Here at the Product Management Festival, we are committed to providing an exciting and thought provoking conference. So for 2015, we will not only have some of the best product managers and inspiring leaders attending, but we have decided to give a new structure to the presentations and workshops at the PMF.
This structure is based on the stages in a product lifecycle. So we will focus the topics on: Market, Strategy, Design, Build, Launch and Growth.
The “Whole Product” approach of Prabhakar Gopalan uses a similar design to express the important areas (we acknowledge his design). So we invited Prabhakar to discuss this with us and share his perspectives. He was part of the Product Management Festival last year where he had did the presentation The Whole Product Manager: A Craftsmanship Approach.
1. A recommendation often made regarding markets and localization is: become the leader in one market and only then try to enter new ones. Do you agree?
Geoff Moore’s “Crossing The Chasm” provides a pretty good study, case by case, on how the “land and expand” strategy works in technology markets. It’s logical and makes sense versus ‘spray and pray’ or the ‘peanut butter’ strategies that some companies fall into and fail. You’ll find very little disagreement from me on this one.
2. When talking about strategy, what do you consider are the most important things to look at?
Strategy is a combination of three things:
1) take a holistic look at systems and interactions of system variables
2) chart a course based on the available information and outcomes desired
3) actively learn and manage the emergent outcomes
When managers are not systems thinkers and view the world through a narrow lens as linear thinkers you can see how strategy fails. Richard Pascale noted that Western thinkers often oversimplify cause and effect. See Pascale’s Effect for further study on this idea including the famous Honda case study.
The key to strategy is organizational agility. Strategy has to be designed, calibrated and executed based on organizational agility which is contextual. You can’t make a horse out of a donkey, no matter what strategy you take.
3. We all know design is important, but what do you think product managers should have in mind about this?
The simple answer is to look at the enduring work of Dieter Rams. He has the ten commandments for good design. There are countless products posted on Product Hunt everyday. How many can one remember and recall even the next day? Why do you think it is like that? Dieter Rams philosophy of ‘less is more’ is the quintessence of approaching design as a functional and aesthetic element of crafting a product. It is definitely not about making things pretty visually in an app.
I think the practice of making physical objects might be a great way to build the temperament needed to build a ‘less is more’ kind of product. It is easy to grab a lot of things and start making stuff in the virtual world but the physical world offers discipline and patience in building things.
4. Do you think it is possible to build products that users love, but still fail?
Absolutely. I’ll tell you from personal experience. I once built a task management application that was dear to many of its users, but it failed to get serious adoption and as a consequence of that failed to be a sustainable project. If you can’t figure out profitable growth on a sustained basis, even products with devoted users will fail. That failure taught me a lot about the importance of traction, distribution, competition and network effects.
5. Launch dates with a lot of buzz around them or rolling out products quietly? Which one would you advise using?
I use the word YMMV (your mileage may vary) in my CraftsmanPM workshop to discuss this topic. The question I’d ask is: what is the launch goal? Is it getting more eyeballs or is it getting high quality product adoption? And what is the cost of customer acquisition through either route that you are willing to pay. If it is product adoption at a low cost, you are much better off growing quietly. If your CMO plans a rolling thunder big launch with a huge marketing budget and promises thousands of eyeballs, it is time to hire a new one. Taking a measured approach to understanding product adoption and growing organically is generally the best way to make and market a well-crafted product. Of course exceptions are always there.
6. What do you consider being an example of growth hacking, and what tips can we take away from that?
Applying creative thinking, an experimental mindset and a constant thirst for learning are the kind of qualities one should acquire and develop to be a ‘growth hacker’. My firm’s growth consulting practice focuses on thinking holistic, figuring out the inherent value streams and then coming up with interesting ways to change the existing links. Many of these methods involve understanding human behavior and psychology. Much of growth hacking discussion has been on acquiring new customers or users through low cost outbound marketing experiments. However, I think there’s plenty of innovation to do within the product itself to enable growth hacking. The recent works of BJ Fogg, Nir Eyal in the areas of behavior design and habit formation, respectively, are examples of building products that focus on the psychology of using the products as an active growth channel for user retention, than on acquisition of new users as a separate, unconnected aspect of the product-market funnel.
7. Apart from the above, what other topics do you think are important for Product Management?
Story and Context are two important things that are not found in any dogmatic framework curriculum for product management training. Every product has a story and a context. It’s not these alone – metrics, data, requirements management and traction. It is about telling a great story in the right context. Last year when I gave a talk at PMF’14 I mentioned about two parallel swim lanes — one for maker skills and the other for meta skills. These are the competencies product managers need to do great work. I can’t quite figure out what time one should spend on either of these (YMMV!) but what I do know is that both are important and a solid plan to continuously acquire and apply those skills in any context is what makes product managers different from other roles in the company.
To attend the Product Management Festival this year, get your ticket here.