Product Managers can be so immersed in their products that they see the forest but not the trees - or vice versa. Neither situation is good. You have to have the vision but every product management component can make or break a product.
One of the best tools for launching and managing a product is via dashboards or metrics. This simple tool allows you to see your product from a birds-eye view. Your metrics (and their definitions) will vary according to organization, products, and the product life cycle stage.
The basic categories are:
Product - technical aspects, roadmap, market fit, quality
Go-to-Market: marketing aspects sich as promotions, leads, competiion, positioning
Business: revenue, profitabiliy, win/loss, forecast
Organization: staff readiness and concerns by department or business unit
There are only 3 indicators for status:
Green = On, ahead of or above target. Continue full speed ahead!
Yellow = Caution. Needs to be monitored or worked on
Red = Danger! Needs to be urgently addressed.
Very simple yet very few people do this. This is also a great tool for discussing your product status with upper management (short, sweet, and to the point) - just be sure to have detailed information to back up your metrics.
A sample template is attached.
I've mentioned this before - more details can be found on the slideshow from Saeed Khan.
"You go on and talk, Charley. I hear you." - Movie: Open Range (2003)
One of the profound lessons in listening came from a scene in the movie “Open Range” (2003) where the two protagonists prepared for the final shoot-out. Kevin Costner (“Charley Waite“) hesitated to say something and Robert Duval (“Boss Spearman“) said, “You go on and talk, Charley. I hear you.” Those simple and powerful words exquisitely accomplished what the best listeners and leaders do:
1. Encourage the other party to continue speaking
2. Acknowledge the other person
3. Acknowledge that you are listening and they have your attention
We sometimes cannot wait for others to finish talking so we can take over the conversation (this is especially true of managers and technical people who know or think that they know the answers before they hear everything).
I learned another lesson from one of my five year old sons. He was staring out the balcony window and told me about a white truck. I walked over, didn’t see anything, and asked “What white truck?” He replied, “That white truck”. I still could not see a white truck and about to walk away…until I kneeled down to his eye level and then saw the white truck. My little boy taught me:
4. You can’t always see or understand things unless you view things from the other person’s perspective.
Finally, there was an incident with the US Ambassador to China. Gary Locke, the US Ambassador, went to an exhibit and knelt before a child to listen and speak to her at eye level. This is very much unheard of in China and widely reported in the Chinese media.
5. Give the other party your full, unobstructed attention as an equal.
How often do we see others standing up, looking at their PCs, phones, shuffling papers,etc. when we talk to them? Do you feel that they really care? Bill Clinton is said to be one of the best listeners who made you feel important and as if you were the only person in the room with him. Learn from and remember what Robert Duvall said in "Open Range" when it's your turn to listen. You go on and talk, Charley. I hear you.”
Think Like a Doctor
The saying: "No Pain, No Gain" is true with a different meaning.
People don’t change unless there is pain. Pain is the impetus for change. Your prospects are complacent, very busy and resistant to change. You can’t blame them because of priorities. Why should I go through the trouble of researching, fighting for budget money, see vendor presentations, read quotes, and make more work for myself when I don’t have to?
People only change when the cost of staying is greater than the cost of changing. You change jobs when the cost of staying (e.g. the pain of putting up with a manager, making due with less money. etc.) is greater than the cost of going on a job search, moving to a new job location, etc. Some people change spouses when the pain of staying with the current one every single day become unbearable.
That means that in sales and marketing, you have to find your customer’s pain points. You have to think like a doctor and treat him or her as a patient – basically do a patient diagnosis.
(Drug companies run the best diagnostic selling advertisements: “Are you experimenting frequent sadness?, Embarrassed by your middle finger involuntarily pointing up on its own?, Craving a gallon of ice cream?, Waking up in a cold sweat? If so, you could have Imadeauppiosis! Speak with your doctor. We may be able to help.”)
What happens when a doctor sees a patient? The doctor asks questions to:
1. Understand and pin down where the pain(s) are
2. How great and serious is the pain
3. Find out what else is affected by the pain
4. Pinpoint the possible causes and origins of the pain
5. Determine how to treat the pain
6. Get patient buy-in on the pain treatment plan
The questions can be general (referred to as “open probe”) or specific (“closed probe”).
Open Probe questions allow the customer to provide broad information. Some good open probes are:
1. What keeps you up at night about XXX? (Trying to find the pain.)
2. Where do you think the bottlenecks are? (Trying to find the pain.)
3. Where are the sources of error? (Trying to find the pain.)
4. If there was something you wish you could change, what would that be? (Trying to find the pain.)
5. How much do you think that costs you in time or money? (Trying to gage the pain and see if it is enough to make a change.)
6. Can you draw the process map for your operation? (You need to understand and be intimate with the customer’s point of view, work flow, and know who he or she interacts with to know where your product fits in and what/where it provides a solution.)
7. Why is that important to you? (I love this one because many product managers panic when asked about a feature that their products do not have. Some customers simply ask out of curiosity or have a need that could be addressed in a different manner.)
Closed Probe questions usually aim for a “Yes” or ”No” answer, based on your understanding of the customer and information gathered. These typically include a “Do, Does, Has, Have Which, Are”:
1. Are you planning for upgrades to a Cloud?
2. Is password security necessary?
3. Is turnover causing training problems?
4. Have you experienced input errors during the XXX step?
5. Would eliminating the need to do YYY be a good thing?
So always look for the “pain” for your customer and prospect by asking questions. You get their interest if the pain is serious enough for change. You get the order if you can remove the pain. This form of customer diagnosis is also excellent for learning about customer needs. Voice of the Customer, and innovation discovery.
Jeff Thull, President of Prime Solutions enlightened me to the concept many years ago.
We rely on meetings to bring people together for discussions. Companies are taking advantage of technology such as teleconferencing, PC projectors, and internet meeting sites such as Webex and LiveMeeting.
People hate meetings and complain that meetings are a necessary evil. One reason is that most meetings end with little decided or accomplished and seem to be a waste of people’s busy time. Most meetings now waste over an hour's time – before they even get started.
Here is your typical meeting:
1. Organizer arrives exactly on time or even a bit late.
2. Organizer turns on laptop PC and starts connecting to AV projector.
3. Organizer has problems with AV equipment: Is it input channel 1 or 2? Which laptop keys bring up the PC display with the projector?
4. Organizer tries calling into telecon number: What was my leader code number again?
5. Remote callers start calling into telecom number: Where is the telecon number in the original email? What is the participant call-in number?
6. Organizer and remote callers have problems calling into telecon number.
7. Organizer and/or attendees have problems connecting to Internet Meeting site, e.g. Webex or LiveMeeting: “It’s asking me to download some plug-in software…”
8. Organizer and attendees start calling up remote attendees with their cell phones to discuss, troubleshoot, and work around meeting problems: “Okay, forget the teleconference, we’ll try conferencing everyone via the desk phone here…”, “Joe, you’ll just have to listen to the call and we’ll describe the slides to you.”
The average meeting described above starts 5 - 10 minutes late. If we conservatively estimate that at least 6 people attend a meeting, 6 people each wasted 10 minutes before they got down to having a meeting. So we lose at least 60 minutes in a 1 hour meeting!
1. Organizer – show up at the meeting venue and set up your PC and telecon connection BEFORE the meeting start time! This is like throwing a party and set up the refreshment, music, or tables when guests arrive. You do the prep work ahead of time.
2. Set up the meeting for a reasonable time. This may be difficult when you are trying to accommodate many different time zones but avoid setting up the meeting the first thing in the morning or the last thing on Friday. (Yes, you may show up at 7 AM in the office but not everyone does.) You don’t gain much when attendees rush into a meeting harried from fighting traffic. Starting a meeting too early only sets you up for latecomers and a very late meeting has people watching the clock.
3. Have an Agenda. Too many people show up at a meeting with no clue what the meeting is about. The agenda should list time, participants, purpose, proposed outcome, issues, and presenters. I've found the attached agenda template to be a very useful.
4. Distribute reference material that should be reviewed before the meeting. Readng material during the meeting is wasteful and unproductive.
5. Whenever possible, sit down with key people prior to the meeting to provide background information on issues of concern to them so that there will be no surprises strung on them or back at you.
6. Take minutes with action items.
7. Stay on topic. Table or “park” off-topic issues.
8. Start on time. End on time. We are all tempted to wait for stragglers but this sets a bad precedent for future meetings and is discourteous to those who are punctual.
9. Prohibit use of laptops if they have nothing to do with the meeting. Typing away on one's laptop for other business during a meeting is disrespectful to all attendees.
10. Five Minutes Rule – walk out of if the organizer does not show up within 5 minutes of his or her own scheduled meeting. Your company already wasted 30 minutes!
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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