Oct 16

What Will Product Management Be Like In 5 Years?

The future is hard to tease out, but here's what will happen in product management's future. (CC 2.0 by PunkToad)

The future is hard to tease out, but here’s what will happen in product management’s future. (CC 2.0 by PunkToad)

Earlier this year Janna Bastow of ProdPad put out a call for opinions on the future of product management. I quickly responded then. And realized later it would also make a good blog post.

To understand the future of product management I started from the “present” of product management. Where are we now in the product management discipline?

The “Present” of Product Management

Product management today has these characteristics:

Where (I hope) product management will be in five years

  1. Product management will be understood to be more about finding market problems and solving them than about “product” per se.
  2. Businesses will understand that the activities and effectiveness of product management are the primary leverage the business has on revenue and profits. Small improvements in PM effectiveness have outsize effects on the top and bottom lines.
  3. The business value of PM – i.e., revenue per PM – will be well known and (somewhat) managed to.
  4. Product managers take strong control of their part of go-to-market.
  5. We will have escaped from the fetters of the old inherited IT lexicon.

Three things you can do

  1. Make sure you’re spending enough time on the most valuable product management activity – finding and validating market problems.
  2. Understand where you and your company are in terms of finance-related product management ratios.
  3. Think about the literal and connotative meanings of the words you use – requirements, features, roadmaps, applications, agile. Make sure you understand not only what you mean by them, but what others hear when you say them. And if those aren’t aligned, change what you say.

Oct 15

What Is Marketing, To Product Managers?

Quick take:

  • Marketing, the department, is about executing the programs that deliver leads and establish brands.
  • Product management, the department or function, is responsible for providing Marketing with the value proposition, the positioning, the segments to attack, and benefit/feature stories they and Sales use as the basis for those marketing programs and for individual sales engagements.

You can’t let Marketing develop the value proposition. In fact, you’d better know it before you even start building the solution, because you understand the problem you’ve solving, the segment who has that problem, and why they will buy your solution instead of doing something else with their money (the three components of a value proposition). Marketing can help refine it and articulate it, but it’s not their job to come up with it.

So, if there’s no Marketing department, guess what? You get to do the execution. If there is a Marketing department, guess what? You still have to come up with the value proposition, the segmentation, the competitive differentiation, and the benefits/features.

Thoughts? Is this how you do it?

Jun 14

A Weak Value Proposition Is A Symptom, Not A Disease

Templates – powerful when appropriate – like the one I describe in this post. (Image by Bill Bradform, CC 2.0 licensed)

This post was inspired by an article about positioning that Gabriel Steinhardt (@blackblot) posted on LinkedIn recently. One of the best tools for coming up with good positioning is a good value proposition.

This term, “value proposition,” is thrown around a lot by product managers and product marketers, but as far as I can tell, mostly they don’t mean anything specific by it. There’s a lot of value in putting some structure around the value proposition and in this post I will tell you how I write one.

Recalling from Product Management 101 (you took that, right?) your product needs to:

  • Solve a problem
  • For a segment that’s willing to pay for the solution, and
  • Be better in a meaningful way from competitors

The value proposition should capture all that.

I use the value proposition template from Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore. The template is:

<Product> is a <category>, for <segment>, that provides <benefits>. Unlike other offers in the category, <product> does/has <differentiators>.”

(Obviously, as you fill in the blanks here, you can do some wordsmithing.)

For example:

The iPod is a digital music player for everyone who wants to listen to their own music. It can hold 10,000 of your own songs and play them in any order you want. Unlike other music players, it’s simple and intuitive to use, and it’s connected to Apple’s iTunes, giving you instant access to millions of songs, including the latest hits, your favorite classics, and everything in between.

You want to capture the category into which the product fits, who the product is solving a problem for (the segment) and the problem it solves for them (the benefits), and why it’s better than the competitors. If you can do all that clearly, not only do you have an excellent basis for all the more detailed marketing you need to do, but you also have an excellent elevator pitch.

The value proposition has another benefit for you, though. If you can’t create a good one, it’s a good indicator that your product either isn’t solving a meaningful problem for a segment, or that it can’t be differentiated. The things that enable products to win – solving a market problem, differentiating from competitors – are laid bare in the value proposition. And if you can’t articulate them, how is your salesperson going to be able to pitch it – or your prospect understand why they should pay money or time for it?

Feb 14

The Best Way To Engage Your Audience Is To Help Them Kick Ass

I’ve been reviewing competitor websites recently for an enterprise software client who needs to improve their value proposition and market positioning. It’s been interesting, primarily for how terrible these websites all are. (Not to say that they aren’t pretty, or that the companies aren’t successful – but with a few exceptions the marketing is not great.)


Most of the sites, the more enterprise-oriented products, have very similar messages. 90% of the marketing content on these sites is interchangeable.

The basic benefits claims are of the form:

  • [Product] is a [category] to provide [business goal]
  • [Feature] does [X] to provide [business goal]
  • [Business problem] is bad. Use [product] to prevent it {using [feature]}

These sites talk a lot about “you” – but “you” on these sites means “your business,” not you as an individual user or role. Even though the CIO is often the purchaser of these products, it’s never the CIO’s interests that are addressed, much less an IT manager or operator, but the business’s.

Likewise, all the goals and benefits mentioned are to the enterprise or business, not individuals.

Bottom line, these sites focus on “business goals” – be more efficient, sell more, reduce downtime, increase availability.

Talk About Practical Goals To Be More Human-oriented

However, some of the sites get more personal, and start to bring in what Alan Cooper calls “practical goals” and “personal goals” in his book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum. Roughly, you can think of practical and personal goals as follows:

  • Practical goal = make one of the things in your job description easier – e.g., “see all the data you need in one window.”
  • Personal goal = address something that gives me (or takes away) job or personal satisfaction or motivation – e.g., “be a hero” or “we automate things so you don’t have to figure them out.”

These sites and products are less oriented to enterprises, which is not a coincidence. While none abandon business goals as “benefits”, some of them mention practical goals as benefits as well, usually in the form:

  • You can achieve [a practical goal] using [product]

The other big change on these sites is that “you” often means the developer, tester, or ops person, rather than the business. These changes definitely make these sites more engaging, but adding in personal goals is more powerful.

Personal Goals Are The Most Engaging

The bright spot was one site that actually talks about personal goals (sometimes):

  • You can achieve [a personal goal] by using [product]
  • [Feature] addresses [a personal pain point]

This site actually used the “Be a hero” line, as well as describing a set of features that let you “kick ass.”

Customer success stories

I was fascinated to see that all the characteristics of these websites carried through into their customer success stories as well. If the website focused solely on business goals, then so did the success stories. If the website talked about personal goals, then the success stories did as well. In fact, there seems to be a more powerful effect – not only were the success stories oriented around achieving personal goals, but they also did a much better job of talking about differentiators, such as order of magnitude improvements and better ability to link to other business processes in the company.

What can you do today?

Here are two things you can do immediately to start improving your messaging based on these observations.

  1. When you find yourself writing down a benefit in the form of a business goal (“[Feature] does [X] to provide [business goal]”), ask “Why?” five times to drill down until you discover one or more personal goals. And then use the personal goal as part of the benefit.
  2. When you are interviewing a customer for a success story, look for how the customer achieved a personal goal, eliminated a personal pain point, achieved an order of magnitude improvement, or can now work better with other organizations. You can use questions like:
    • “What are you no longer worried about now that you are using [product]?”
    • “What unexpected benefits did you get when you started using [product]?”
    • “How has [product] changed the way you interact with other organizations in the company?”
    • “Compare your work life for me now that you have [product] versus how it used to be”

Feb 14

The Right Level of Abstraction, Also Called “Chunks of Value”

For every human activity, there is an appropriate level of abstraction to talk about it. Often there’s a big picture, and there are details, and somewhere in between is the really meaningful stuff. In baseball you can talk about who won or lost the game (big picture), and you can talk about each pitch (detail), but baseball’s at its most interesting at the at-bat and innings levels. This is where the manager is putting most of his or her attention during the game, even though he or she is judged at the end of the season on the big picture of win/loss ratio.

For product managers, the big picture is the release. And the detail level is the tasks that the programmers are working on to create the functionality. But the most interesting level for product managers is the “chunks of value” level. Elsewhere I use the term “feature,” and you can also call them “requirements” or “user stories” or any term you like. But the clunky, clumsy term “chunks of value” gets to their real meaning – value that I could deliver to the customer or market.

Some of the basic facts around chunks of value:

  • There are always more than you can deliver – demand outstrips capacity
  • Any given chunk of value is more desirable for some customers than others, and is better aligned with some of your marketing goals than others.
  • Some chunks of value are very large and might take multiple releases to deliver fully, while some are very small and can be completed in a day or a week.
  • Chunks of value are related to what customers ask for or say they need, but they are not necessarily the same. A customer’s request or desire usually represents one way, and usually not the best way, to address a deeper need that the customer is not able to articulate (that’s your job).
  • Simply delivering the chunk of value in some form is no guarantee of success. You need to make sure it’s delivered in a usable, engaging, pleasing way.


This is another excerpt from my upcoming new book, a template that product management organizations can use to automate the PM process. Look for it soon from an e-book distributor near you. To be notified when it’s available, please sign up for my mailing list over in the right sidebar.

Jul 13

Doug Hall’s Three Laws of Marketing Physics

As a product manager I use some simple heuristics to help me think about product management problems or situations. I’ve written about my three product rules of thumb which can determine if there’s a good chance of a product being successful.

Doug Hall has a great set of rules – actually, they are “laws,” according to their author – called the Three Laws of Marketing Physics. He describes them in his book Jump Start Your Business Brain, highly recommended and a great read for this and other reasons.

Innovation expertise, guaranteed

Hall is an innovation expert, the inventor of Innovation Engineering and founder of Eureka Ranch, where he and his team run Eureka Inventing, among other programs.  These are innovation and ideation sessions with teams from large and small companies who need to improve their product offerings. It’s a 12-week process that “takes you from dreams and goals to a Meaningfully Unique Innovation that is highly protectable.”

The Three Laws of Marketing Physics capture the three things you need to maximize the likelihood of your product being successful – they don’t guarantee success, but if you don’t have them your probably of success plummets:

  1. An Overt Benefit – what’s in it for the customer? What good thing – benefit – do they get from your product? You must be able to articulate this very clearly – “overtly.” You can’t depend on prospects to figure it out themselves, you have to tell them directly.
  2. A Real Reason to Believe – Persuasive credibility that your product can deliver what you’re promising with your Overt Benefit. Customer confidence is low, and distrust of vendors is high, especially in this age where the buyer may have as much or more knowledge as the seller. You need highly credible and distinct evidence that the customer will gain the benefits you are promising.
  3. A Dramatic Difference – Of course you know you need to differentiate from your competitors in order to win. But you may not realize how dramatic the difference needs to be – ten times bigger than you think, and focused directly on the Overt Benefit and the Real Reason To Believe.

It’s immediately obvious that a product that aligns with the three Laws will have a distinct advantage over products that don’t. But Doug Hall goes farther in his book and lays out exactly how much the advantage is. For example, a product with a low Dramatic Difference has a 15% likelihood of success, while a product with a high Dramatic Difference has a 53% probability of success. And a product that combines all three – an Overt Benefit, a Real Reason To Believe, and a Dramatic Difference has a commensurately multiplicative effect on probability of success.

Over the next few days we’ll drill down on these Laws a bit more, with a few examples. In the meantime, if you’re a product person and you can’t articulate these three Laws for your product, you might have some woodshedding to do.