Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Keyser Söze Effect

Here's some information about Keyser Söze, for those who are asking to themselves,"Who or what is Keyser Söze???". From Wikipedia:'...being fooled into believing in a person who does not exist....'

As a Product Manager, I have worked very closely with cross functional teams in various organizations in my past. Everyone has an opinion about the overall direction of the product and the order in which the product features should be built. And then I start the judicious process of investigating the details of these cross-organization opinions, which to say the least is very interesting. It's truly amazing to see the extent to which people will go to make Product Managers believe the validity of the product need that they are representing. Some of the most commonly given reasons are:
  1. The CEO / VP etc. is asking for it
  2. Our competition has it
  3. Lots of customers are asking for it
  4. I know it will sell (corollary - I cannot sell without it)
  5. It has lot of revenue potential
  6. Customer wants it now!
There are many more such justifications that I see come up from time to time. And every time I find a new one, it feels like I'm dealing with Keyser Söze. Only in this case I'm being convinced into believing in a feature instead of a person that doesn't exist. Hence, as a Product Manager when I'm in product roadmap and strategy conversations  I have to understand if I'm dealing with Keyser Söze situation or not.

The good news is that it's not rocket science to get out of a Keyser Söze situation. Here are a few ways:
  1. Ask 'Why?'. Keep asking 'why?', 'what?', 'how?' until the business opportunity or product need is quantified. You have to be able to associate some numbers. It can be revenue, customers, or some other number.
  2. Get to the source. As a Product Manager the farther away you are from the source of the need the worse Keyser Söze effect gets.So cut the to chase and get to the source. This will help you understand the real business need and urgency around it along with saving you tonnes of times and resources. Armed with this information you will be able solve the problem and not just the symptoms.
  3. Then there is pattern recognition. You can leverage historic data, the blast from the past, to see if the product need is valid. This is especially helpful when you don't have direct access to the source or you want to perform high level validation. 
At the end of the day as a Product Manager, you have to reduce the Keyser Söze effect to a level where you are able to take a stand. A great Product Manager is able to do this fast and extremely effectively over a period of time by leveraging:
  1. Data repository of product usage, industry trends, etc
  2. Direct and indirect relationships built with source of the need.
  3. Processes that help others in the organization understand and deal with Keyser Söze effect.
And for those who are still mystified with Keyser Söze, I would suggest watching 'The Usual Suspects' of my all time favorite movies...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thoughts on: Career in Product Management

Product management is one of the most rapidly growing professional fields. With software industry’s rapid growth, it’s becoming more and more critical to hire the right Product Managers.
In a nutshell Product Manager is the person, who identifies business problems and creates revenue generating solutions in the right time and at the right time. As a product Manager you should know the answers to these basic questions in the context of your product / service:

1. What value is the product bringing to its customers?
2. What is the business problem being solved by the product?
3. What is the revenue opportunity for solving the business problem?

Without knowing answers to these questions you are the captain of a ship without radar. And this is not a onetime exercise. Business conditions in this internet age change rapidly. So as a Product Manager you have to be continuously on the lookout for new competition, and threats that can quickly make your product irrelevant in the market. 

People can argue that one doesn't need to be a Product Manger to come up with good ideas. And they are right! Identifying the right opportunity for your product / service is just one piece of the puzzle. The other key piece of Product Manager’s life is to enable smooth execution across the organization by creating the right alignment. Remember just like justice delayed is justice denied…execution of an idea delayed is an opportunity lost. Hence, as a product manager your one eye is on the market and another on execution of idea and bringing it to the market at the right time. What this means is that, you identifying and bringing the right product growth opportunities to various stake holders such as Engineering, Quality Assurance, Sales, executive team, etc. You get them on board and get their sign off on the execution plan. In this process you may leverage project managers to help you coordinate various activities. But at the end of the day you, are one responsible for making idea / business opportunity real. Your behind is on the line!
In your life as a Product Manager, you will find yourself in the middle of this virtuous cycle of business problem and solution execution of that business problem. As you start your career in Product Management, you may focus on one or two features and then grown on to take more and more responsibilities till you finally become completely responsible for that product / service. Then as you become Director or Sr. Director of Product management you may own a portfolio of products. In this role you will be responsible for revenue that can be attributed to your products. The executive team depends on your products for the overall growth of the company. This continued growth leads to positions like Chief Product Officer (CPO). This is just of the possible career growth paths. Many product managers eventually start their own business with an idea that they have and become CEO, Co-Founder, VP of Product Management, etc.

Here’s a short list of questions to ask yourself when thinking of a career in Product Management:

1. What kind of problems do I want to passionately solve? Quick test of passion – Does this problem keep you awake at night?
2. Do I like to be in the middle of action and be the deal maker to align various organizational stake holders?
3. Can I create cross org alignment for my product?
4. Do I have vision about product or the business problem that my product addresses?
5. Can I convince people to invest in the business problem that needs to be solved?
6. Can I succinctly communicate with various internal and external audiences regarding my product?
7. Can I convey the value of my product so that the audience can relate to my product?
8. Do I like to analyze data, spot trends, join the dots together?
9. Can I explore and present options to keep moving the team forward?
10. Can I own up, roll up the sleeves and do what it takes to get the job done?