Tag Archives: product management dimensions

E-Book Review: Product Management Expertise


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.


One Dimensional Product Management

If you began your career in software engineering before transitioning to product management, you are likely to fall into the trap of “one dimensional product management”.

What are the symptoms?
Well, the classic “one dimensional” product manager will have a strong rapport with the engineering team and weak relations with the other stakeholders. If he is an extrovert, he will be able to connect with the others but will fail to see the big picture. Finally, he will always answer every problem or requirement with a feature spec. whether its necessary or not.

This is a common problem in India, in offshore PM roles. If the newbie PM has worked in engineering teams for more than ~5 years, he will realize that his education and expertise is limited to solving engineering problems and defining business problems in the engineering space. He can then either go on the defensive, and attack people who question his expertise, or increase his skills. He can go for the “part time” MBA, which is a mushrooming industry in India (especially in Bangalore) to gain more perspective. Unfortunately, these courses do not really provide him the tools to solve cross-dimensional problems (pricing, solution design etc) or really understand the best way to resolve customer needs. Additionally, the pressure to provide work to the engineering team makes it an “easy out” to simply add features to the roadmap, throwing away all notions of Minimum Viable Product and promoting Feature Bloat.

So what’s the best case solution?
In the best case, the engineering-cum product manager must go out of his comfort zone and go for a full time MBA. Post MBA, he must move into customer facing roles for a couple of years, and then move back to product management. (He must not directly jump back into offshore PM roles, see my post on career killer). In the end, he will have lesser ability to work as an engineer (which is no longer relevant to him or his organization), but will have far more tools in his toolkit to be a very successful multi-dimensional product manager.

True Story of a PM in India – 1

PM in Offshore Enterprise Product ManagementCareer Killing Move

This PM I know has the typical profile of tech-savvy product managers, which you find in various offshore R&D centers. He worked in software engineering in India for a few years, went to the USA to study for his masters, and gradually moved to product management there. After several years there, he returned to India as a PM in an offshore R&D center and now he is in a role where:

a) Engineers are very young and inexperienced, yet smart and aggressive

b) PM is seen as an overhead and an engineering support role

c) His PM manager is in the US, however it is the local VP of business operations that runs his life.

d) All end of life and low priority products end up here, in piecemeal fashion

e) With travel budgets cut or non-existent, customer access only happens on very late night calls

f) He has no access to industry analysts anymore

g) No business relevant or strategic activities are run in India, and his role is totally tactical, creating usecases and PRDs

Within 6 months, he found himself effectively cut-off and isolated from the Business Unit product management team in the US. Additionally, he found that there was actually a negative incentive to producing good quality PM output in India, as there was resistance in the company against moving work offshore.

After managing one software release in 2 years, overtime, overbudget and with very low quality, he got fed up and tried to move out. Sadly, the other PM roles available to him were equally bad, and there is no escape back to either engineering or moving to sales or business development, due to lack of relevant experience. So he is actually passing time, with the least amount of interest left in his product or workplace. Additionally, due to family reasons he cannot move back to the US, not that anyone is hiring there.

The only thing left now is to wait in place, and hope that the market downturn does not eliminate his well paying job. In this scenario, expecting top notch product development in India and leading a fantastic team is a hallucination, and will probably never occur in his lifetime. His only hope is that the engineering team pulls up their socks, improve productivity and quality, and justifies its value in India. In this case, he can make a business case to get relatively new products done out of India R&D and probably expand his work to APJ markets and customers.

Now when he sees posts and websites detailing the “strategic nature of product management” and “PM as a CEO” he simply laughs.

Note: This was told to me by an acquaintance in early 2012, who worked for one of the top telco equipment manufacturers, and was finally laid off when his firm could not compete with Apple and Google. He now works as a program manager, creating spreadsheets and tracking resources in an Indian IT services firm at 50% of his last salary, where his clients are his US peers from his previous firm. And he has no intention of returning to an offshore product management role.

Adaptive Productizing Process – Analysis

Adaptive Marketing has made an interesting analysis for product managers and product marketers in their pie diagram here. The diagram indicates that Product Management encompasses the following components:

  • Market Analysis (choosing to build)
  • Strategic Planning
  • Product Planning (Building it Right)

While Product Marketing comprises of the following components:

  • Go To Market (Marketing Effectively)
  • Selling It Right (Sales Enablement)

Each of these components contains several tasks. For example, the Strategic Planning component has the following tasks within it:

  • Target Market Sizing
  • Product Strategy
  • Buy, Build, Partner
  • Pricing and Packaging
  • Business Model and Plan

This is an instructive diagram, that explains a lot about what comprises strategic planning. However here are a few points to note:

Sequence of Tasks
The diagram is fairly confusing about when each component is activated and when to handle tasks within the component. If the diagram is read as a wheel, then one should either start with Market Analysis or Product Planning. Also, while the market analysis is normally done by the product marketing manager (in most cases), it does not make sense at all to handle without Strategic Analysis first. Same way, it would be a folly to start product planning without Strategic Analysis.

Relevance of Tasks
Within the product management organization, there are several levels of employees. A simple unit could have a Product head running a team of product managers, and managing a portfolio. The diagram does not indicate portfolio management within strategic planning, but it does indicate product roadmap within product planning.

In my opinion, product planning is the list of tasks that ensure that R&D teams have enough information to confidently build the product. In today’s world, if you build long roadmaps (12 months or more) and justify them to external teams, then this is a infrequent task under strategic analysis. If you work in the internet world where releases happen every week, the product roadmap is mostly a wishlist and is hardly something to work on in product planning.

Duplicate Information
The strategic planning component contains tasks called product strategy and business plan and model. In my opinion, the business plan should be the start of any product strategy, as without a business plan, you will never get the funding (if you approach a VC or angel investor) or senior management approval (if you are in a large organization). Consequently, product strategy definition is a part of the business plan. Similarly, Buy, Build or Partner will also be a part of the same plan.

Component of Market Analysis
Unlike the theory in classroom, market analysis is fraught with danger at every step. For example, if the analysis indicates that the product release does not meet customer requirements, and you mention it to senior management, it is likely that the product will be killed. Same way if analysis indicates quality issues, then there will be customer crises happening very frequently, distracting the product team from working on new releases. So rigorous quantitative analysis, whether for a new product or for a release deployed with customers, is often ignored.

Bottom Line:

This is a very good diagram that is particularly useful for explaning traditional enterprise IT software product management. However, it lacks significantly when used to analyze the range of tasks within the “productizing process” for Offshore Enterprise IT Product Management and Indian Market Consumer Product Management. Hence you should definitely see more resources to understand PM activities in details.

Four Flavors of Product Management in India

Let’s face it, the product manager’s primary role is to understand the market and customers and then make judgements regarding his product(s) based on his analysis. So being in India, you have two broad categories of product management activities based on the market, the Indian market and offshore product management, typically for US as well as two categories based on the type of customers, Consumers and Enterprises.

If we represent them in the ever popular 2X2 matrix, they would look something like this:

A. Offshore Enterprise Product Management B. Offshore Consumer Product Management
Companies such as Oracle, SAP, Microsoft (some parts), IBM, CA Technologies, NetApp, Nokia Siemens Networks Companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft (some parts), Amazon (some parts), Adobe, Intuit (some parts) and others
C. Indian Market Enterprise Product Management D. Indian Market Consumer Product Management
 Companies like Onmobile, Tally and HP, Dell and some others have units with PM roles that focus on the Indian market. HP and Dell also have large R&D centers that have offshore product management roles  Companies such as yatra.com , makemytrip.com, shaadi.com, Comviva,  redbus.in, flipkart.com, Nokia, Intuit (some parts) and so on

For ease of representation, I made the following assumptions:

  1. Enterprise includes all small, medium and large enterprises
  2. Consumer includes internet, apps and ecommerce
  3. Indian market includes the subcontinent and APJ if relevant to the organization
  4. Offshore market is mainly the US with UK and EU included as necessary

Now given the vastly different focus areas of these organizations, it would be a huge folly to classify all product managers within the same bracket of skills, knowledge and experience. Actually, this classification also indicates the variety of tasks and various stakeholders that a PM will encounter in his work. For example, an Indian consumer market PM must keep track of the deals being handled by business development managers, whereas the offshore consumer product manager may never even talk to business development managers. However, one thing that remains sacrosanct is that if you are a PM in India, you must cultivate good relations with the engineering staff.

One interesting point, it is the offshore consumer product management roles that pay the highest salaries today, as PMs have a very large role in the success of these organizations both in India as well as their parent location. At the same time, these roles also have the lowest shelf life, and can quickly disappear in a downturn, re-organization or simply due to passage of time.

Today, many organizations are copying Job Descriptions directly from their US websites without a clear understanding of how different this role is in India. To give one example, the JD of the PM for a large internet firm in India and the US is the same, however, while the role in the US reports to the head of product line of a business unit, the role in India reports to a director of engineering. Obviously, both roles are vastly different.

In fact, given the lack of knowledge among recruiters about the different categories of product management, very often candidates end up in a wrong interview, being under-prepared or simply unaware of the realities of the workplace before accepting the offer. This can cause unnecessary misunderstandings which can be avoided by simply preparing a realistic job description before interview.

In a future post, I will take a sample job description from a current job posting and explain it.