Tag Archives: product management dimensions

Product Manager Or Business Analyst

[In a previous post, I had mentioned the overlap between the role of a product manager and a business analyst]

Here’s a scenario, you have several years of engineering experience under your belt. You have also managed to get a part-time MBA during your career. And now your organization has moved you from engineering/dev-ops/tech. support to product management. Here is another scenario, you have been working as a business analyst in an IT services firm, and have worked for a few product development clients. And now a client in that domain has offered you a product management role.

Is it time to celebrate this awesome product management opportunity?

Well…read further. The following job features may indicate that you end up working as a business analyst.

Reporting to Another Product Manager

No brainer, if your reporting is not to senior management, in India or overseas, then only a part of the product management function is delegated to you. This aspect brings the role closer to a functional business analyst role.

Limited/No Engagement with Product Marketing

If your only engagement with product marketing is at an all-hands meeting or a town hall, then you are not engaged in any outbound product management activities. This also tilts your role towards business analysis rather than strategic product management.

No Involvement in 2-3 of the 4 P’s of Marketing

You can figure out if this is relevant to your role, and whether you are able to work on these as a product manager or a business analyst.

Engineering is your Primary (or Only) Stakeholder

If you are working as a product owner, with limited product management tasks, then that is fine. You have a well-defined role which fits into the product management hierarchy, in today’s agile world. But if you are called a product manager, and your reporting is to a Director of Engineering, and your primary stakeholders are the engineering team, then you might be working as a functional business analyst.

Your Main Work Output is a Functional Specifications Document

This is typically true in e-commerce firms or start-ups. Most product managers in such firms are actually working as business analysts, creating functional specifications, providing reports on product usability and usage. And product decisions are usually made by the senior management of these firms. Business analysts handle such activities in most enterprise software firms.

Limited Engagement with Senior Management in Business Units

Product managers play a strategic role in addition to taking care of tactical activities. If you have never presented on strategy, finance, operations, pricing, marketing plan, new product business case or another business metric to senior management, then you may be working as a business analyst.


There is nothing wrong with the role of a business analyst. BA’s have a lot more exposure to the product and business domain than a regular product developer. The current challenge in India lies in the fact that firms require BAs and advertise for PMs, which sometimes leads  to an expectation-reality mismatch.

Marissa Mayer should read this blog

[All respect to Ms. Mayer, she’s accomplished a lot in the technology industry]

I have blogged earlier about how a PM must tackle challenges to his authority from a strong engineering team. Well, if you read this article from the Business Insider called “The Truth About Marissa Mayer: An Unauthorized Biography” you would realize that these inter-personal conflicts occur in almost every firm, right from a 5 person startup to the largest internet giant.

[ The Business Insider article is also a must-read for the details it offers around the activities of a web PM in a senior role]

The article also mentions how her run-ins with engineering led to her ultimately being sidelined into a different role at Google. In fact, as many can attest, this is a common theme in technology product management. If you come up against a powerful engineering lead, then the person most likely to move out is the one who does not write the code, even if she is closer to the customer.

A couple of references from my blog here. Here’s the first post where I described how engineering and product management can have creative conflicts.

Here’s another post where I specifically mention why obsession is important for a product manager. As per the unofficial biography, in Marissa’s case, her obsession with details caused resentment in engineers and other stakeholders who did not agree with her vision. Another issue was that her obsession was primarily about data analysis and the value of that analysis, without understanding the impact of her decisions on others. And that was a key factor in her getting sidelined. The article also mentions how this obsession had also alienated a lot of people at Yahoo!

Without getting into the merits of this debate, I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

By the by, I have posted earlier on why analytics is important for a PM today, but that is not specifically about the UI analytics, as was discussed in the Business Insider article.

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.

Obsession – Very Important for a Product Manager


1: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly : compelling motivation <an obsession with profits>

If you are not obsessed about your product, and don’t have an obsessive need to understand customer needs then it is going to have a snowball effect on the other teams working on the product. The engineering team will sense that the product is probably not important enough, the new feature list is not compelling enough or that there are enough problems existing to start looking out for new roles or teams. The product marketing team will just run the numbers and sales will have little incentive to promote and sell the product. It is the product manager’s obsession with all these facets of product growth that will trigger the other teams to deliver at peak performance.

It does not matter that you are new to the organization or the role, or a veteran with 5+ years in the same field in the same firm. You must show an obsessive interest in promoting the product and the idea it represents. You must obsess about the competition and the new versions of software they are delivering, and figure out ways to counter or ignore them.

You can be a newbie to product management, or a veteran, in the end, it is your obsession with the product that will ensure that you can always answer this question every Friday evening “What did I do for the product this week, and how can I add more value next week.”

Are you obsessed with your product?

Are you an expert PM?

A Product Manager should have basic competency in a range of skills, and expertise in at least a few areas. This will ensure his credibility within the organization.

If you are a junior PM starting your career, analysis, documentation and presentation are the first few vital skills. Next comes domain expertise, which you will gain over time.

A mid-level PM, with 3-4 years of experience under his belt, must have domain expertise, strong analytical skills, people skills and persuasiveness. In addition, should know about pricing, marketing, sales and other ancillary functions. He will likely have frequent interactions with clients and partners, so he must promote the firm at all times. These skills are required in addition to the skills of a junior PM.

A senior PM must to have strong leadership skills, project management skills and the capability to hire and mentor junior PMs. He is likely to get authority for contract negotiations, product launches, vendor management and legal approvals. He might also have complete responsibility for one or more products. Again, this is in addition to the skills acquired over the course of his career so far.

Finally, a Director or VP of Product Management is expected to lead product management for a portfolio of products and provide vision and strategy to the organization or the business unit. It involves budgeting , planning, P&L management, inter-department coordination, analyst relations and visibility in the industry as an expert. He has a very strong network of contacts outside the firm which is often used to identify potential M&A targets. He also works with the bankers and the corporate strategy team for due diligence when a “hot” startup is identified.

It is possible to grow in the product management path without having expertise in a few product management dimensions. However, unless you are very, very good at the others, your career will either stagnate or you will become redundant to the firm after a while.

So, looking at your career graph, what expertise have you gained so far. And how did you gain that expertise?

Are you Accurate or Precise?

Nate Silver’s very good book, The Signal and the Noise, talks about the difference between Accuracy and Prediction. Here’s the Webster’s.com definition:

1 : freedom from mistake or error : correctness
2 a: conformity to truth or to a standard or model : exactness
b: degree of conformity of a measure to a standard or a true value — compare precision 2a

1 : the quality or state of being precise : exactness
2 a : the degree of refinement with which an operation is performed or a measurement stated — compare accuracy 2b

So why are they important for product managers?

If you are accurate without being precise, there is a good chance that your work output is of adequate quality. However, it may contain unpredictable variance. In target practice, this is similar to hitting the outer circle consistently while never hitting the bull’s eye. Which means, that while 100% of the product use cases are okay, none of them are capturing the exact user requirements. This can be a distraction to the engineering team and increases the risk of faulty product development.

On the other hand, if you are precise without being accurate, you can have 100% of use cases correctly defined and excellent in describing the user needs. However, you can be very wrong about the intended user. (It is like shooting at the wrong target.) This will guarantee that the software release bombs or does not meet the target parameters.

Accuracy with Precision
A good product manager is both accurate and precise. The accuracy comes from knowledge of customer and market needs and the precision comes from the skills learnt either in the classroom or on the job. Only when you have both can you create awesome requirements, which are translated into wonderful products.

5 Social Networking Recommendations for PMs in India

network cablesOne of the vital dimensions of Product Management is the skill of networking and the ability to connect with different people. This includes people outside your department and company. A strong network of contacts can often help in getting the next job, increase your visibility in the industry or give a boost when you are among the dozens of candidates vying for the coveted Google or Amazon product manager role. And no, the network cables shown here are not going to help you in that effort.
So how do you expand your network of online contacts? Well, there are three sites where you must have a well-developed profile:

1. LinkedIn
This is your most important professional network and you must have a complete profile here. Start inviting everyone in your firm who you interact with to connect on LinkedIn. As a rule of thumb, after every month on the job, you should have at least 5 new contacts here. Additionally, if you meet other product managers, or interact with them on social media, they should be invited too. However, a premium account is not necessary.
2. Facebook
This is the place where you invite people whom you meet socially and regularly in the workplace. They need not be peers or bosses, but perhaps someone you share a lunch with. As always, don’t post anything you would not want your parents to read.
3. Twitter
Start following people who have similar professional interests such as product management, product design, UX and top people from the industry. If required, keep 2 twitter accounts, one for professional reasons and the other for personal interests. However, it is not recommended to link Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

Additionally, you should:

4. Express online opinions
If you have opinions on product management or about your industry, you must share it with bloggers. For example, someone actively in promoting social media for PMs must be aware that the Desi PM is writing about it, and should post a comment here.

It is strongly recommended that you post it in your own name, unless it is controversial and you would rather do it under an alias. In any case, you must track these forums and share your opinions.

5. Join internal networks within the firm
If you work for a large firm, there will be tools such as IM, SalesForce Chatter, Jive and others in use. You must create a strong presence there. However, the downside is that their usage is totally predicated on the presence of senior management, and the culture of the firm.

Today, almost every recruiter does a Google search or views LinkedIn on potential candidates before processing a résumé. So you can actually consider your online presence and your networks as extending your résumé, irrespective of whether you are searching for a job or not.

In the resources section, I am adding links to real world events such as Unpluggd, IPMA meetings and TIE meetings that can be good source of contacts too.