As a product manager for several years, I had to think for a while before I could answer him - and the contents of that e-mail was morphed into this article.
The definition of a product manager is not a standard across different industries. In consumer products FMCG , its called as brand manager, in manufacturing companies its called as product marketing manager, in IT industry the name of product manager is quite common.
Product manager is a unique role in all organizations and there is never a well defined career path to become a product manager - unlike a engineering manager, Account Manager etc.
To begin with, one needs to understand the role of product manager. Its part technical and part marketing, and product manager straddles both the worlds.
A product manager must have the necessary technical skills needed to develop the product, i. This implies deep technical skills: To illustrate this, start with a simple product and identify 3 improvements that can be done to the product.
Then document this in technical terms - telling an engineer what needs to be done and how. If you can do that level of detail, then you will win respect from engineers.
Product manager needs to understand the market requirements of the present and in the future. Product manager must understand how customer use the product as on today and also determine what additional needs they will have in future.
Communication skills are vital for a product manager. As a product manager in software world, one must be able to " speak geek" - i.
Essentially, product manager must be able to sell the product to customers. Having mastered these three essential skills, landing a product management job is not easy.
One also needs some luck, network and faith. Many product managers I know have fallen into that role - because they had the skills, so plan to campaign for yourself.
Ideally, start off with a small company which is starting a product manager role, and when the role is just being defined, you have the best chance to make it.
It is much easier in smaller companies than in a large one. Product managers are unique - there is no set career path for product managers, so after getting into that role, you still need to grow by acquiring good project management skills, negotiations skills, having good business fundamentals, and technically well versed - and that sets you up for greater roles in leadership roles.
Posted by Arun Kottolli at 2: What's Wrong at Cisco? Recently, July , Cisco announced a major layoff - about people are being let go.
This is a public acknowledgment of things going wrong at Cisco. Leadership failure in consumer space products. Flip was a very successful product, but leadership failed to capitalize on this.
Video camera in the US market is no easy task, and the Flip team achieved this, yet the top leadership of Cisco was not able to capitalize on it.
Both the acquisitions have not been able to capitalize on Cisco Brand name, nor Cisco strengths. These two divisions have not been able to take advantage of Cisco brand name nor Cisco is able to take advantage of these two companies distribution chain.
Juniper, Force10 have developed superior products. UCS strategy is a high risk strategy. All this implied that Cisco will now face increased market disadvantages when dealing with integrated IT infrastructure deals.
The gains in UCS is still not sufficient to offset the losses in networking space. Cisco product line has become too fragmented and lacks inter operability.
Cisco failed to innovate. This probably is the biggest fault. In the heydays Cisco was able to buy innovation with its shares and acquire innovative companies, but in the process, Cisco failed to innovate internally.
All the Cisco's new products - were from acquisitions. As acquisitions stopped, the new product innovation tap stopped flowing. Cisco products have become too difficult to manage.
Within Cisco, there are several standards, tools and methods for managing their networking devices, causing a major headache for the network administrator to manage all the devices.
In short, Cisco has fallen behind the market needs for managing networks. Cisco's focus on large government contracts for services diverted management focus away from products towards services.
Cisco built a large services organization - but at the cost of product supremacy. IBM was able to move from hardware to services, and in the process, IBM lost its supremacy in hardware - which was OK, as the gains in services was more than losses in hardware.
Organizationally, Cisco has become too big and has built up several layers of bureaucracy and is becoming top heavy. Posted by Arun Kottolli at 4: Leadership , Product Management.
Wednesday, July 27, Resource Management in Projects. Resource management is one of the key corner stones of project management. Why am I placing so much importance on resource management?
The answer is simple. Resources cost money, and not having the right resources at the right time upsets the schedule. In complex projects - especially non-IT projects, there are several types of resources that needs to be managed: Equipment, supplies, machinery, people, land, clearances etc.
These resources cost money to procure. If the lead times are too short, it costs more money to get the resources.
So it pays to look ahead in the project planning stage and make proper plans to procure the required resources in a timely manner for the lowest cost.
Changes to the cost of the resources has a big impact on the viability of the project, therefore resource management also impacts cost management.
In my extensive experience, I have seen that resource management is the key for successful project completion. Based on this experience, I writing this article on resource management.
Effort Estimation is the first step in project planning. Essentially the project has to be broken into smallest possible work packages and a project plan is made based to meet the delivery date.
Next step is to prepare the estimates. The best way to get the estimate is to talk to the actual persons who will be doing the work. Talk to the people and ask for three estimates: It is essential to add some buffers into the initial estimates - for contingencies such as vacations, unexpected sickness etc.
It is very important to know the accuracy of the estimates in project planning. For example, if you are working on a fixed price project, or if your project is in a critical path of a bigger program, then you need to have a high level of accuracy.
From experience, people know how much actual effort is involved, so taking a review of the estimates from an expert will be useful in determining the accuracy of the estimates.
I would strongly recommend using a software tools to capture the initial estimate for the task - i. This comparison will help in determining the accuracy of the estimates.
My suggestion would be to use tools such as Clear Quest or Remedy to create job orders for each work package - and with in each job order, capture the initial estimate, revised estimate and the actual effort taken.
If such a system is implemented organization wide, then even a new project manager can query the system and get a comparative data for analyzing the estimates.
Only after finalizing on the accuracy of the estimate, share the upper limit value with customers or any people external to the project team.
For the internal project team the aggressive estimate should be used as bench mark. This allows for flexibility within the project execution and helps a great deal in customer satisfaction.
Never reveal the lower end of the estimate to customer or even reveal the ball park figures to the customer before the completing the estimation exercise.
Customers often tend to seize the lower end of the estimate and treat that as the final figure. A good project manager takes effort and time to hammer all the caveats and assumptions into customer's mind along with the upper limit of the project estimate.
Bowing to pressure and changing the carefully computed estimates with numbers given by someone senior or from upper management.
Not having the estimates for all work packages worked out, and relying on the gut feel for the missing estimates. Taking the words of experts as final estimate.
An expert will be able to do the work in hours - which for a fresher will take days. Taking the estimates from team as final - without factoring in caution or optimism.
Depending on the overall experience of the team, the accuracy of the estimates changes. The estimates given by the team is driven by several of their internal political factors - and the estimates may not reflect reality.
So as a good practice, all estimates must be validated. Every single work package in the project should have resources identified with. In the initial stage of the project, if resources for each work package is not identified and assigned for that, then that's a major gap in project planning, and the project plan is not complete nor it should be shared outside to customers.
It is the role of the project manager to work with the stake holders to get resources for each work package. Resources are always scarce and must be carefully used.
In most cases, resources will be committed to the project at the beginning of the project, but it is the duty of the project manager to know the lead time needed to get the required resources and plan things accordingly.
With agile projects, resources are not made available to the project till the time it is really needed. A good project manger should have forward thinking to ensure resources are available when needed.
This involves making early bookings, and reconfirming the availability on periodic basis, - particularly reconfirming the availability as the planned state date approaches.
Having a resource schedule as part of the project plan is a good practice. The resource schedule should list the following:.
Often times people succumb to the pressure and get into over utilization of resources: Over utilization of a given resource is not a standard plan.
No project manger should plan for overloading of resources in the initial project plan. The project plan must account for normal usage of the resource.
A good project manager will not make a plan in with all resources are utilized at full capacity - especially people. This is because resources cannot operate at their full capacity all the time.
This implies that a 32 man hour task should be planned as a 1 man week task. If overloading is permitted, then the inevitable happens: The actual usage must be captured into the system and this helps in refinement of future project plans.
During the project estimation time, people have a tendency to tell things which their managers like to hear - thus giving an overtly aggressive estimate or a conservative estimate.
But when the actual efforts are tracked against the initial estimate and the variances are discussed openly in the project meetings, people tend to become more realistic in the future projects.
In my experience, I have used tools such as Rational or Remedy to track the actual utilization and then build that into the knowledge base for future use.
Also under utilization of resource is not a good thing. This implies that the initial estimates were over blown or the project is falling behind schedule and things are not starting on time.
Tracking Resource utilization is not everything for a project manager. One also needs to know how much of work has been completed on the ground.
It is therefore a good practive to add resource contegency into the resource estimates to guard agaist resource scarcity. Resource contingency is something that's added to the initial estimates to guard against things requiring more work than expected or simply to reflect the fact that the estimate is not reliable.
It is good practive to add contingency to individual work packages. In some cases, contingency is added en bloc in form of additional work packages.
In large complex projects, It's common to incorporate contingency at both levels. Understanding how much is already built into individual, detailed estimates is part of deciding how much additional contingency you should allow for the project as a whole.
Project managers are measured primarily on the delivery of projects. To deliver projects on time and on budget, one needs to have a very tight control on the resources and time scales.
From experience I know that resource management is the key for successful projects delivery and resource utilization tracking is a key metric in measuring the quality of the project plan, monitoring the project status and this helps in taking any corrective steps.
Posted by Arun Kottolli at 3: Leadership , Project Management. Thursday, July 21, Resource Commitments in Projects.
I was reading Robert G. While going through the book, I found a section that resonated with leadership of product management in Projects, and here are my thoughts.
In today's dynamic software development world things are often in a state of flux. As companies are launching several projects every quarter, the project prioritization and resource allocation becomes an ever dynamic component in any project - which can have a tremendous impact on the success or failure of a product.
Often a successful product will get all the resources at the cost of other products, which in other words implies that potentially good products will never see the light of the day.
Resources are infinitely flexible. Resources are firm only between each stages of the project. Resources are fully committed to the project till the project is completed - irrespective of the the project performance.
In today's agile world, Option-1 sounds the best. It may sound attractive to launch new projects, but such a flexible approach will lead to an case where no project ever gets completed.
Option-4, is the most common form of resource allocation. Usually the product development teams will have an allocated budgets and a long term roadmap.
Based on the budget and road map, the project teams will be staffed and the project will continue till completion - irrespective of the delays.
If the product is already successful, then there will no resource constrains for the subsequent release of the successful product, and the top management often takes a lenient stand when it comes to reviewing the project status.
This leads to wasted resources with. In my opinon, Product managment should provide leadership in such cases by demanding that the product development project teams by adequately staffed as long as the project is meeting the stated objectives.
Every project must be reviewed periodically to see if the project is on track, if not, product management should decide on the next course of action: Increase resources or kill the project or put the project on hold.
One should not hesitate to take the extreme steps if needed. Often times, the political pressures within the organization will come into play and force the project management leadership to act the other way - which eventually leads to product failures.
Having successful products requires a very strong discipline in project management. Posted by Arun Kottolli at 6: Leadership , Product Management , Project Management.
Monday, July 11, Apple's Market Positioning. In my earlier blog, I had written " How to beat iPad ". In that article, I had written primarily about having functional features needed to beat iPad, but having all the right functional features is just not enough to win, it also requires the right positioning.
One person asked me comment on the market position of Apple in today's market and its impact on Apple.
This made me think and write this article. So the best solution in such a case is to lure customers into a different market place - i. White hot center is a market position where all the customer's attention is on.
Its essentially the prime spot of customer attention, and everyone is watching every step the seller makes. To illustrate this, imagine a market or a Mall with a large central space where seller is selling his wares, and is surrounded by people in all direction, people are hustling to get in front and buy his products, and the crowd is making a huge commotion about it.
Now, seller is at the white hot center of the market. And that's where Apple's competitors are today. Every market has one white hot center: Apple did not get to the white hot center by accident, it was culmination of a decade's hard work and mistakes of its competitors.
To understand this journey, imagine a mall of PC sellers. Certainly Apple was one of the early stores in the mall and other joined: During the last 30 years, several things changed in the PC industry.
While the rest of PC manufactures stumbled and made mistakes, Apple has been executing flawlessly.
Its not that Apple did not have its share of problems: But Apple has been successful in avoiding controversies, and has been very successful in cultivating customer satisfaction, Apple has been open and transparent of its problems and has taken all the necessary steps to fix those issues.
While the competition was entrenched with operational issues that they failed to produce competitive products. The fact that the competition had failed to respond forcefully to Apple's new product introductions - had enabled Apple to gain the white hot center.
At a time when all the PC manufactures was selling white box PC, and Black colored laptops, Apple took a fresh view of things and introduced stylish iMac.
Coming into the market when RIAA was suing Napster out of business, Apple created iTunes where customers could legitimately download music and enjoy it in iPods.
The competition till date has not provided a competition to iTunes. Till date, Microsoft has not been able to create a product like OS-X, Windows Vista failed in market as it was loaded with several tons of legacy code, which Microsoft could not throw away.
Apple reinvented laptops with Air Mac Books. The ultra thin laptops was revolutionary in design and size.
Even after 3 years of its introduction, competition has still not produced anything like an Airbook in terms of design.
Revolution of Touch Screen Phones. Apple redesigned the cell phones with a completely new user experience, and with that Apple created a niche for itself.
With a strong position in high end cell phones, Apple changed the business environment for the incumbents - Nokia, Sony-Erricson, Motorola.
New paradigm of computing. Apple was not the first to introduce the tablet computer. HP, Nokia, Sony had experimented with that before.
Its been about 2 years since the original iPad debuted, but the competition is yet to introduce an strong contender in this space. Nokia is no where near with its Tablet, nor is Dell or Sony.
To understand market position of Apple, one needs to look at the basics: Price, Product, Place, Promotion. Apple in general is positioned as a premium product.
Apple products are generally priced higher than competition. This position has helped Apple a lot as it avoids getting into price war. Instead of competing on price, Apple can now compete on innovation and unique value propositions.
This is a key element to be in the white hot center. This position of a premium priced superior product was once occupied by IBM and later by Sony.
Premium pricing strategy helps to make big profits without hurting the brand. Apple brand is the most valuable asset, bigger than all the technologies it controls.
Having volumes at this premium pricing helps Apple make bold design decisions and force its supply partners to comply with its design decision.
Apple simply wants to sell the best product in the class. They are one of the rare companies that actually dispatch the order the same day as receiving it and provide tracking information.
Had a problem with one of the products and they went out of their way to resolve. I would highly recommend dealing with this company.
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