6 Qualities of a Great Product Manager

greatproductleaderI was recently talking to a co-founder of a leading social network and he asked what in my view are the qualities of a great product manager.  I could think of three right away but I believe there are three more that are equally important. Since this is a question every person either responsible for hiring a product manager or works with a product manager wonders about, I thought I should share them with you. Here are the six qualities that make a great product manager:

Strategic Thinker

A product manager is a mini-CEO of sorts. He needs to understand the current product strategy and how it aligns with the overall company strategy. He needs to know the product vision, how it will generate customer value and what is the differentiating advantage over its competitors. Once a product manager gets this and is able to clearly articulate it, you would be surprised how the rest of the firm will rally behind it in order to build a winning product. For the product to be a long term success, he needs to envision how the product, industry and competition is going to evolve and develop a long term roadmap.

Passion for products

Product managers should love products. They should be able to recognize and respect great products. They should look at products and be able to tell what is good, what is inspiring and what can be improved. If the product manager is truly passionate about the product, it rubs of the entire team and leads to the development of great products.

Keep Score

In addition to knowing what the game is, a product manager should be able to keep score. Keeping score means identifying the right metrics and knowing when you have won. Winning means identifying the current baseline for the metrics and the goal the team would be shooting for in the next release. Once a product manager is able to accomplish this, everybody in the team will have clear understanding as to how the game is won. The team is rightfully aligned, motivated, inspired and innovative.

Ability to Prioritize

One of the key attributes of a product manager is to be able to prioritize the backlog. Once the product manager and the entire company knows what game is been played and how the score is kept and won, prioritizing becomes an easy task.  The product manager needs to map the product strategy down to the individual features, and prioritize them in the right order across phases so as to maximize the winnings. If a product manager is able to do this well, all stakeholders within the company will buy into the prioritized backlog even though their pet features have not made the cut.

Collaborative leader

Building a product is a collaborative process and its take a product manager with collaborative nature to pull it off. Even though a product manager is the leader of the product, most of the people development team does not report to him. Moreover, product requirements come from various functional groups and customers and they all are considered important by those contributing them. In such an environment, a product manager cannot be dictatorial. He needs to be able to inspire others to follow him. He needs to be able to negotiate while prioritizing the backlog and appease all stakeholders. He needs to clearly communicate why a particular feature was chosen over an other one for the current release. At the same time he needs to be confident, assertive and at times lay down the law since the buck stops with the product leader.

Execution

Product managers need to be biased for action. They need to get things done. In order for a product to be shipped there are hundreds of things to get done and a product manager should be able to get down and dirty to get them done. He needs to QA, write marketing copies, edit HTMLs, mock up wireframes, and even do PR. A product manager needs to do anything needed to make the product a success.

At the end of the day, product manager need to make things happen. They should have the ability and qualities to rally the troops, sell them on the vision and march them to victory.

Are their qualities I have missed? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Product management books that every entrepreneur should read

In the last four months since OfficeDrop’s tech and team was acquired, I have been catching up on a backlog of books that I bought but never had the time to read. Here are two books on product management I really like and strongly recommend that every entrepreneur and startup employee read:

 

Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan

inspiredlgIf there is one book you want to read on product management, this is the book. This book is not just for product managers but anybody who works with product managers that includes those from marketing, sales, engineering, project management and customer service.

It is an easy read, 200 pages long, one that you could plough through while taking a walk (I read it while walking Copper, our one and only dog) or while commuting to work.

In the first section, Marty talks about the importance of product management in this new world where 100s of new companies are launched every week and many of them fail. He discusses the roles and responsibilities of a good product manager, how they interact with non-product management team members and why great user interfaces play a critical role in product success.

In the second section, he discusses the process, activities and best practices to build great products – everything from product discovery to building a new minimal and marketable product. He finishes the section by presenting techniques to validate and test the product.

In the last section, he discusses what it takes to creating inspiring products by drawing upon experiences and best practices employed by companies such as Apple.

Agile Product Management with Scrum by Roman Pichler

Pichler_MECH.qxdIf Marty’s book is about what good product management is, Roman’s book is about how to practice it in real life. If you are an agile product manager or running agile product teams, this book is a must read.

I liked the second chapter of the book where he talks about the techniques one could employ in developing what the next product or the next version of the product should be. One technique that stands out is the Kano model. In the Kano model, you prioritize your backlog items by classifying them as either basics, performance or delighters.  I really like the idea of having one or more delighters in each product release, as it makes for a great story and excite bloggers and mainstream media. We employed this frequently at OfficeDrop when we released new versions of our mobile and desktop apps.

The third chapter discusses how to work with the product backlog. Techniques and best practices to groom, estimate and prioritize the backlog are presented. Chapter four discusses how to develop and manage a release plan and chapter five discusses how to run sprint meetings.

 

I would recommend reading these two books in the order I have listed. But if you are managing a product and have just enough time to read just one book, then you should read Roman’s book.

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Using a pricing decoy

One of my sysadmins pointed out a great post from yesterday on using a decoy on your pricing page. If done well this can be a great strategy.

I’ve used this decoy pricing tactic on OfficeDrop’s pricing pages for a while. In particular, our digital filing pricing page has an expensive plan that has nicely increased overall conversion on the page.

The main result of this decoy is increased conversion on the page. In otherwords, a higher number & percent of visitors to the page pick a plan and become an OfficeDrop user. It hasn’t really changed the MIX of plans (very few people pick the expensive plan and the same % of people pick the other plans). But I consider the decoy plan a success because it’s getting more people into our funnel.

 

decoy pricing
Conversion Rate w/Decoy Pricing

You can see the pop here when we added a decoy pricing plan to our standard digital filing pricing page. This chart is the % of visitors who visited the page and then signed up for a plan. I.e. the conversion rate of the page. Note that there is a little dip in the beginning that has nothing to do with pricing; it’s a data error. The way to look at this w/o the data error is the two little peaks on the left are close to the pre-decoy conversion rate average; the hump on the rigth is the new average post addition of the decoy pricing plan.

What the Decoy Pricing Plan Looks Like

The decoy pricing is the “ScanPro” “ScanFive” plan on the right. (Thanks for the typo catch Pete!)

 

decoy pricing plan

Decoy Pricing Plan

It’s designed to be expensive and to make clear that we’ve got the ability to support additional users in the plans… it’s not really clicked that often.

Anyways, check out the post I linked to above. You’ll find it very solid, and it explains why a decoy plan works.

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Intuit ends free document management due to an accounting rule?

Really? Does this make any sense? Intuit announced that QuickBooks 2011 will not have a free document management plan due to a change of accounting policies. The email they recently sent to QuickBooks users said:

Free Document Management will be discontinued in QuickBooks 2011

What’s Changing?

Document Management is free in QuickBooks 2010, and it will stay that way. But after May 15, it will no longer be free in QuickBooks 2011.

Why?

A change in our accounting policies requires us to stop offering free services in any version of QuickBooks after 2011. We’re not happy about it because we know Document Management could be an integral part of how you do business.

Waaaa? It’s an accounting software company, you’d think they could figure out a way to not let the accountants drive important business decisions. Does this mean that Intuit will never offer a paid version of Mint because they’ll have to end the free version? Does this mean that no packaged software companies can do a freemium upsell model for attached services? If the latter is true, will a company like Microsoft – that makes a lot of money off of one time installed software – be totally unable to acquire freemium SaaS companies? Will Intuit never be able to acquire a freemium company like Box.net? This seems nutty.

I just don’t get this move by Intuit, unless the real reason that the free plan is being eliminated is because they just aren’t making money off of the free to paid upgrades and this is a way to kill off the free plan with an excuse that is so obtuse customers are unlikely to question it.

What do you think? Are the accountants just running the show at Intuit and forcing business decisions to be made off of accounting rules, or is it likely that the free plan just wasn’t working for Intuit as a business/marketing model?

Here is most of the email that I was able to screen capture:

Quickbooks discontinues free document management

QuickBooks discontinues free document management

Note, I have no info other than this email about Intuit’s document management policy change. And these opinions and questions are 100% mine, having nothing to do with my employer.

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Good product development post by Rob Go

Rob Go, seed investor with NextView Ventures (I wrote about NextView last month), has yet another good post, this time on Product Development – Librarians and Poets. He talks about how product management and development needs bot vision and execution/organization, and contrasts several well known startups, internet companies and founder and talks about how they played to their strengths. Good piece, check it out!

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Delight your customers – How Intuit Out-Competed Microsoft?

intuitlogoI was at a private luncheon 10 days ago with Scott Cook, the founder and Chairman of Intuit. Coincidentally, Microsoft officially withdrew MS Money from the market on the same day – a huge achievement for Scott Cook and Intuit. When asked how he managed to stem off competition from Microsoft, this is what he had to say:

Solve Customer Pain Point(s)

Most companies are founded with an objective to solve a pain point but only few firms continue to focus on the customer after they have achieved success. What Intuit has done in the last 25 years and is relentlessly focussed on what the customer pain points are and then go about solving them. They engage the customer before, during and after each release cycle to ensure what they build is what the customer wants.

Delight the customer

Solving the customer pain point is not just enough but doing it in a manner that the customer loves it is what counts. The customer interact with a company and its products in various ways and various times. The post-sale customer experience is even more important than the pre-sale experience. How the product satisfies the needs, how accessible the company is (customer service) and how involved the user community is play a major role in enriching the customer experience.

These according to Scott, will create a loyal customer base for life and continue to generate word of mouth. When Scott asked Bill Gates what the main reason to acquire Intuit (in the mid 90s) is, Bill responded by saying that they could replicate everything that Intuit did but not the word of mouth. No wonder, Microsoft pulled out of personal money management market.

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