Product Management :: Product Marketing

24 December, 2012

Great Questions to ask when being interviewed for a product manager position

I read this post post, 5 Questions Great Job Candidates Ask  and thought about the great questions a product manager candidate might ask their interviewer. (FWIW, this article was linked from another one, The Perfect Job Interview in 8 Simple Steps.)

1. What do you expect me to accomplish in the first 60 to 90 days?

A cracking question because this frames the deliverables in a reasonably tightframe. It also gets the interviewer to think about how practical it is to start the job:
  1. What processes are in place today (ie existing deliverables / answers, processes and coherence)?
  2. What is chronically missing (that you'd be expected to put in place) - and how easy is that to fix?
  3. What training exists?
  4. W|hat support can be anticipated from the rest of the organisation?
  5. And how important does the rest of the organisation consider your position?

You might want to compare the answers that you receive with this Cambridge Product Management Session - 'What a Product Manager does on the first day / week / month / quarter in their new role' which I lead in March 2011.

2. What are the common attributes of your top performers?

This answer indicates what gets respected as individuals: flashes of inspiration, technical genius, landing whale-sized deals, customer service and support, diligence and attention to detail or slogging one's guts out??

Great candidates want to know, because
  1. they want to know if they fit
  2. if they do fit, they want to be a top performer.

3. What are a few things that really drive results for the company?

This sniffs out what's important for the organisation as whole. In many ways, it's better question than 2, because it indicates the organisation's current strengths and weaknesses.

4. Can you give me an example of a new product that didn't live up to expectations? And what happened next?

So, the interviewee is uncovering how are failures / sub-optimal events handled

Lots of things can be inferred here:
  1. Fame or fire culture?
  2. Does the company collect and use (and reuse) data? Does it know what to collect? And from whom? How frequently is this done? Is data collection / analysis a one-off event or welded into the day-to-day business?
  3. Does the company learn from mistakes?

5. If the same thing (ie failed product launch) happened today, what would happen tomorrow?

I'd recommend that this question is asked after you've got the answer to the first one!
This indicates the maturity of the organisation and its recognition of the constant need for improvement.

It would be OK if the answer to question 4 and 5 are wildly different if the organisation is young or in a rapidly moving market.

Mainframes to client server to Web to mobile & apps

The Register carries a thought provoking article called Mobile devices bring back that old client-server feeling.

The article notes the parallel between today's mantra of "any time, any place, anywhere", referring to access on desktops and mobile devices to the trend in the late 80s / early 90s of client-server which shifted applications from mainframes and green screens to elegant Windows GUI rendering.

In both cases, the server (or the cloud, if you will) holds the data and the end device accommodates the rendering and the user experience.

The article mentions two problems of client-server era.
Problem 1: Over the years, of course, the realisation dawned that client-server brought with it as many problems as it solved. As client machines multiplied, developers ended up having to develop and test for a whole range of workstation specs and environments, and whenever something changed operations staff had to worry about getting new versions of software out to every desktop.
Problem 2: As support became more complicated and users discovered that an intelligent client with local storage meant they could create their own little offline empire, the overhead, costs and risks began to escalate. 
Neither of these have gone away. In fact Problem 1 is significantly worse today. With more Operating Systems (desktops and mobile devices) and much shorter release cycles (with the expectation of backward compatibility) and Bring Your Own Device. Oh and then throw in SaaS and complex interactivity between multiple data stores.

Problem 2 still exists - but I think it has generally been cracked as replication / synchronisation is so commonplace now. (BTW, I'm delighted to be corrected by those in the know - please comment below)

The rise of the Web

And do you remember the craze that lampooned client-server? Why, internet + web + HTML, of course, which in its early implementation, the client was dumb (or 'thin' in the parlance).

'So much easier / faster to develop and deploy' was the cry from the development trenches.

History is repeating itself again.

20 December, 2012

Instagram and Facebook mess up on digital ownership

Two days ago, I mentioned Facebook's desmise in my post about Digital Lockers and Personal Digital Identity, most probably due to its clumsy / haphazard approach to users' privacy.

And lo, barely had I hit submit, when Instagram (owned by Facebook) changed its T&Cs to grant Instagram licensing rights to sell all photographs taken by the application. (From the Register: Don't use Instagram, it'll sell YOUR photos)

The reactionary vitriol from its user base demanded that Instagram did an about turn within 24 hours:
Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos. Nothing about this has changed. We respect that there are creative artists and hobbyists alike that pour their heart into creating beautiful photos, and we respect that your photos are your photos. Period.
Blog post by Kevin Systrom co-founder, Instagram

Sigh - what a horrible embarrassment. Will Facebook ever learn???

18 December, 2012

Digital Lockers and Personal Digital Identity

Last week's Economist carried an excellent article last week, 'Know thyself - Data lockers promise to help people profit from their personal information'.

This reminds me sooo much of Midentity's business concepts (see previous blog posts on Midentity) from over 10 years ago.

The time is getting closer for Personal Digital Identity Management. When I first met Simon Grice (Twitter, LinkedIn, in February 2002, I guessed that these concepts that he was talking about back then were 10 years away from viability. I still think they are another 3, 4 or 5 years away from becoming a necessity.

If / When Facebook falls over (most probably due to its repeated inability to manage individual's personal data properly), Personal Digital Identity Management Services will be its replacement and the services that Simon and I sketched out will become reality.

17 December, 2012

Difference between American and British Product Management

Having worked as a Product Manager both in California (see Webmetrics case study) and here in the UK - and this point in time, I'm in search of a new Product Management position in Cambridge - it is become more and more apparent to me that there is a difference between the expectations of Product Manager in UK and the US.

I'm sharing my thoughts with other British PMs, there has been some nodding heads of agreement, although no-one quite knows what those differences are.

So here's my attempt to define the differences. And this commentary is full of huge sweeping and biased generalisations....

US Product Management
From my experience in the US, a role of Product Manager is very commercial. He / she closely tracks the Sales Teams and particularly Sales Engineering / Pre-sales. The conversation with the market is bidirectional: consuming market requirements and positioning the product and the executing the full product marketing gamut.

In product based companies, the marketing function focuses more on corporate marketing and partners with product marketing to do the product leadership / positioning.

UK Product Management
In UK, a product manager is more of a technocrat and a project manager. He / she conducts market research in order to determine product requirements - a rather one-sided market survey approach. He closely shepherds / nurtures / protects the product through development and testing phase. He is the guru of the project plan and task interdependencies.

However product marketing and general communication with the market is generally a secondary function. The Product Marketing function is likely to be pinned to a junior marketing assistant, but the task really being intermittently executed by a more senior marketing representative. This is really the turf of marketing function and the product manager treads lightly over this area for fear of treading on any marketing toes.

Using Pragmatic Marketing's Triad 
To borrow the concept of the Triad of Product Management (credit due to Pragmatic Marketing and its famous  Pragmatic Marketing  framework):
Function UK Product Management US Product Management
Technical PM Strong Moderate
Marketing PM Weak Strong
Strategic PM (*) Unknown, but strong domain knowledge Unknown or Moderate
(*) As noted in my critique of the  Triad of Product Management,  quite where strategic product management fits into fabric of an organisation's decision making is very variable.

Example - Booth Duty
One example is conferences. In the US, booth duty for a product manager (and certainly for the product marketer) is considered mandatory / bread and butter. In the UK, conference attendance is a glorious honour for executives which a (technical) product manager might only be invited to attend if an exec had to drop out.

What do you think??

12 December, 2012

LinkedIn's Skill Endorsements

LinkedIn added the ability to add Skills to one's profile a while ago - I can't recall when. Recently, they have added the ability for members of one's network to endorse your skills.

Previously, one endorsed a colleague who shared a common workplace and one wrote 30-50 words about why your colleague was a good bloke / gal. I used my recommendations with care and only added them to people that really valued.

Too many times, other people's recommendations are cut 'n' paste':
I had the pleasure of working with XXXX at YYYYY. He / She was excellent. I would recommend him / her to anyone.
Hmm, very considered.....

Endorsing skills
Endorsing Skills has added a level of irritation to LinkedIn and may devalue its core offering, as the process has become very slutty. 

Here's the process:
  1. You receive an email from LinkedIn, saying that a colleague has endorsed you for a particular skills
  2. You click to view it and to add it to your profile.
  3. You are then presented with four colleagues with a skill next to each of their names underneath a banner above it that says 'Now, it's your turn...' and a big button that says 'Endorse'.

Conclusion: it is hardly difficult to do.... which therefore devalues its act.

Peter Cochrane espresses my sentiments well: LinkedIn endorsements: I’m not sure I approve.

05 December, 2012

Netbook + Tablets Hybrids

Tablets are the sexy must-have device. Apple' iPad is creaming off profits in this sector - every other vendors is struggling to catch up .... unsuccessfully at the moment.

However, alternative sizes are starting to proliferate: iPad Mini, Google Nexus 7, for example. This will be an exciting sector for the next 18 months or so.

Netbooks, had a massive growth, but tablets have now cannibalised this growth, with shipments plummeting.

Source: GigaOm Nov 2010.

So the concept of slapping together yesterday's burnt out product with today's hottest consumer gadget might sound like a bizarre one.

However, I'm convinced of the merits.

I was very disappointed (after months of rumours) at the time of the iPad launch. It wasn't a form factor for me:
  1. Yes, it's great for consuming content.
  2. Yes, I value portability
  3. But in general, when I'm on the move, I'm also producing content. I find the keyboard on the iPad to be irritating: (a) you have to lean over it to type and to see the output (b) I haven't learnt to touch type on a virtual keypad.

The problem (a) might be solved by devices like Toshiba Libretto W105 (above), with its dual touchscreens (one of which could be used as a keyboard), but it doesn't solve (b) and I don't value the additional screen extension.

My want
So what I want is fundamentally a notebook. However, there are occasions (not that many I admit,) when I would value a tablet purely for consumption:
  • one handed operation eg when commuting
  • or watching BBC iPlayer in bed. (Actually a laptop is great for this, because I can put the laptop on my knees and the screen is at the correct angle. Dunno how to manage a iPad in these circumstances.)

So a netbook with a detachable tablet part would appear to be perfect. Another advantage is that a netbook with a touch sensitive screen is amazing - feature that I adored when I had an NEC MobilePro 780 twelve years ago. The MobilePro really was a device ahead of its time.....

Hybrids (Netbook + Tablets) Shopping List

Here's a list of the devices that have caught my eye:
1. eee Transformer TF101

  • This was the Stuff Magazine's Gadget of Year in November 2011.
  • Look at the video at the bottom of Asus's product page. Is the snap and disconnect really that instantaneous??
  • eee Transformer is Android based. This would most probably work as a second device - the primary device being a Windows laptop.
  • Retails around £400 new, but used seems to go down to £250.

2. HP Envy x2

  • This is Windows 8 device, just released for Christmas with price tag of £800 (ouch!)
  • All the reviews of Windows 8 indicate that Win8 is really designed for the tablet experience and is less good for the desktop experience. (I presume that this hybrid would have to flick between the two modes, based on whether it had a keyboard attached or not.) This sounds confusing, but I haven't had the experience.
  • HP Product Page

3. Dell Duo
  • The Duo has been around for a while, so it's Windows 7 based. 
  • It is a netbook whose screen can flip so that it is on the outside - ie you don't actually disconnect the keyboard. 
  • Having had a try of it, it feels much more like a netbook with a tablet screen, when you want it.
  • Retails about £400.
  • Dell's Product Page

  • I suppose that the Dell Duo looks like the best fit for my requirements, but the eee Transformer looks soo appealing.