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Werewolves and Vampires in Product Management?

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With all the hype surrounding the newest release of “The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn Part 2” it is timely that we investigate how these mythical creatures have made a foray into the parallel world of Product Management.

1.       Howling system migrations

Perhaps the worst nightmare of any Product Manager is an email from the CTO stating “In order to scale our business to reach new heights, we have made the decision to replace the company’s home grown CRM and billing systems with a new multi-million dollar state of the art system”. The result for you?  Bunker down and get ready for 4 successive failed core teams over as many years managed by a revolving door of increasingly militant style consultant Program Managers. Your working life now transforms into a series of blood-sucking endless half day war room sessions to investigate issues like “Why is the middleware script not replicating between OSS and BSS?” Ultimately, as Product Manager, you are accountable for a sales support team member not being able to configure your product service attribute in the production system despite your 120 page DBRS to the contrary.  Similarly, it is your fault that the key enterprise account revenue is 50% less in the target system than the legacy figures (If I ever bump into that data cleansing contractor in the street I’ll pluck out his heart).  Then, after 4 years of increasing cost blow-outs on the project and countless re-scoping, you see an email from the CTO stating “Due to family reasons I am leaving the organisation effective immediately”. And the vampires have claimed their latest victim.

2.       Bitten by a performance appraisal

Terror rarely strikes harder at the heart of an unassuming Product Manager than the phenomenon of performance appraisal weightings towards new revenue streams. Look, if we all were vampires and death grants us immortality plus a girlfriend like Bella we probably all would happily approach the challenge with appropriate gusto. In this instance, however, death will be slow, tortuous, and morphed into a set of EPMS objectives with emphasis on new product margins that you need to present on a quarterly basis to the senior management team. Yes, we already know the Sales guy on-target commission scheme plus fancy car allowance is more than a Product Manager earns but do we really need to deprive PM’s of any deserving year-end bonus and then publicly shame them every 3 months for IT’s lack of commitment to their new product. “What about all the product life cycle management and hygiene factors I worked on boss?” “Forget it mate, you didn’t hit the target for new product margin”. I suddenly feel like a Halloween case study where the victim keeps getting the trick but no treat.

3.       Werewolves and Vampires should try to get along

Mythical creatures often suffer from conflicting objectives and in the world of Product Management we refer this as ‘Segment Vs Product’.  Segment Marketing are one step closer to the customer so will always be frustrated with delays in delivering product enhancements.  Product get upset when Segment set unrealistic expectations for future functionality and occasionally sell a solution that is not yet fully productised.  The author of Twilight was able to resolve this conflict by creating a common enemy and working towards a new cause greater than the historical differences separating the two warring factions. I’ve seen this achieved in organisations that create an overriding customer-centric goal at the start of the year and in the process often unite both teams.  The deployment of Professional Services and Service Management support functions also help Segment Marketing with bid solutioning, provisioning and service assurance of inevitable non-standard services deployed for larger enterprise and wholesale clients.

4.       The Wolf cleans up

In the movie Pulp Fiction Harvey Keitel plays a character called The Wolf. He’s the go-to guy when you’re staring down the barrel of a very long jail sentence after your car rear seat just got plastered with blood and brains.  The Product Manager, like The Wolf, is fundamentally a highly paid subject matter expert in the field of cleaning up other peoples mess. The act of monetising any product or service is incredibly messy. CEOs of large technology companies typically invest several hours of their day as an escalation path for  complaints from disgruntled customers and accountability inevitably cascades down to the Product Manager owning the product. So if the box you bought is freezing intermittently then, following on from your nasty email to the CEO,  it will be the Product Manager’s job to make sure level one customer care and technical support are supplied with FAQs, a firmware fix has been business cased and approved and the Engineers are prioritising the work, the upgrade process is documented,  Public Relations and the senior leadership team are briefed on progress etc. If it ends up on Whirlpool then consider becoming a night dwelling vampire or look for a product role in an FMCG environment where nobody knows you.

5.       Breaking Dawn Myth Number 1: “We do no market research”

There are myths about full moons and but I think an even bigger myth is that Apple don’t do market research.  Steve Jobs felt that his customers didn’t really know what they wanted so, for example, if you were to ask them and then try to deliver what they wanted they would just change their minds again.  Call me a non-believer but I’m still not convinced that Apple don’t spend money on market research. For example, when Apple took Samsung to court earlier this year Apple referred to their surveys undertaken country by country to determine why people buy Apple products compared to their competitors and gauging satisfaction with their current products. If that is not market research then I don’t know what is.  It is also clear that product team highly values user experience feedback on their products (Check out http://www.apple.com/feedback/ ) and as a Product Manager I’d certainly want to use this feedback to continually enhance my product.

 6.       Breaking Dawn Myth Number 2: Product Managers write documents that no-one reads

You’ve helped dispel that myth by making it this far in my blog.  Thank you. I was lucky to attend a recent Brainmates sponsored Executive series breakfast and the guest speaker mentioned that he (and no one else that her knew) had ever actually read one of the lengthy product requirement or RACI documents produced by Product Managers.  It is probably true. Many business unit heads would prefer being chased by a werewolf in London than settling down on the couch with a Product Concept Documents and that is because they know the business inside out and, let’s face it, these documents are not designed to read like “50 Shades of Grey”.  But a Product Manager is not some night dwelling bride of Frankenstein subjecting her victims by day to death by Powerpoint.  Rather, the benefits of forcing discussion among IT, Sales, Operations, Marketing, Finance and Legal etc. and then collectively agreeing on product business rules, processes and requirements is the reason why we write these documents. So, as our Twilight Saga continues, it is more about the journey rather than the destination.

If you have any Product Management Horror stories then please share them in the comments!

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Brainmates develops and improves Product Management capability in organisations. Our services ensure organisations have high performing product teams and processes to support the design and delivery of goods and services customers love. We provide training, coaching, workshop facilitation and process design for Australia's largest companies.

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