Has Product Management really been “Historically Reactive and Gut-Driven”?

Product Management Today Best Article

I imagine many of us get emails about upcoming webinars from time to time. I got one such email today, and the first sentence paused me in my tracks.

Product Management has historically been reactive and gut-driven.

The email further talked about how Agile Product Management and an experimentation-driven approach can deliver “obvious and immediate” value to users.

For a few moments, I was surprised that this hit a nerve somewhere and that I took exception to that characterization of Product Management. After all, email copy is designed to get attention and elicit a response. And whoever wrote this email ensured that happened by making a dramatic opening statement! Kudos! At the same time, the above sentence felt a little bit to be a case of product management schadenfreude!

To take a historical perspective of Product Management, one has to start with the now famous 1931 memo written by Neil McElroy at P&G, articulating the role of a “Brand Man”.

The memo even references the popular E-word, EXPERIMENT, when it calls out a brand man must “Experiment and recommend wrapper revisions“. Doing experiments, all the way back in 1931! Who would’ve thunk it?! This is anything but reactive and gut-driven!

Following from this legacy of the “Brand Man” at P&G, technology product management has surely come a long way. We’ve all embraced Agile product management and the Lean Startup. These are great evolutions to ensure we build the right product for the right people because life is too short to do otherwise.

Now look, we know there are good product managers and bad product managers (ht: Ben Horowitz). We can laugh at ourselves when the joke’s on us (ht: Scott Adams/Dilbert).

But calling Product Management historically reactive and gut-driven is a tad bit unfair to the legacy of Neil McElroy!

The responsibilities of the “Brand Man” align closely with what Product Manager must do to be successful in her role. Let’s take a closer look.

Brand Man: Study carefully shipments of his brand by units.

Product Manager: Understand the market performance of the product – customer acquisition metrics, whether that is hardware units shipped, software licenses sold, app downloads, etc.

Brand Man: Examine carefully the combination of effort that seems to be clicking and try to apply this same treatment to other territories that are comparable. When brand development is light, study the territory personally at hand – both dealers and consumers – in order to find out the trouble.

Product Manager: Conduct Win-Loss Analysis with customers. Analyze wins to help understand how success can be replicated within the same segment, extended to other segments. Understand why some sales teams and partners are more successful and extend to others. Analyze losses to help understand trouble spots for improvement across the spectrum of product, competitive positioning, go to market, pricing, pre-sales and sales.

Brand Man: After uncovering our weakness, develop a plan…It is necessary…to not simply work out the plan but also to be sure that the amount of money proposed can be expected to produce results at a reasonable cost per case.

Product Manager: Define a strategy to grow the business. Create market forecast for the product. Create an investment case, ensuring it meets the Finance team’s criteria for IRR (internal rate of return).

Brand Man: Outline this plan in detail to the Division Manager under whose jurisdiction the weak territory is, obtain his authority and support for corrective action.

Product Manager: Work with the General Manager of the business unit, and other cross functional executives to get buy-in for the strategy and the plan. Make compelling and effective presentations to senior executives. Tell a story and not just dump data on the audience.

Brand Man: Prepare sales helps and all other necessary material for carrying out the plan. Pass it on to the districts. Work with the salesmen while they are getting started. Follow through to the very finish to be sure that there is no let down in the sales-operation of the plan.

Product Manager: Work with Product Marketing and Sales to enable sales teams and partners with the necessary assets, e.g., business sales tools such as ROI calculator, reference customer case studies, sales battle cards, etc., and technical sales tools such as technical white paper, deployment guidelines, etc. Own the demo. Double up as the sales engineer on the first few customer deals. It is imperative for a Product Manager to know the sales process, pipeline and funnel characteristics for her product.

Often in my conversations with CTOs, GMs, VPs of Engineering, one common criticism of Product Managers that comes up is that PMs only focus on the engineering of the product, and do not pay as much attention to or engage with go to market and sales functions.

Brand Man: Take full responsibility, not simply for criticizing individual pieces of printed copy, but also for the general printed word plans for his brands.

Product Manager: Develop the positioning statement for the product. Understand and influence how this positioning translates into product briefs – data sheets, brochures, web site copy, etc. How the value proposition of the product is communicated is an important aspect of how customers perceive the product. This is not to be looked at the Product Marketing Manager’s job. The phrase “Take full responsibility” is key.

Brand Man: Experiment with and recommend wrapper revisions.

Product Manager: The high order bit here is, of course, the word ‘Experiment’. Develop hypotheses to test assumptions. Define experiments to test hypotheses. Track and measure the results of the experiments, incorporate learnings and iterate. Classic Build-Measure-Learn loop, evidence-led product development.

Brand Man: See each District Manager a number of times a year to discuss with him any possible faults in our promotion plans for the territory.

Product Manager: In enterprise B2B segments, a Product Manager should stay engaged with sales and channel leaders of various geos and territories to stay up to date on customer needs, key accounts, sales pipeline, and ensure the right go to market strategy is in place for that geo.

Brand Man: When the brand men have approached their fullest responsibilities, they should be able to take from the shoulders of the Division Managers…a heavy share of individual brand responsibility.

Product Manager: Good Product Managers move up to become General Managers and CEOs. We have enough examples of that, and not just in technology. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo started her career as a Product Manager. Do I hear “CEO of the Product”? Now some people may take exception to that. Product Managers who have the CEO mindset take full responsibility and hold themselves accountable for the success of their product. They don’t care about fancy labels, titles and entitlement. We can talk endlessly about why the Product Manager is not the CEO of the product but that debate is silly IMHO. It’s about the mindset. Those who have the growth mindset act differently than those who have a fixed mindset.

i-think-you-can-learn-from-history-quote-1

Thanks for reading!

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