I am sure that the way I have configured my mail client or tablet’s home screen is different from yours. The reason we love modern-day apps and operating systems is because they let us configure the product to match our specific needs. Configuration is not a new concept – even old radio transformers allowed listeners to tune into the station of their choice without having to open any screws. Configurability isn’t a feature; its a vision. And it doesn’t come free; too much of it will also backfire. There are at least 3 compelling reasons why product managers need to plan configurability around every feature:
No product is designed for a single customer. And it would be rare that 2 customers had similar business processes. To adapt to the difference, without having to create customer-specific code bases, an application needs to be customizable. Gone are the days when customers would 200% of license fees on getting the product customized to match their business needs. In today’s scenario, solution providers need to cover the cost of customiztion through one-time implementation fees.
2. Rapid Implementation
Besides, customers are not looking at multi-year transformation projects with huge budgets. Project managers need to create compelling business cases and promise hard dollar recovery through the proposed solution. Every project is like a turn-key project and a vendor has no chance unless they can promise rapid implementaiton and unlock the RoI in stipulated time. Continue reading Why PMs should consider product configurability early on→
Every Product Manager is a ninja when it comes to dealing with functional requirements. But it doesn’t end there in the B2B space. You may not be a technical product manager, but you still need to understand and address some non-functional requirements without which your product isn’t ready to sell – especially if its transactional in nature, holds sensitive data or requires integration with the client’s IT eco-system. By ‘address’, I don’t mean you need to plan these as features or get involved in the R&D – it’s just about getting answers to what has been done in this regard.
What makes non-functional requirements so important?
Good question! If your product touches any of the 3 aspects mentioned above, the client’s decision to buy the product is incomplete without involvement of the IT team. You might have the CXO’s approval, but even if a single IT executive deems your product unfit for the IT security standards the client is committed to – the sale is likely to fold. You need to make a compelling offer, not just to the functional decision makers, but also to these non-functional evaluators whose buying is equally important. And there is a fair reason to it. Imagine, if you’ve worked hard to keep a floor clean, and someone wants to walk in with their own shoes – no matter how clean they claim to be, would you let them in? IT doesn’t want to risk their network either. I really don’t see this coming in the way of B2C sales – a LinkedIn premium membership or even Online Banking for that matter.
What needs to be taken care of?
Here at at-least 7 areas for which you will need clear answers.
Software requirements: With SaaS, customers have fallen in love with apps that railed on web browsers. But IT remains unsatisfied with the ‘my app runs in a browser’ response. They need to understand whether it runs ‘best’ on a particular browser or a specific version. As a product manager, you need to know the share of each browser version and build support accordingly. Dependency on components (e.g. FLASH) can cause the deal to hit a road-block.
Data Security: Customers always question the security of their data while using hosted services. And this becomes all the more critical when you’re selling a multi-tenant application. If you’re able to help them get over the SaaS phobia, the next questions could be around data security & access control, data center certifications, third-party quality assurance reports, etc. Apart from this, customers solicit information about user authentication and authorization capabilities, user management from the application console and integration with existing user management solutions like LDAP. Don’t be surprised if a client demands a sandbox for a hands-on verification.
In the last 2 posts, I detailed the market needs, and the itinerary planner user story. Continuing with more features around maintaining content, creating a transactional marketplace for revenue generation, and finally some integration ideas to piggy-back on the success of others.
Search public itineraries based on destination
System should suggest ‘hot’ holiday options – not in a salesy way – but genuine, recent itineraries that are verified for feasibility, cost estimate, etc.
Suggestions/searches should be based searches based on demographic information: age, gender, marital status, profession, origin city
Being a product manager is about not being content with what is around. I looked all around the place for a complete vacation planner app and finally created a wish list of what such an app would constitute. Continuing from the previous post on the topic, here is a high-level user story for each of my needs:
Start with a destination of my choice and add places to it [content]
Each place can be placed on an interactive itinerary map
Add category, description, images, comments, expenses (entrance fees, meals), attachments (bookings, etc.), hyperlinks, mark them as optional
View ratings [integration]
Auto-insert the place on the interactive calendar based on best-time-of-day information [content] and allow me to adjust
Plan the journey between places by specifying mode of transport, journey time & estimate cost [content, integration]
Add meals to places & journey with preferred joint & cost estimate
Validate if too much is planned for a day based on visit duration [content] and highlight optional places from the ‘Going to’ bucket that can be moved to a ‘May be’ bucket
When moving places around, system should remind to update the journey between places
Total itinerary cost should be constantly updated and displayed in local currency so I can budget; highlight places & journeys without estimates
Filter places on the by category, expense
Share my itinerary with others on the website; email the web link
Collaborate with co-travellers on the itinerary [roadmap]
Print/Email the itinerary with selected elements
Allow including embassy information, emergency numbers, weather, etc.
Mobile site to rate places, enter actual cost & time, add public & private notes
Update current location, upload photos & add notes that loved ones can view on a shared link
Mobile app [roadmap], share location on social media [integration]
In Part 2 of this post, we talk about more features ideas and concept’s strengths and challenges.
It feels good to see an active product management community on LinkedIn. I was going through this post by fellow product manager Mohamed Anees Jamaludeen about key attributes of a product manager. He mentioned market knowledge, communication & product knowledge. I felt that I could add a few more traits that would be appreciated of a product manager.
Ability to sneak into the customer’s shoes
This is not the same as getting poached by a customer. A step beyond market knowledge, customer empathy is the attribute that helps a product manager sense the pain of the customer (end-user or business). Without this, he/she will never be able to come up with a solution that matches market expectations. It also lets you co-create with customers and effectively latches them to your product. After all retention is key in this world of infinite attrition, isn’t it? And empathy leads us to a focus on customer satisfaction, and a passion to deliver great user experience. A product manager should take great interest in delivering a usable product – the one that users love to use and helps retain them!
Ability to answer What, When, Why
Product managers should be able to answer who, why, what for and also know where, when and how to sell their products. The ‘what’ can be communicated to stakeholders via MRDs/PRDs/User Stories and prototypes. The prioritized feature backlog conveys the ‘when’, while ‘why’ can be answered on-demand to those (usually one of management, marketing & engineering) questioning the feature or its priority. Processing answers to these questions with some integrative thinking Continue reading 5 more attributes of a product manager→
I am a geek, may be a nerd, may be both. And may be this is the justification of never having had the opportunity to work on a killer project that was exemplar of cutting-edge technology. I never wanted to. But I’ve made most out of unmatched opportunities, to deliver business critical software that has done its job. I’m not a master of any technology/language, but a jack of many: whether for work or leisure, I’ve touched upon most known technologies. But all that diversification makes me confident of being able to solve a problem, and not necessarily using a certain technology. I am now a product manager, far from coding. So you are about to take some unsound advice. Please continue reading at your own risk. These tips are not for software engineers who are experts in a particular technology. These are for pure computer geeks – people who love writing code.
1. Focus on concepts & constructs, not syntax
People often ask: I want to do a computer course, what language do I learn? And I ask them to clarify: Do you want to learn, earn or both+fun? My answers for each (in order) are: C, Java and PHP. But at the end, it boils down to concepts. Knowing what a loop requires to run, the power of references, how strings are managed in the heap (& why they are immutable), etc. This learning is divine. So, don’t start learning syntax, focus on concepts.
2. Be single – always – and free to mingle
Is that an amusing title? If yes, then product management (PM) has retained its title of being one of the most esoteric functions in IT. And this has reasons: compared to the epic number of service organizations, there exist only a few product companies, implying a fewer number of product managers – a breed that can’t be found in herds. Despite of a severe need for PMs within the chamber, the absolute demand compared to other profiles is minuscule, causing the profile to remain unexplored even by recruiters. Whether or not that makes PM a big deal, the ones that have tasted it will agree that it demands a unique mix of aptitude, attitude & innovation – that can’t be taught in class. And above everything else, it demands hell-a-lot of responsibility.
Most people destroy the niche status of product management (PM) by confusing it with project management. I would say, planning, execution & reporting is only a minuscule part of the PM profile. PM is everything about the product from vision to release which is not a simple 1-step transition. At least, it involves:
Envisioning a product that solves a problem or improves some productivity parameter
Understanding the market for the product & preparing a market requirement document (MRD)
Creating a concept to get management buy-in; At senior levels with P&L responsibility, it may accompany projecting numbers
Detailing the product functionality & behavior through prototypes & product requirement document (PRD)