Special Episode From the 2020 Summit
This is a special podcast episode, sharing an important discussion from The Everyday Innovator 2020 Summit. Two weeks ago Grant Hunter discussed what is product management. I am sharing this episode now because Steve Johnson, who is also a business partner with Grant, did a masterful job at the Summit, describing the real nature of product management. As this was a Summit presentation, the format of the show notes below are a bit different.
BIO: Steve Johnson is an author, speaker, and transformation coach on product methods from idea to market. His approach is based on the belief that minimal process and simple templates result in a nimble product team. Steve has been working within the high-technology arena since 1981 with experience in technical, sales, and marketing management positions at companies specializing in enterprise and desktop software. His market and technical savvy allowed him to rise rapidly through the ranks from product manager to the executive suite. A founding instructor at Pragmatic Marketing and product coach with Under10, Steve has been a long-time advocate for product management, serving as an advisor to a number of technical product organizations and industry associations.
INSIGHT: As many as 50% of professionals (of any kind) cannot clearly state what is and is not their role and how they contribute to the success of the company. If one team doesn’t do its job, other teams must fill the void. Just as you never want your goalie to be your top scorer, you want each team member focused on their primary job. Use the tool in this presentation to help clarify who does what and how each group will be held accountable.
COMPANION ARTICLE: Steve’s graphical framework and article with more details on this topic are available here.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[0:55] What is product management? Product managers often spend time putting out other people’s fires rather than putting out products. We wonder if we’ve planned the right products. Our titles are a mess—what one company calls a product manager, another calls a program manager or a product marketing manager. We are involved in too many activities.
[3:10] Peter Drucker said, “In a well-run organization each role has a single orientation. They either support customers…or they support the market.” Of the activities that support the market, they focus on either problems or solutions. The activities that support customers focus on delivery. And some of the activities focus on what we’ll offer in the future, while some focus on what we’re offering now.
[4:34] Each department has a different goal. Development and engineering focus on building solutions for the future for the market. Marketing focuses on the solutions we have now for the market. Salespeople deliver the solutions we have now to the individual customers.
[5:36] Product is responsible for understanding both the market and the market’s problems, both now and in the future. Product management is about identifying problems in the market that we can solve in the future with new products. Product marketing is about identifying problems in the market that current products can solve.
[7:56] Win-loss analysis is a useful tool for finding problems in how we sell, market, and deliver.
[9:53] There are three roles within product: product strategy, product planning, and product growth. Product strategy is led by the product manager and focuses on products to create in the future. Product planning is led by the product owner and focuses on products to build next. Product growth is led by the product marketer and focuses on products we have now. Many product managers are doing things they should not be doing; they have stopped being product managers and are now development managers. Product management should not be a support role. Product management should focus on strategy, planning, and growth.
[13:32] Write down all the activities you currently expect from your product team. Then cross out those related to single customers. Prioritize the ones that are left—those related to market problems. Those activities help us support the products we have now and define the products we should build next and in the future.
[14:40] Should we be problem managers? Some people think product managers need to know everything about the product. Maybe we should talk about problem management rather than product management. Bonus Q&A
[18:16] How can product managers reduce the time and energy they spend putting out other people’s fires? Product managers spend 47% of their time on unplanned activities. Imagine the increase in productivity if we could focus just 10-20% more time on the actual role rather than firefighting. Years ago, I declared Thursday to be International Productivity Day for product management and product marketing. I encourage every product manager and marketer to work from home on Thursday to get more work done.
[21:17] What are some tips for helping us know we are on the right track when planning products to build? Research is key. Once you have a plan, engage with customers about how that plan would solve problems for them. I’ve always had a customer advisory board—three to five users whom I could share my secrets with confidentially. Having continuous feedback from the market is critical to knowing that you’re planning the right product.
[28:07] What do product managers need to focus on? Product managers shouldn’t be doing product support. They should be doing activities that require strategy. It’s easy to get pulled in lots of directions and not do the work we’re hired for. Our help in other areas should be the exception, not the rule. Product managers need to be clear that they’re the expert on the problem. Let the solution people find solutions, and let the delivery people deliver.
[43:07] Tell us more about, “One sentence from an executive can mean a month of time for the product team.” I was at a company where the president believed development was terrible. After talking with development, I found out that senior leadership was dumping them with way too many new ideas every week. Development had decided to not work on any new idea until it had gone through a few senior leadership meetings. I told senior leadership to bring their new ideas to me first. I prioritized the ideas and put them on the roadmap so that development could be the factory it needed to be. Ideas need to be vetted so that we’re not wasting Development’s time.
- Under 10 Consulting
- Steve Johnson’s and Grant Hunter’s free community of Product Growth Leaders
- Steve’s framework for problem manager
Thank you for being a Product Master and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.