Tag Archives: learning product management

Moving to a new location

This blog is not defunct, new blog posts will be posted to another destination. The pending tasks for migration require some hours of effort that I cannot spare at this time.

Hopefully, after Diwali, readers will be able to read about product management in India on the new website.

Hat tip to Cranky Product Manager, I will continue posting new items under my own name, on the new site.

Share Your Story

If you have interviewed for, or worked as a product manager in the technology industry in India, and would like to use this blog to share your stories or experiences, drop me a mail. I will be happy to include guest posts on this blog, if these posts are related to recruitment/interviews/compensation, workplace stories or challenges faced or another relevant topic.

You can also follow me on twitter @desiprodmgr and tweet your interest in guest posts there.

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.

Kaggle for Analytics Competitions – Feedback?

Kaggle is a platform for data prediction competitions. As per their wikipedia entry “This crowdsourcing approach relies on the fact that there are countless strategies that can be applied to any predictive modelling task and it is impossible to know at the outset which technique or analyst will be most effective.”

I reviewed a few competitions on Kaggle, and they seem fairly complex and perhaps a good fit for advanced statisticians or data modelers. However, Kaggle is fairly popular and gets a decent amount of traffic for niche site.

  1. Does anyone have feedback on their personal experiences using Kaggle?
  2. Have you ever recruited or solicited candidates from Kaggle, for analytics roles in offshore development centers or for offshore analytics practices of IT/Analytics firms?
  3. Have you ever used it for networking?

Drop a comment on this post if you have tried any of the three.

Product Manager Maturity Model

Product Manager Maturity Model

There are several different career paths available for technology product managers, but in all of those, there are certain key skills that show how capable a person would be in any role. With job descriptions becoming more and more generic, it is up to you to understand what a role offers and what you might be able to deliver in that role. I will post more on this later.

Web Product Management and JavaScript

If you ask any product manager at a web firm if he does coding, he will respond with a firm “NO”. Then ask him what his work consists of, and he will explain about  use cases, features, experiments and other common responsibilities. At this point, you should ask him if he knows JavaScript and/or HTML and CSS. 90% of web product managers, whether in local market roles or offshore roles, will respond with a “YES”.

Today, it is almost mandatory for web product managers to have knowledge of web software development. And this knowledge is necessary not for software development, but for meaningful conversations about architecture, design and deliverables with the software team. [It helps a lot if you can speak their language!] One of the key components of this lingo is JavaScript, which is surprisingly easy to learn and fairly difficult to master.

In my opinion, JavaScript and Java and 2 programming paradigms similar to RISC and CISC microprocessor architectures. In earlier times, CISC dominated and it required a strong mastery over the instruction set, to construct good quality programs. Later, RISC (and parallel processing in multi-core microprocessors) made life easier for not-so-skilled programmers to churn out software. However, to build really good programs for RISC chips, you still need to learn a lot of “other” constructs apart from the chip’s instruction set. These other constructs are similar to the vast amount of libraries for JavaScript, which make life easier for a master programmer, but difficult for a product manager, if he wants to master coding. Even then, this is far simpler than the hundreds of patterns, libraries and classes that you will need to work on for many years to become a master at Java programming.

More formally, JavaScript is a client-side scripting language, which can be learnt quickly, and will definitely set you apart from the “non-techie” product managers. There are several tutorials that explain the syntax (Hello World!, decisions, loops etc) of JavaScript, and after that, it is just a matter of practising these learnings. Of course, you must have a basic knowledge of software development to fully “speak Javascript”.

So how does this help you as a product manager? As I mentioned before, it is useful in 3 scenarios:

1) Prototyping

No matter which prototyping tool you learn to use, a mockup will rarely be interactive unless you add JavaScript. HTML forms, pages and dialogs will become more clear than basic wireframes when you present the concept to the engineering team. This may even allow them to improve on your efforts during development.

2) Discussions

When your engineering team starts explaining  the benefits of designing “multi-threaded JavaScript objects” running parallelly versus a simple object pool, you should be very sceptical. And knowing JavaScript basics will allow you to research on the net why this could be a bad idea from a time, complexity and engineering resource point of view.

3) Career Development

While a JavaScript certification may never be a career changer, having JavaScript in your skill set, even with an MBA, will set you apart from the other product managers. It’s easy to learn, you can practice it on any laptop and use it practically when needed.

Apart from JavaScript, it is useful to learn HTML and CSS. And recently, there has been a lot of talk about “Big Data” technologies such as Hadoop, Hive, PIG etc. More on that in a later post.

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.

Social Media and the Product Manager in India

[The original title was “Facebook and the product manager in India” however, I expanded the post to include all social media]

So what is the value, if any, of social media to a product manager in India? The short answer, for consumer products it is a vital communication channel whereas for enterprise software, it is just another way to connect with clients.

Let’s break this down into some detail here.

What is social media?

Social MediaWikipedia has a good article on social media with a clear definition. For me, social media is all media or any communication channel where user-generated content predominates. This includes blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, Pinterest and all such entities. It is usually a broadcast medium, which also enables peer-to-peer interactions (sometimes its the other way around). I also include product forums in this definition. Now let’s take a look at the value of social media.

Social Media for Enterprise Product Managers

Market Facing Roles
If you are in an Indian market enterprise product management role, you need to be aware of social media, and run a blog. The reality is that very few enterprises in India have adopted social media at all. And it is not seen as an authoritative communication channel. You should focus only on gaining experience of working with social media, for future opportunities.

Offshore Roles
In an offshore enterprise role, you ability to influence social media is limited, however, there will be ample opportunities to consume social media. For eg, on twitter you can follow @Forrester and similar sources and collect news and updates about the industry. Or you could update your company’s YouTube channel with product videos or slideshows, usually in collaboration with the product marketing manager.

Social Media for Consumer Product Managers

Market Facing Roles
In a market facing role, you really need to establish a social media strategy for your product. This will include the channels to use, the content creation and sharing plans, market research plan, the quarterly connect with customer plan and other relevant details for your strategy. Additionally, you need an analytics tools to track online customer sentiment. Customer sentiment is a useful input for new feature ideas or feedback on existing features.

Offshore Roles
There is lesser challenge in consuming and interacting on social media in an offshore product management role for consumer products than enterprise products. The main difference here is that your ability to connect the social media updates with real world interactions is severely curtailed. However, you can maintain an active presence on Facebook or Twitter, based on your organization’s policies.

Content Creation Strategy

Fundamentally, content creation must be tied to the goal of connecting the product with its customers. If you think up enough use cases, the content for communication will come up by itself, and then the main task will be to translate that content into appropriate form (video, slides, tweets containing URLs, blog posts etc) to share via the different channels. You should get the marketing communication team involved in this effort. Creating research polls and soliciting beta testers is also easier if your presence is already established online.

Content Consumption and Analysis Strategy

In my opinion, you should subscribe to a feed service and an analytics tool that a) summarize the updates on different channels b) provide reports on those updates. Unfortunately, most services offering these capabilities are expensive. So a free substitute would be to download these updates periodically and use open source tools such as PSPP to analyse the information. If your marketing team has a social media presence, then the same people can help you set up your product’s presence as well.

Summing Up

Social media is a somewhat useful tool for a product manager in a variety of scenarios such as sentiment analysis, sharing product demos and videos, getting industry updates, tracking competition etc. It’s importance changes relative to the type of product management role you are in.  It is good to consume social media if you’re working in an offshore role, whereas it is important to develop and maintain a strong presence for your product line in a market facing role. And remember, the social media presence is for your product or product line, not you as an individual.

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.