Look at any successful company and you’ll find a set of people that stand out and are the ones that really make the difference. It may be the difference between a great product or a terrible one. Or the difference between getting the business partnership the company needs to reach its customers or getting lost in obscurity. Or the difference between getting the product out when it needs to be or stuck in perpetual delays.
One of the most common questions I get from product managers, usually working at large companies, is how to manage their managers? They are frustrated with their manager. Not that they don’t like their manager, but that they feel like the sands keep shifting, their manager gives them different and conflicting direction each week, and it’s always two steps forward and one step back. Especially in big companies, there are so many influencers and stakeholders that getting a company to move in a single direction long enough to get a product out can be a true challenge.
Company culture is one of those vague concepts that can mean different things to different people. I use the term here to capture the company philosophy in terms of how it treats its employees, customers and partners, and the impact this has on product teams.
I’ve always been a big believer in the adage that employees join a company but they leave a manager. This applies to product managers as much as anyone. Our manager is a major factor in our job satisfaction. For those of us that are also managers, we need to always keep in mind the role we play in the effectiveness and enthusiasm of our employees.
Silicon Valley is all about creating products, and I would argue that no company in history has done that better than HP. HP had an absolutely unmatched record of consistent product innovation in a wide range of markets. That’s why they’ve personified Silicon Valley better than anyone else. Many companies, even large successful companies like IBM and Oracle, are essentially one-product companies – they ride the wave of their big product for decades, but essentially they don’t innovate past that. But Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were able to create a company that was unique in that they created a culture and mechanism for breeding new products and new businesses. HP has created literally thousands of breakthrough products in its history. I know of no other company in the world today or in the past that has managed to do this. Even more important for this valley, HP spawned hundreds of other Silicon Valley companies.
The other day I was doing an interview with a member of the press having to do with the future of Silicon Valley, and I was asked the question: “Do you think there are any good opportunities left?” It took me a minute to realize that he meant this as a serious question. The whole concept seems so foreign to me especially since I personally see more opportunity now than I have ever seen before.
Just about every company I talk to now is outsourcing to one degree or another. Yet the results are decidedly mixed. I think there are several reasons for the problems that companies are having. Often the problems stem from issues with the product development process, or from language or cultural issues, but more often than not I think the core issue stems from using outsourcing for the wrong reasons.
With apologies to one of my favorite authors, Michael Lewis’ “The New New Thing,” I wanted to talk today about what I see as a common misconception among product managers and companies in general. So many companies believe they need to create an entirely new market in order to do something big. The media helps fuel this; probably the single most common question I get, especially from the press, is “what’s going to be the next new thing?”
A pig is a bad product. Lipstick on a pig is when product marketing tries to make the best of a bad situation. The metaphor may be a bit harsh, but the message is clear.
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”