Let not Metrics drive you

Should the Metrics drive operations, or the strategy drive execution for better results? Never should anyone chase their own tail.

I see lots of so-called leaders use umpteen metrics to drive their tactics (like resource utilization, revenue/employee, customers retained and lost, etc.)- when you start getting into this mindset, you would be always catching up and trying to make a fish climb the tree to get fruits (yes it happens – engineers get shifted from one domain to another without re-skilling just to meet the numbers). At the end of the day, one ends up always reactive.

If you a strong leader, get the strategy to form objectives that make execution meaningful, and one can arrive at metrics this way, with some minor course corrections on a continuous basis. You need to think ahead as to what makes your product or services sell, where do you have to re-train and up-skill your employees now to be beneficial in one or two years down stream, what customers are expecting from you and how do you put plans to fulfill their need etc. This way the entire organization will look up to you for steering the organization forward. Think ahead, have a great team around you, act decisively and rock & roll.

What does a Product Manager do?

Nowadays one of the hottest job titles that you would see everywhere is a Product manager.  If you open up any job sites, the numbers of jobs for product managers are plenty. But what do you mean by a Product manager and what do they do, and how are they different from other roles in the organization? Although none of these are set in stone, this article would try to educate you well about the role itself and how it differentiates from other roles.  This is written for a medium to large sizes corporation in mind, because in start-ups there would be the same person donning many of these role hats.

     Product manager is typical of any product development organization who sells a ‘whole product’ (hardware system ergonomically packages/stand-alone software like a security software or a productivity software) but rarely found in a professional services organization. This role is not well described or absent in semiconductor chip industry (where the chip by itself is not a product but has to go into a system to become a product), or an IP company, or any physical component manufacturing company. When I say a “whole product” it would have one to many hardware components, a box or an external package, the firmware and a software solution that enables the product to the customer. Say a Fridge or a TV or a tablet computer.

      Product manager is someone who is accountable for the build, the marketing and the sales of the product to the end customer (a business or a consumer) that meets specifications and manages the entire product life cycle from ideation to handover. A customer here is the one who buys and pays for the product. A Product manager’s life starts with articulating the “why” of the product along with the strategic marketing to find a place in an organization offering (why is it important to be in the roadmap of the offerings?), and then is the person behind the “what” of the product from an end-customer perspective.   He comes from the business side of the organization and should have a handle on the user experience story of the product to ensure SUCCESS of the product.

    From the project management definition, let us be clear on responsibility vs accountability: The accountable personis the individual who is ultimately answerable for the product and has all the ‘veto power’ for the product.  Only one accountable person can be assigned to a product.    The responsible personis the individual(s) who actually completes the tasks associated with the design and delivery of the product. The responsible person is responsible for action/implementation. Responsibility can be shared.

    A product manager needs to have a combined skill of a strategic marketing person (who defines the market and the product initially and create the opportunity to sell), a product marketing (one who defines what features get sold to what customers) and a technical marketing (who is responsible to work with technical team to define and deliver specifications of the product).

 So, how is it different from the other roles with the organization?

  • Project Manager(PM): A project manager is accountable for “when” the product gets delivered or deployed.  A project manager, whether the project gets delivered in the waterfall mode or the Agile mode, is the one who takes the product from planning to delivery, and lists out a list of tasks, deliverables and milestones at various intervals of product delivery timeline, draws the interdependencies between the teams and works with the engineering team to ensure the timelines are being met (or highlights the risk if it is not for business to take a decision)
  • Delivery Manager(DM): A delivery manager is responsible for “what” gets designed and developed by the engineering team (may be different iterations here to reach the “what” that is being asked by the product manager), and then “how” it gets delivered to the business unit, working closely with the project manager to ensure the timelines are met.
  • Account manager(AM) – This is a role more common with professional services organization as the person responsible for a particular customer account (yes, it can be there in product development organizations as well). In fact, product manager has many customers for his/her one product whereas an account manager has one or two big customers for which many products may be rolled out.
  • Product Owner(PO):  This is akey role in Agile/Scrum methodology of project management who defines what (priority) user story gets developed and delivered along each sprint (or blocks of timelines), and creates and maintains the backlog of user stories for the agile team. Yes, PO is also ideally from the business side of the organization, and has the power vested in him to accept or deny the delivery from the Agile team at every iteration.  He is the user advocate sitting in the development team. There is a good possibility a PO would report into the Product manager for a particular product.
  • Product marketing manager (PMM) – although some of the responsibilities may be shared with the product manager, a product marketing person ideally is responsible for developing positioning, messaging, competitive analysis, product’s USP, and to work with sales team to generate and close opportunities.  I personally do not see very many product marketing roles now as I believe this may have morphed into a product manager role with added responsibilities in many organizations.

      Again, due to other budgetary and resource factors, nothing here can be taken in absolute terms as responsibilities unique to a particular role, but it is essential we understand the differences in expectation between the roles.   In short, if you have the skills to take a product from ideation through planning through development, and constantly are marketing the product along the way, and delivering it to the customers and they are delighted about it, then we can say that you are doing a pretty good job as a product manager.

Lack of success is not failure

Recently read: “Lack of success is NOT Failure. But lack of trying is.”
Nadal, Djokovic, Federer are all Tennis greats – they play to win and compete well, but they do not win every time they play. Messi and Ronaldo are again soccer greats – they play mesmerizing football but they do not win all the time. IN 18+ years, Tom Brady won the NFL 6 times(SuperBowl titles) for Patriots – not every time, and he got them almost all the time to the Division title. Not every ball that Glenn Mcgrath bowled got a wicket nor did Sachin score of every ball he faced- but they keep at it. That is when they become LEGENDS. Be in an individual or a team, it about attitude and diligence to play the game and work harder – keep on trying and persistence pays dividends. Let not success get to your head. 

Gather stakeholders before you fight

” Never engage in a fight you are sure to lose. Bide your time and strike back only when you are in a position of strength” Stieg Larsson.
Almost all businesses operate this way. While biding time , they get powerful stakeholders to gather strength. If you are alone and believe in yourself, then collaborate and compete. If your ego is the only one guiding you, then start praying.

Newton’s 4th law of Business

“Newton’s 4th law of Business”: For every action, there are consequences in the business world. If the consequences are positive, you are hailed as a great leader but if it is negative, the swords are dangling on top of your head. So, as mature leaders, it is best to analyze each action before you take it for the potential consequences so that you can manage them better once you take the action. Never act on impulse.

Better you chances of success by:
– having a critic as your asset although it can be unpleasant, so that you can consider the criticism objectively before you act, and
– never repeating the same mistake twice – you should have learnt the lesson the first time. There is no mercy for two failures due to same or similar actions to the same or similar problem – “two strikes , you are out”. Seek out to mentors before you act if unsure.

When do you need a job?

Irony of any job seekers: When you want a job, you cannot get it. But when you find a job, you do not need it then. Unfortunate. If you are satisfied where you are and your boss supports you, there is no reason for a change but this is when all these calls happen.
Always remember, in a free world, you cannot be locked in forever. And when it rains, it pours. Realize there are no such thing as a bad situation, it is you who has to create outcomes based on whatever situation gets presented to you. Keep the faith and be positive.
Yes, you would see a lots of recruiters who do not respond back and this speaks a lot about the company you want to join. Yes they do get lots of profiles but there is no harm in sending a note as a process for everyone who applies(remember this can be automated as well).
Make the best of what you have at that time