Behind every great product are the efforts of a great product team

Interview
Greg GeraciePresident of Actuation Consulting
SUMMARY

REGALIX: GREG, HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE THE TERM “PRODUCT MANAGEMENT”?

GG: Great question! Today the product management profession is pretty divided and the answer to this question varies depending upon who you ask. At its core product management is the function that focuses upon proactively and thoughtfully managing a product throughout all the various stages of the product management lifecycle. These stages start with the conception of a product and continue until a product reaches end-of-life.

REGALIX: WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE AND ROLE OF A PRODUCT MANAGER, ESPECIALLY IN A TECHNOLOGY COMPANY?

GG: The central role of product managers is to create and maintain the value of their product(s) throughout each stage of the product management lifecycle. In other words, to optimize results – at each stage. This is difficult as each stage presents a set of unique challenges. For instance, you need different skills to optimize value at the fuzzy front-end (Conception) than you do at the Launch stage. Product managers and product owners are uniquely positioned to capitalize upon these opportunities as they are the only parties that stay with a product from its initial conception to its ultimate retirement.

REGALIX: YOU HAVE RECENTLY RELEASED STUDY OF PRODUCT TEAM PERFORMANCE THE FINDINGS FROM YOUR 3RD ANNUAL SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS? 

CAN YOU SHARE SOME

GG: Absolutely, let me start by providing a bit of background. Since 2012 we have been working with a wide array of industry associations to collect information from all the various parties who contribute to a product team’s success ranging from product managers to engineers and everyone in-between. It is the only study of its kind and it enjoys wide industry support.

In the 2014 study several things stood out. First, we have been trending product development adoption rates and the data shows that Blended methods (some Waterfall, some Agile) continues to be the dominant way that product teams are creating products or product capabilities. While dominant, the Blended method’s rate of growth has stalled out. It is neither growing nor contracting.

Agile/Scrum is the second most popular product development method and the implementation of these types of methodologies continues to increase but at a slower rate of growth. From 2012 to 2013 Agile adoption grew at an expediential rate, however from 2013 to 2014 the rate of growth slowed to 10% year-over-year. Waterfall continued its steady decline into single digits for the first time.

In terms of our regression analysis five factors, which are highly correlated to high performance on product teams, rose to the surface in 2014.

Product team culture
A critical hand-off
Optimizing the relationship with sales
Awareness of the sales cycle
Enhancing the marketing relationship

In terms of product team culture we identified five statistically significant sub factors that high performing product teams possess. Interestingly, user experience (UX) professionals showed up for the very first time in our data. It appears that the inclusion of a UX team member increases the likelihood that a team will deliver higher levels of performance. Additionally, the importance of line management rose to the fore something we did not expect to see as the mantra of self-organizing product teams would lead one to believe that line management is less valued. The data does not support this point of view.

Second, our regression analysis also points to the importance of project management on product teams. Over 60% of product team members state that project managers and scrum masters are either “essential” or “important” to successful delivery. Only 4% of product team members don’t value their contributions. With regard to the critical hand-off our data shows that the relationship between product management and project management (or the scrum master) is a critical make or break point.

Third, the product team’s relationship with Sales. If this relationship is to be fully optimized the product team must recognize that the onus is on them to provide sales with needed context and the materials they need to be successful (e.g. roadmap information, collateral, sales tools and messaging, etc.) Fair or not the burden falls on the product team and product managers and marketers particularly. Product team members also want Sales to make “reasonable” requests based upon their understanding of product management’s longer term product strategy and by keeping their requests within the designated boundary lines.

Fourth, awareness of the sales cycle. Sadly, two-thirds of product teams either don’t know the sales cycle of their product or struggle to stay in sync with it! Much work to do here.

Finally, the relationship with Marketing. Only 34% of product teams have a strong working partnership with Marketing throughout the entire product development lifecycle. This is clearly a missed opportunity and points toward the need for greater collaboration in order to improve outcomes.

These five factors add to a growing list of market research at our disposal illustrating the key factors that differentiate high performance product teams from the pack.

REGALIX: IN YOUR BOOK “TAKE CHARGE PRODUCT MANAGEMENT” YOU DISCUSS THE USE OF TOOLS THAT CAN MAKE YOUR PRODUCTS MORE SUCCESSFUL. CAN YOU SHARE SOME WITH OUR READERS?

GG: As the world’s leading product management consulting and training company we work with product teams around the globe. For instance, J&J, Lebara, PointClickCare, FLSmidth, the American Hospital Association, etc. We know that the best product organizations take a systematic approach to product management. In order to do this you have to hire the right people, implement “right-sized” processes and deploy effective tools. Each of these dimensions is equally important in order to build an effective and sustainable product management function.

On the tools front, most product organizations are operating with one arm tied behind their back. They are often told that they are the CEO’s of their product but are not armed with necessary information and tools to be successful. Consider that only 19% of product managers have P&L’s. Of this 19% few are in technology companies. P&L responsibilities help product managers understand the financial implications of their decisions and how the various financial threads interact. Without visibility to these elements it is hard to effectively “manage” your product(s) and actively steer your product toward your company’s goals.

To counter this information void we have developed “product scorecards” which allow product managers to gain access to this information without requiring full P&L responsibility. It has the added benefit of illustrating key operational data that product managers should have access to. For instance, data such as uptime or open support tickets.

This is just one of several tools that come in handy for product managers. We also are firm believers in another tool – product decision matrixes – which enable organizations to effectively tie their product prioritization process (at various levels) directly to company goals and objectives. This line of sight between tactical execution and strategic company goals is frequently missing in many organizations. Prioritization decisions that are out of context with the overarching company’s goals and objectives deliver substandard results.

There is not enough time to cover all of the various tools we employ but hopefully this provides some insight into a few of the tools that we use. You can learn more about our tools in my book Take Charge Product Management.

About Greg Geracie:

Greg Geracie is a recognized thought leader in the field of product management and the President of Actuation Consulting, the world’s leading product management consulting and training organization. Actuation Consulting is a global provider of product management consulting, training, and advisory services to many of world’s most successful organizations.

Greg is the author of two global best sellers Take Charge Product Management and The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge. He is also an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on high-tech and digital product management.

You can learn more about Greg and Actuation Consulting at www.ActuationConsulting.com.

 

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