Normally I focus on the product definition aspects of creating successful products. My reasoning is simple: it doesn’t matter how great a job you do in building your product if it isn’t the right product. That’s really the role of the product manager; to define the right product at the right time. However, there is one little detail that too many product teams seem to miss, even when they define an otherwise excellent product. That is, the product has to actually work.
You can read about technology breakthroughs in the green tech space nearly every day now, but my favorite has been watching the guys at Xerox PARC turn their expertise in electronics, materials science, printed circuit board technology and systems software towards the green technology market. We all owe a much greater debt to these guys than most people realize (especially if you’re reading this on a Mac or even using a mouse), but they’ve come up with some very innovative approaches to solar energy that could redefine how we generate power (check out concentrator photovoltaics). Another example is in solid-state lighting; did you realize that 22 percent of electricity produced in the US is used for lighting purposes, and that solid state lighting technology can cut this in half or more?
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