9 Ways to be a Product Management Hero

Product Managers have the unique role of driving the development of products within a company, which has been and continues to be the source of value and wealth creation in the high technology field over the last several decades.  If you are a Product Manager, here are nine ways for you to be a hero for your product development team.

One: Know the Difference between a Requirement and a Specification

A requirement describes need, while a specification describes system behavior.  Requirements must drive specifications.  When you find yourself looking at a specification and asking yourself “why do we need to do this?” typically you will find that the requirement was not clearly defined.  To be a hero, you must know this difference and fight against specifications that don’t have clear and rationalized requirements backing them.  Specifications without requirements are a waste of time.

It’s easy for Product Managers (and others) to mix this up.  I think this comes from the tendency of people to think visually and focus on concrete enhancements to the product as opposed to the underlying need, which can be fairly abstract.

Two: Tell Stories about how the Product is being used

Engineers want to know that their work is valued and the best way to let them know is to tell them stories about how the product is being used.  Tell them about how the key feature they worked so hard on is saving customers’ time, helping them do their jobs more effectively, helping them be more competitive, etc.  Stories like this may even clue you into unintended ways the product is being used and help you preempt issues that might come up.

If you don’t have good customer stories to tell, get out of your office and talk to some customers!

Three: Take Responsibility for making Tough Decisions

Should we drop Feature A in order to make our ship date?  Should we fix this critical defect and risk delivering on time?  This feature should work this way, but the VP wants it done his way—what should we do?

A heroic Product Manager gets in front of issues like this and takes responsibility (and possibly a bullet) and makes a decision that is best for the company.  You fight whatever political battles need to be fought and you shield the product development team if at all possible.  These are the moments that define your career as a Product Manager—seek them out and take advantage of them.

Four: Help them Navigate Office Politics

Most engineers don’t like to deal with office politics (or at least the majority of ones I’ve worked with), and usually don’t have the depth of experience Product Managers have while working in a cross-functional environment.  You make a living on getting things done through influence, not reporting lines, so you’ve got tremendous insight into what makes people tick.  Help guide your engineers through the murky waters of office politics—even when they have to deal with their own boss!

Five: Establish a “No Broken Windows” Policy

The Broken Windows Theory implies that behavior is significantly affected by one’s environment.  This theory has been used to rationalize the crime epidemic in New York in the 1980s.  The idea is that something as simple as a broken window provides a “signal” that disorder is tolerable, which may escalate to trash being left out, broken bottles left on the street, vandalization, theft, etc.

This concept very much applies to product development.  If you allow “broken windows” to exist like misspellings in screens and messages, misaligned user interface elements, and unhandled exceptions, you send the signal that the product is not being cared for and the quality of the product may fall off a cliff.  This applies to the internal code as well—you shouldn’t tolerate “spaghetti code”, untested modules, or even deviation from naming conventions.  If the product is pristine inside and out, everyone on the development team will treat the product with respect.  Be sure to partner with the lead engineer to drive this policy inside the code.  Be aggressive with fixing any broken windows, regardless of how small the issue might be.

Six: Understand how your Decisions impact Support and Maintenance of the Product

File this under: Not the most fun part about Product Management, but it is part of being an adult.  Support and maintenance can make or break a company.  It’s better to have something that is less functionally deep and easy to support and maintain than to have something ultra-flexible but impossible to support.  Spend some time on technical support calls to get a sense for this.  Remember that you must look at both the revenue and cost side of the equation when you make product decisions.

Seven: Help Engineers realize that the best Business Decision is not always the best Technical Decision

There will be times where you have to make decisions based on business constraints, where these decisions conflict with technical purity.  One classic example: When to stop testing.  Theoretically speaking, it is nearly impossible to have complete test coverage.  In an extreme example, you can run user acceptance tests for every individual user your product will ever touch.  If you do this, you would have significantly fewer defects once you shipped, but the problem is that you would never ship!  When you make decisions like this, be clear that you’re doing so out of business necessity and acknowledge that the decision is not the best technical one.

Eight: Get them all the Tools they need to Succeed

Nothing is more frustrating than being tasked to do something and not having the right tools to do the job.  A heroic Product Manager goes to battle—begging, borrowing, and stealing in order to get his or her team these tools.  Use your influence and political savvy to get what you need.  If you have the privilege to work on a high-visibility project, use this opportunity to pressure management to give you the resources you need to succeed.

Nine: Challenge them to build Something Special

We all want to be a part of something special.  For those of us in high technology fields, we are working in exciting times.  The speed of innovation is tremendous and we have the opportunity to reach so many people and positively affect so many lives.  Use this opportunity to inspire your product development team to build something special—something they can look back on and be proud to say that they were a part of it.

As Simple as Square

I’m not in Square’s target market segment, but I’ve been on their bandwagon for some time.  I love their concept and execution.  After reading this interview with CEO Keith Rabois, I’m getting myself a cushion and cup holder for my seat on the bandwagon and will be making myself comfortable.

I’ve highlighted the quote that resonated with me the most: “… there’s strength in crafting an entire experience.”  It sounds obvious, but there are companies that talk about it, and there are companies that actually internalize this and execute.  This is why Apple is so dominant.  It’s not the technology—the iPhone doesn’t have dominant specs; take screen size, camera quality, or network speed, for example.  But it does have a tightly-integrated value chain that creates such a great total customer experience (i.e., Apple store, iTunes, devices, highly-motivated application developers, etc.); it’s extremely hard for Google, Microsoft, and others to compete.

Look at Amazon v Barnes & Noble (here’s a link a relevant G+ post by yours truly: Hey Barnes & Noble, it’s not the Nook, it’s about Customer Intimacy).  Amazon is all about convenience and customer intimacy.  Amazon has made it amazingly easy to buy anything, not just books.  Electronic content with Amazon is very convenient—I read my eBooks from Amazon on my Kindle, iPad, Windows laptop, MacBook Pro, and my Android phone (which I will switch out for an iPhone when my wireless plan renews).  Amazon has created an amazing total customer experience, supported by excellent technology and business model innovations.

I like Square’s focus on small business.  Rabois’s response to the question about moving up-market is encouraging.  So many companies want to move up-market because deal sizes are larger and I believe partially because of vanity.  I agree with Rabois that Square has an immense value proposition (in a word, Simplicity) which is probably the #1 priority of buyers in most small business owners.  Medium or large-sized businesses would likely have a different list of priorities (e.g., deeper analytics), causing their “simplicity play” to be less effective.

I chuckled a little bit at the PayPal reference in the article because of experiences my wife has had in her adventures as an eBay vendor.  PayPal can be a pain to deal with at times, especially when your funds are on hold and you don’t know why.  Simplicity and transparency are paramount.

Thank you for reading!

If you’ve been following along, thank you!  This is my fifth post, which marks some sort of a milestone (or at least WordPress thinks so).  I am definitely open to having conversations, so please comment if you like the post, or better yet if you think I’m dead wrong!

You can find me on Twitter: @jimargarcia (Apparently there’s another Jimar out there that jumps on the “jimar” handle before I can.)


Is There Power in Your Roadmap?

During one of my first commutes from Irvine to LA for my current gig, I listened to a podcast featuring Geoffrey Moore, where he discussed concepts from one of his newer books, Escape Velocity.  The core of the book is about a company’s “power”, which is a condition or position of a company which allows it to execute.

One of the profound concepts is this: Power fuels Performance and Performance consumes Power.

However, most organizations don’t have a good vocabulary around power, so all they talk about is performance.  In fact because of this, most organizations incentivize and reward performance, but not replenishing power.  This causes a problem where companies may find themselves consuming their power without replenishing it, resulting in their eventual inability to perform.

When I first listened to the podcast, much of it went over my head, so I bought the book.  A very clever piece of marketing by Mr. Moore, I might add.

Moore only had an hour, since the podcast was recorded from a live session with Stanford students as part of the DFJ Entrepreneurial speaker series.  During this hour, Moore started with his big idea, discussing why power is so important and why companies don’t manage it correctly.  He then engaged the audience to think of themselves on a Board of Directors or a CEO of a company and discussed concepts like Category Power, Company Power, and Market Power.  He then shifted gears and engaged the audience to think of themselves as Product Managers–this is where my interest was piqued.

Moore brought up an interesting point: Product Management in the high tech industry is probably one of the most important roles because as a product manager, you have your finger on the pulse of the company.  You are driving the offers of the company, which directly impact the company’s ability to earn revenue.  The remarkable thing about this is that most product managers serve in this role within the first 10 years of their career (which is true in my case).  So, if you’re a product manager, you should consider it an amazing privilege to be in that role.

I listened to this podcast again more recently and I reviewed the Offer Power chapter in Escape Velocity, and I found that the concepts Moore presents are extremely relevant when it comes to creating a roadmap.  His chapter on Offer Power discusses three types of innovation.

Productivity Innovation: This type of innovation (product, process, or otherwise) is designed to “free you from the pull of the past”.  This allows you to free up resources that are currently doing unproductive or ineffectual things that are sucking up time and other resources.  An example here might be to do some code refactoring or reducing surface area of a product.  You want to use Productivity Innovation to fund the following two types of innovation: Neutralization Innovation and Differentiation Innovation.

Neutralization Innovation: This type of innovation is basically playing “catch up”.  Your competition has feature X and you don’t (to an acceptable level), and in order for you to compete, you need “good enough” feature X.  This is extremely important because if you don’t neutralize, you can’t compete, and all other efforts are wasted.  This is probably one of the most boring types of activities, but you do it because you have to (it’s part of being an adult).  Note that “good enough” is extremely important.  You don’t need “best in class” feature X–just good enough.  Moore posits that customers don’t pay a big price premium for “best in class”, but only some increment over the mean.  Customers pay a big price premium for “beyond class”, which is what you’ll get if you execute Differentiation Innovation correctly.  A popular example here is Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 neutralizing Netscape Navigator.

Differentiation Innovation: This is why you get up in the morning.  What makes you different?  What is your core value proposition?  This type of innovation is designed to break you away from the pack.  This type of innovation creates value for your customers and you should be 10x greater than your competition in this area.  This is a very asymmetrical bet, which is what makes it scary.  As Moore put it: You’re putting all your chips on one square on the roulette table.  You may not win, but you will get noticed.  A popular example here (and not using Apple), is Salesforce.com providing 10x greater benefits around software installation and operating costs for customers due to its hosted software architecture and Software as a Service business model.

From an execution perspective, you should fund Productivity first, in order to free up resources.  You should then fund Neutralization in order to achieve parity with your competition.  You then must fund Differentiation in order to create that next-generation offering that will make you “beyond class”.

So when you plan activities and features for your roadmap, I’ve found that categorizing features against these different types of innovation and identifying the (rough) strategy of “Productivity before Neutralization before Differentiation” to be very effective.  Not only does it give stakeholders a clear vision of purpose for the activity and help you rationalize feature priority, but it puts you in the best position possible to create that next-generation offering that will make you “beyond class”.

Good luck!

What Do Three Random Books Have in Common?

Last Friday, I undertook an experiment: I took three seemingly random books from my bookshelf, opened each one up to a random page, and read the entire chapter from each book from which the random page was chosen.  The three books I chose were:

To be fair, I say “seemingly random” because I did scan my bookshelf to find three different books to read that I haven’t completely read yet, as opposed to reaching for three books with my eyes closed.

Within the three books, the chapters I read were:

  • Predictable Revenue: Chapter 4 – Prospecting and Sales Best Practices
  • Resonate: Chapter 4 – Define the Journey
  • Gamestorming: Chapter 5 – Fishbowl (Note: I only read one of the games for Gamestorming as opposed to reading through all of the games in Chapter 5, which are “Opening Games”)

At first blush, my chapter selection seems to imply that even trying to be random doesn’t yield randomness.  (All the geeks in the house are shaking their heads saying “duh”.)  I guess when I flipped my left thumb through the pages of each book, I found myself somewhere near the middle each time.  Go figure.

Predictable Revenue

Chapter 4 from Predictable Revenue had some good tips, even for the non-salesperson.  One of the sections had some great insight into prospecting questions.  For the non-salesperson, translate this to: “asking questions of someone with which you’re not very familiar”.

Tip: Start out by asking “Did I catch you at a bad time?” or “Is this a good time to chat?”  By asking this at the start, you come off as courteous (because you are) and you’re sensitive to the time of others.  If the other person is busy, they may even say it’s not a good time to chat but still allow you to ask questions–they just feel better about having their time respected.

Another Tip: Start out by asking easy questions.  Don’t start out with “What are the biggest problems your organization faces?”  This is a very tough question to ask at the beginning of a conversation.  Also, you haven’t gained their trust yet.  Start out with questions like “What does your Marketing organization look like?”  You want to peel the onion, gain their trust, and then dig deeper.

Email Tip: Don’t write long emails.  Just don’t do it.  Assume they’re reading it on a mobile phone.  Be succinct and to the point.


Chapter 4 from Resonate was epic.  The chapter revolves around how to transport your audience from their current state of mind to where you want them.  I’m really not doing the book any justice by taking it out of context because Nancy Duarte, in a very meta way, takes you on a journey via her book, convincing you why you want to deliver presentations in a way that resonates with your audience.  I am a big fan of her book, which revolves around using telling stories to giving effective presentations.

Her treatise in this chapter is: “Every audience will persist in a state of rest unless compelled to change.”  In order to compel your audience to change, you need to crystallize your message (The Big Idea), ensure you plan on how to move your audience from their current position to your intended position, and be ready for resistance.

Great Tip: When dealing with resistance, use “inoculants”.  In medicine, an inoculant is typically a weakened form of a virus that is injected into the body in order to build a tolerance.  In presentations, an inoculant is a point of resistance or objection which is volunteered by the presenter in order to soften the effect of the resistance or objection.  In other words, you should plan for what objections may come up (either internally or externally) and address them proactively.  This will allow you to gain trust from your audience as they will feel like you have thought through their issues or concerns (and you would have).


The Fishbowl game is a pretty neat one, which is designed to kick off a brainstorming session for a collection of people that may come from different teams and may not be familiar with each other’s perspectives.  This game is also effective for people that need help with listening before forming an opinion.

The game is simple: The moderator prepares a number of topics to discuss.  The group then forms into two concentric circles:

The inner circle contains half of the participants that will discuss some the topics while the outer circle will contain the other half of the participants that will observe the people having the conversation.  The observers write down what they see, hear, or otherwise observe.  After 15 minutes of discussion, the group breaks to talk about the session from each perspective.  The groups then switch roles and continue discussing topics.

The goal of this exercise is to give the participants the opportunity to sharpen their listening and observation skills.


What may have been a seemingly random choice of passages to read, all three revolved around effective communication.  Granted, I may have introduced sample bias because I tend to read business books and effective communication is core to business success.  Random or not, we must all acknowledge that in order to be successful personally and professionally, we need to be able to listen and empathize in order to effectively communicate with our audience.

Friday “Do Something Different” Challenge


Friday is a good day for me to do something different.  I work from home, I’m excited about the weekend, and I have a lot of my creative resources around me–my books, my leather chair, and a heated saltwater pool.

I’m going to try something different today to get my creative juices flowing.  I’m going to take three books from my collection that I haven’t read all the way through yet, pick one unread chapter from each of the books, and try to come up with ways on how I can take what I’ve learned and apply it to my most valuable personal and professional goals.

Happy Friday!

Friday "Do Something Different" Challenge


Friday is a good day for me to do something different.  I work from home, I’m excited about the weekend, and I have a lot of my creative resources around me–my books, my leather chair, and a heated saltwater pool.

I’m going to try something different today to get my creative juices flowing.  I’m going to take three books from my collection that I haven’t read all the way through yet, pick one unread chapter from each of the books, and try to come up with ways on how I can take what I’ve learned and apply it to my most valuable personal and professional goals.

Happy Friday!

Steve Jurvetson and Disruptive Innovation

Commuting to LA from Orange County isn’t really that bad. I was on the road for about 1.25 hours, but I had a chance to listen to a podcast on disruptive innovation (not necessarily Christensen’s definition) by Steve Jurvetson, #68 in the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series on iTunes.

You can tell Jurvetson is really passionate about what he does. He’s got a bit of ADD (which he admits), so he jumps in and out of topics, but he’s got some great insights. One of the most interesting parts of the podcast was him talking about “Transcending Moore’s Law“.

I would assume that most all information professionals know Moore’s Law, that computational power on a processor doubles every 18 months. Ray Kurzweil took Moore’s Law and extrapolated that outside of just transistors, shifted it to “calculations per second per $1000” (i.e., how much computational power do you get for $1000) and significantly expanded the timeframe. This reason alone is a huge impetus to disruptive innovation, not just for information technology, but across multiple disciplines.

Jurvetson also talked about some mind-exploding work in biotechnology, which I wouldn’t do any justice going into in this post. If you use iTunes (and chances are you do), you should download this podcast if you’re interested in hearing about Kurzweil’s work, innovations in biotech, and want to hear some insights from a passionate venture capitalist.