Outside Influences

Subsequently, he has written a follow-up book, “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” which emphasises how product managers and UX designers should conduct usability tests for their website. [Actually the  principles given in the book can also be applied for any mobile app testing]

This book is a good guide to usability testing, filled with examples and has many suggestions for running test studies. It’s fairly short, and can be read in a couple of hours, or skimmed through in about 30 minutes.

The book is divided into 3 parts:

  • Finding Usability Problems: This section talks about the common usability issues and how to prepare for testing them
  • Fixing Usability Problems: This section talks about the ways to identify usability issues and potential fixes after diagnosis
  • The Road Ahead (This talks about remote testing, and lists additional reading material)

You should keep this book as a reference, as it introduces usability testing formally, increases your knowledge about UX and clears most misconceptions about the product-feature usage. It also has a sample test script and consent form, that gives an idea of how to sign-up beta testers.

If you are a junior product manager and can drive usability testing for your website section, or for a particular feature set, or the entire site, then you will have a significant advantage over your peer PMs.

I strongly believe that product managers must continuously learn new skills and UX design and testing is has become a must-have skill today. Formal knowledge of usability testing will definitely help in your career growth as a product manager.

My 5 New Year Resolutions on Product Management

1. Work more closely with large accounts

Sitting in India and working with overseas clients, there are a lot of buffers such as service delivery, account management, sales leadership and program management that are involved in day-to-day client engagement. This makes it difficult for an offshore enterprise product manager to get on an exclusive call with the client, and almost impossible to get face time with the client. The way out is to create more surveys, feedback forms, presentations and reports to engage the client while other teams also sit in on the call.

2. More interactions with sales teams

Same challenge goes in the efforts to find the pain points of the sales teams, the way they approach the client and the quality of interaction that occurs between them. It is an offshore PM’s responsibility to connect with the sales and technical sales teams every month and make sure that they are up to speed about the product and the roadmap. Even in an Indian market PM role, it is easy to get caught up in product design and development and forget about the post-release sales efforts.

3. Work in an Indian market product management role

Based on conversations with peers, and tracking general hiring trends, I have a strong feeling that the PM roles in R&D centers in India are stagnating or declining in value to the US organization. Consequently, the quality of work on offer, and the type of people they hire will be one-dimensional. One of my personal resolutions is to find the rare software firm focused on the Indian market and support its product management initiatives. With the rise of SAAS, these firms should have an interesting journey.

4. Read more books, research

Software engineering and creating and managing technology products are very innovative areas and there is constant research going on around the world on these topics. I plan to read many more books, periodicals and research publications on these to keep abreast of the latest trends in my profession. One book that I intend to read and review soon is Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. It is a nice book that talks about strategy in successful firms.

5. Blog more

I started this blog in Dec 2012, after a lot of procrastination. This year I plan to blog on PM trainings, reviews and other observations several times a week.

Happy New Year to All!

E-Book Review: Strategic Role of Product Management

Book SRPM

What is it About?
This is a short e-book by Pragmatic Marketing about the strategic value of a good product management team to any technology organization.

Who should read it?
It is a good read for PMs who are not sure of the tasks they handle in their company. It offers compelling arguments for the strategic nature of product management activities. It also clearly distinguishes the roles of sales, marketing, finance and product management in the technology organization. It should be circulated among the senior management staff in offshore R&D centers to make them comfortable with the role of product managers.

Key Takeaways

  • Product Managers understand and try to fulfill market needs, not customer, engineering, finance or sales needs
  • The Product Management team has a variety of tasks, and product marketing, product line managers and technical product managers can co-exist within the same team, working on different aspects of the product portfolio
  • Product Management is a strategic role, and PMs should not report to engineering or other functions, but directly to the CEO

What is Missing?
The e-book does not discuss the software engineering process, and the role of product owners. Agile is relegated to the task list of the technical product manager. It offers little insights into how an offshore product management role could be structured or how someone should work in that role. Finally, there is little information on how to train product managers on the flawless execution of their various tasks.

Relevance for Indian Product Managers
This is an excellent e-book to share with the organization, if you are new to the function, or if the role of product managers was introduced recently. It also evangelizes the value of product management, so getting stakeholder buy-in should be easier once they read it. Finally, if you are in offshore product management (enterprise or consumer) you can expect only the role of technical product manager to be relevant to your work.

Final Thoughts
Read the e-book, share it with everyone whom you are trying to influence, and learn from the examples given in it. Attend the training that they organize, if it happens in India.

E-Book Review: Product Management Expertise

Ebook

Steve Johnson, formerly of  Pragmatic Marketing and currently consulting at Under10 Templates has written a nice and succinct e-book titled Product Management Expertise, which can be read in under 30 minutes. I would recommend it for everyone working as a product manager in India.

The central idea of the e-book is that Product Management has 4 key dimensions, and your firm should invest in hiring people for all four, and not make one person responsible for all of this.

So what are the 4 dimensions? Briefly:

  1. Domain Knowledge (What he has learnt on the job)
  2. Business Knowledge (mostly about the benefit of MBA)
  3. Technology Knowledge (preferably with an engineering background)
  4. Markets Knowledge (Has done non-engineering work before)

This is similar to the idea of multi-dimensional product management that I emphasize, but what Steve points out is that it is very difficult to find a single person, who is an expert in all these. And hence a firm should hire multiple people. This brings up a strong challenge of organizational design, which is successfully handled only by very large firms, and is extremely unlikely to happen in India.

[If you know of some firm that actually has all these roles in the same team here, send me a mail]

One other thing, domain and technology knowledge is all that is tested in interviews for offshore product management roles, whether in consumer (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft etc) or enterprise (IBM, Oracle etc) PM roles. So it is obvious how a prospective PM candidate for these MNCs in India should promote himself.

Previously, Steve has authored another well received e-book called “The Strategic Role of Product Management“, which is also a quick read, and worth a look.