A few months back I was planning my vacation and things weren’t as easy as I thought. I had figured out the destination, booked air tickets, short-listed places to see and hired a car. The challenge however was to set up a local itinerary. I had X places to cover in Y days with optimized routes so we weren’t spending all our time travelling. This required finding exact locations & distances between them so as to figure how much could be covered in available time. I had nothing at my disposal but Google Maps & notepad.
Based on my own needs, and the way I go about planning my vacation, here are some high-level ‘market needs’:
To be very honest, I don’t see a reason why someone should stray away from innovation. Thinking ‘New’ keeps your idea muscle toned for tough challenges. But here’s 3 reasons why you should innovate all the time: not just on the professional front, but also in relationships. After all, as LinkedIn says, relationships matter.
1. Not all ideas from the past scale
There could have been some things that worked very well for you in the past. But everything changes with time, ideas get stale, and they won’t always scale to match the situation – if at all they still work. A 20 picture photo album might have made for a lovely Valentine’s day, but that does not mean that a 200-slide story board – full of pictures and promises – can save a relationship. You have to think fresh! Eat Subway if it takes that 🙂
2. Not all ideas click (plan for failure)
I once had to put some things together in a paper bag (like the McDonalds carry bag – sorry can’t think outside food), and snail mail it. I had to attach a note, and trying to be creative, I decided to use the inside of the bag. So, I cut the edges of the bag to make it one long sheet of paper (kinda rotulus), wrote the message on it (in black so it would be noticed) and stitched it back with tape. Outcome? It hit the trash can – unnoticed. I failed to deliver the message. Don’t be shy of failure, the world today is chasing failure, and the Tata’s are even giving out awards for failing. But make sure you have enough alternatives to compensate for the failure, without really having to start over.
Make yourself a promise: I will always have 5 alternate ideas or planned for 5 un-happy scenarios (what does not fall on the happy path) before executing an idea
3. Competition is catching up fast
Need I say more?
Innovate or perish. Sharpen your axe. Work out your idea muscle. Have coffee, or Subway, or whatever helps you think. Do something special for that special one: be it your better half or your project/product. It’s up to you to save it!
Marginalia: If you are planning to make them coffee, remember that if you make a heart with Hershey’s on it, it will sink. Instead, try rangoli (sprinkling) with coffee powder.
Share/Tweet: @prasadgupte: 3 reasons you should keep innovating, even in relationships http://bit.ly/e2uxLh
I’m a cleanliness freak – to the extent of cleaning up my Facebook wall. Over the last week, there’s been a lot of spam with wall messages that read: “Hahaha! Mine is hilarious. Check out yours”? Familiar? Yes, that silly app which tells you how you would look in the future. I never tried it, but tired of the requests, I urged friends to avoid it via a FB update. 13 people liked it, but I only hope its the latter of these 2 messages it conveys: how awful I look, and how useless that app is. (I take everybody’s privacy too seriously, hence some masking)
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
As discussed in my previous post about responsibilities of a product manager, product management continues to remain the less spoken about profiles in the otherwise large Indian IT industry. With the growing number of products in the Indian webspace, the demand for experienced PMs is likely to peak in 2012-13. But there’s still time! For now, Product management in India is less concrete (in terms of the role), and holds huge potential as precisely summarized by Gopal Shenoy here. That post echoes the thoughts of quite a few Indian product managers. Here are my comments to few of the points:
@ #2:They manage products sold in the US
This seems quite obvious given the fact that a lot of product companies in India are either outsourced product development or developing enterprise products for global top companies and US/Europe are their biggest markets. Thus, most young PMs there will report to account managers or senior PMs posted on-site. Having said this, one cannot ignore the outburst of internet product companies catering to the local market, mainly into eCommerce & social.
@ #3: Too many titles for the same profile
Totally agree! Quite a few of us are left out of the product management mainstream because of varying titles conferred upon us: program managers, business analysts, software consultants, and what not. But no matter what how they’re referred to, they’re all doing the same thing – and some don’t even know they’re developing products (more on this, coming soon).
@ #4:Engineering & Proj Mgmt folks moving into Prod Mgmt
There’s more to it. Not just development folks, but there are freshers, folks from quality and even some from business who are keen to move in. Those who have understood the challenge & responsibility want to get at it on account of passion & enthusiasm, and not just a career ladder or salary booster.
@ #5: “They are confident, fearless and hungry“
When I think of Gopal saying that to me, my reaction is not other than that of crayon Shin Chan when he says, ‘Don’t praise me so much’ (which sounds funnier in the Hindi dubbing when he says, ‘Itni taarif bhi mat karo!‘) But that goes without saying for all of us – we are all way too passionate about our products!
Following, appreciating & criticizing change is so important in this fast moving world. Changes, especially those to internet products, is what Product managers should be keen about. One should spend time understanding 3 aspects about any product: changes, what’s good & what’s not. When it comes to internet banking, there are a ton of players out there and I know that you can’t get a sneak peak into all. And looking over the shoulder when someone’s using Net Banking is criminal. But you can always ask your friends for a tour of internet banking account (what are friends for?) with greater focus on features & design, and lesser on the numbers $$$!
Anyway, the point is that I’ve had the chance to look at quite a few online banking portals, of which AXIS stood out and had something to be written about. Somewhere around Diwali last year, AXIS Bank introduced a great new feature called NetSecure that ties your account to a computer via a special password (over and above your login & transaction passwords) which has remained unmatched. In December, they revamped their internet banking website which was otherwise constant since the UTI Bank era (Until mid 2007 AXIS Bank was called UTI or Unit Trust of India Bank). Trust me, when compared to a host of competitors (see below), this portal is a unique blend of style & a de-cluttered interface; an overall WIN in terms of the features, usability & design. Here’s what I loved, with some suggestions at the bottom.
1. A clean header that is in line with the branding (unlike the ICICI website that can be confused with the RSS portal). Another bank with excellent, consistent branding is Saraswat Bank: pleasant colors that looks great everywhere: from leaflets to hoardings to their website.
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)
Last Saturday, we ran a wedding marathon. You could take the ‘running’ literally as we moved between 3 corners of the city (traveling 75kms) in 8 hours. No doubt it was fun, meeting all the people you otherwise don’t see between their & their kids’ marriages. There is very little left to be written about weddings – each one sets a higher benchmark for the next. When one of my colleagues woke up to the fact that a marriage could cost anywhere between 8-12 lakhs, I choose to sleep again – alone! But there was something different about that day I want to share.
We were munching snacks at one of the venues when my mother pointed to a lady she thought she knew. It was a short, fair lady with curly hair; none that we had seen before. My mom insisted that she was almost sure, and ignoring our plea to rethink, went on to ask her. My brother escorted her as if she would’ve been executed for a wrong guess. As I watched from a distance, ma asked her a few questions that confirmed her suspicion, but it was little help for the lady. The moment she heard ma’s maiden name, she was struck awestruck! Continue reading The frigidity of online networks→