Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Product Management - Exec Alignment


Recently there was a really great post by Marty Cagan on the SVPG site about The Product Scorecard.

While there are a number of posts that gloss through this topic ... this post really gets into the guts of why this is critical, very much needed and how it should happen. Its also something I always advocate and that we're currently following so its good validation of our approach :-)

Marty has posted 3 very poignant questions for S/W company CEO's

  • How does your CEO know that every product manager’s efforts are aligned with his business strategy?
  • How does your CEO clearly communicate to your product managers the business priorities?
  • How does your CEO know which product managers are making good decisions and making true progress in carrying out the business strategy?
However I have 3 more for PM's as well
  • Do you feel that your committed features are always over ruled at the last minute by some executive input?
  • Do you have a really long list of backlog items and feel that what's being currently worked on is not from the top of that list?
  • When features are being prioritized or scoped smaller do you know what metrics matter to make those decisions?
Well the list of questions could be much longer, however if root cause analysis is done on most of these questions the likely answer is that there was no alignment between what was being proposed by the PM and executive management or that the team felt that it wasn't aligned with their understanding of the overall product direction or business strategy.

As PM's its cool to think you're the CEO of the product (that's a great mindset to have for a PM), however there is a real CEO as well and usually they're the ones calling the shots. However its not a one way street as many might think and most CXO's are reasonable people and open to discussions if presented the data and right business justification. But ultimately the onus is on the PM to get buyin or prepare to be over ruled at the last minute by what might sound like an executive edict.

Here are the three key factors for creating and maintaining a successful Product scorecard;
  1. Establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that each product manager, and the overall product organization, uses to make decisions and drive products.
  2. Ensure that there is Exec review and buyin so that each KPI is tied to the overall business strategy and desired outcome
  3. Review the KPI's on a regular basis as business strategy and product directions change regularly.
Lastly a hidden gem from Marty's post about socializing the KPI's across the organization to make sure everyone – marketing, sales, execs, engineering, customer service – understands why you are focused on these measures. Skip this and not only are you out of sync with a large part of the organization, but it also leads to the perception that PM is off in its own land.

Ever heard sales feedback that goes something like "We have no idea what PM's upto and why they are not working on all these features that will help us sell more" ... reasons ... probably no product scorecard and definitely no socializing of it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

SaaS Companies do need PM's


One of the PM's forwarded this article "SaaS Company? Thinking of Sending Your Product Managers for Formal Product Management Training and Certification? Don't Waste Your Money." posted by someone at SaaS University.

It was brought up as a sidebar conversation one our weekly PM meeting and led to some animated conversations about how everyone's gonna be fired now ;-)

The post starts by taking some digs at PM training organizations like Pragmatic, Zigzag and AIPMM.

"If you're a SaaS company with product managers and are considering sending your PMs to one of these courses, I wouldn't bother. Save your money and spend it on some things I'll list out later in this piece."
Then it refers to some 2008 Atlanta SaaS Conference comments about a very successful SaaS ERP firm running with no PM's.

So its not v
ery clear from the title of the post or its initial content whether this is about PM Training firms and SaaS companies spending $$'s with them or about PM's not required at SaaS companies.

It characterizes PM's as Keepers of the Tick List, Scribes of the MRD, Voices of the Customer etc.

To make a long story short its all over the place and the message is not very clear and its just yet another article trying to gather some traffic by making outrageous product management related statements. Product Managers are very much needed for SaaS products just like many other products and there's tons of info out there on why, so I wont get into that.

However the one valuable nugget that's embedded in that post which is worth mentioning is the fact that SaaS PM's often do not even scratch the surface when it comes to analyzing all of the data that's available to them on usage, user experience, adoption and enhancements.

Coming from the on-premise world I know that PM's would've killed to get the kind of insights that SaaS products offer in terms of how customers are using/not-using and experiencing the products.

SaaS offers more accurate realtime data for these areas that can be analyzed across customers (where legal or privacy issues are not impacted). The golden rule for anything SaaS should be build a scalable framework that allows you to monitor and measure anything you put out there. This coupled with some newer web2.0 and social tools like rating and instant feedback available now (compared to 10 yrs ago) are invaluable and as a SaaS PM when it comes to decision time my favorite evaluation phrase is "can we query this data and run some analysis on it ..."

Now its easier said than done cause once you've crossed that bridge you're in the territory of what's the right metric and how do we measure it etc. But that's another conversation for a later date.

Update: There is a great post today by Tom Grant from Forrester and its a great article on why SaaS Companies need PM's