The single most frequent question I get from product leaders in companies both large and small, is where should product management live? The choices are most often engineering or marketing. While if you have the right personalities, it can work in either place, I’m actually not a fan of it residing in either.
As product people, we’re first and foremost in the idea business. We have to come up with great ideas and then make them a reality. While this takes skill and practice, the main ingredient is something that I don’t know how to teach. We depend on smart people for the smart ideas. Sometimes these ideas come from ourselves, but if we depend only on ourselves for the smart ideas, we’re severely limiting our potential.
If your company is like many, there's some natural tension between marketing and product. One often controversial topic is the appropriate role in product creation of market research tools and techniques such as focus groups, customer surveys, site analytics, site visits, usability testing/field testing and competitive analysis. Unfortunately I think this is an area of significant confusion, fueled in part by the various camps – those from a marketing background that may see the benefits of these tools, and those from product that see the limitations. The results is that some product teams miss out because they don’t take advantage of the information these tools and techniques can offer, and other teams go astray because they depend on these techniques to answer questions the tools are incapable of.
Judging from all the feedback from the last posting, it sounds like quite a few of you are struggling with your company’s process for product decisions (or lack thereof!). Lots of complaints about endless meetings without structure or decisions, second guessing earlier decisions, vetoes, politics and what I call “drive-bys” (when a manager just drops in every so often, shoots down your progress, and then is gone again without providing the feedback or guidance that could help you address his concerns).
In the last newsletter I spoke about the differences between large and small product companies, and how different they are and how different type of people thrive (and struggle) at each. However, I did not talk about the case where a small company quickly grows into a large company.
Two questions I get a lot are: “Is now the time to join one of the cool new startups?” and “The startup I’m at isn’t doing so well, should I join one of the big guys that’s hiring so aggressively right now?”
In my last posting I criticized Google’s culture including their hiring practices. In this issue, I’d like to talk about the company that I think does the best job in the industry at consistently hiring strong people.
“Hubris: The false pride that comes before the fall” - Wikipedia
For as far back as I can remember, it wasn’t enough to have a good product, you also needed a strong sales person to get the customer to actually commit and sign the check. In fact, the lack of skilled sales people was and remains the limiting factor for many companies. As a product person, this has always frustrated me. I never liked having someone between me and my customers, but I understood the need for the sales person to maintain “account ownership.” But it doesn’t mean I liked it. In fact, for me personally, one of the big attractions of consumer internet services over enterprise companies is the free access to my customers. I don’t have to worry about some key influencer deciding he prefers the wining and dining from our competitor’s sales person over our own.
One of the fun things about working on a 1.0 product is that you get to start fresh with your community of users. It’s true that your user base is still influenced by other products and services that they’ve been exposed to, but overall you don’t have to worry much about things like backwards compatibility or retraining your users. However, for most of us, we’re in the business of creating updates or new versions of existing products or services.