Featured Article: How to Harness Crowdsourcing for Product Development

Posted on | December 13, 2015 | Comments Off on Featured Article: How to Harness Crowdsourcing for Product Development

Research and development used to be viewed as a strenuous process with single-room focus groups, telephone interviews and paper surveys.  With the advent of the internet and social media platforms, it’s gotten a lot simpler to gain useful insights into what your customers want. Read more

December 2015 Event

Posted on | December 13, 2015 | Comments Off on December 2015 Event

December Event Review: Product Management – Then, Now, and In the Future: A Celebration TEDx Style

By Dan Galatin

SVPMA hosted a gala celebration of its 15th anniversary on December 2nd.  To celebrate, several former SVPMA board members and speakers shared their thoughts on how the world of product management has evolved over that span of time, as well as where product management is headed over the next few years. Read more

November 2015 Event

Posted on | November 18, 2015 | Comments Off on November 2015 Event

November Event Review: ‘Tool-a-Palooza’ at SVPMA

By Neha Nayak

The Silicon Valley Product Management Association held their first ‘Tool-a-Palooza’ event at their monthly meeting this November.  ‘Tool-a-Palooza’ was a session aimed at sharing productivity enhancing, easy-to-use product management tools for leading and aspiring product managers.  Read more

September 2015 Event

Posted on | September 11, 2015 | Comments Off on September 2015 Event

September Event Review: SVPMA Recruiter Panel

By Pushpa Chandrashekaraiah

On September 2, a panel moderated by Jeanne Lew, Associate Director at Haas School of Business, was very insightful for not only product management job seekers but also for all product managers on how to build strong profiles.  The panelists had very successful backgrounds ranging from startups to big companies, engineering to product management, and hardware to software.  It was a very interactive session with great participation from the crowd.  The following are some of the topics discussed. Read more

August 2015 Event

Posted on | August 12, 2015 | Comments Off on August 2015 Event

August Event Review: “When Sharks Attack! – How Data Saves Product Managers from Becoming Shark Bait” with Robert Green, Director Product Management, Tableau Software

By Neha Nayak

“Tonight we are going to talk about sharks, data and how data is going to help product managers stay away from becoming shark bait” was Robert Green’s opening statement at the August session of SVPMA. Read more

June 2015 Event

Posted on | June 14, 2015 | Comments Off on June 2015 Event

June Event Review: 7 Deadly Sins — Lessons from Silicon Valley on How to Successfully “Cross the Chasm” with Michael Eckhardt, Managing Director of Chasm Institute

By Dan Galatin

Michael Eckhardt, managing director of Chasm Institute, presented at the June 3rd meeting of the SVPMA.  Michael led a lively discussion of Chasm’s Tech Market Model 2.0 and how companies need to behave differently to ensure success once their market has evolved beyond a small set of early adopters. Read more

May 2015 Event

Posted on | May 15, 2015 | Comments Off on May 2015 Event

May Event Review: “Innovate or Die – Five Strategies for Optimizing Product Management at your Company” with Brian Lawley, CEO 280 Group LLC

By Helene Eichler

Brian Lawley kicked off a lively and interactive May SVPMA program with asking how many product managers were in the audience.  He explained how the 280 Group commissioned a comprehensive study on product management including over 25 data sources, hundreds of hours, and millions of dollars of research.  Overall, product management is well respected and product managers are highly valued within most organizations. Read more

Featured Article

Posted on | May 7, 2015 | Comments Off on Featured Article

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How Product Managers Lead Through Communication

by Barry Mohn – Speak and Write

“Our product managers need to be the CEOs of their products.”  This is what a senior director declared at a meeting I attended recently.  We were there to discuss leadership training for his Silicon Valley high-tech company, and the focus that day was squarely on his product managers’ ability to communicate.

As the CEOs of technical products, product managers set goals and strategies; oversee product development processes; and manage and motivate people.  Furthermore, 

2nd graphicthey must document and present to senior management the business impact of their products, as a CEO would present corporate strategy to a Board of Directors. 

Whether in email or in a meeting, communication is the underpinning of these product management activities.  How well managers communicate contributes to how well their products do.  And since there are no corporate profits without successful products, communication skills had better be good. 

The link among communication, products, and business success is born out in a study by consulting firm Towers Watson.  In a 2010 report, Towers Watson described the following:

  • “Companies with high effectiveness in change management and communication are three-and-a-half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers than firms that are not effective in these areas.”
  • “Companies described as highly effective communicators had 47 percent higher total returns to shareholders over the last five years compared to companies described as the least effective communicators.”   (Towers Watson. Capitalizing on Effective Communication: Communication ROI Study Report.)

 These findings from Towers Watson certainly back up the director in his motivation to enhance product manager communication.

 How do we spend our time and what makes communication effective?

With the sheer volume of emails, documentation, meetings, discussions, presentations, and phone calls, the time spent on daily communication often dwarfs the time for working alone on projects.  A 2012 McKinsey Global study found the average “knowledge worker” spends 28 percent of his or her day on email. Since employees average 260 working days per year, 73 full days are consumed by email

Furthermore, in their book How to Make Meetings Work!, Michael Doyle and David Strauss state that “middle management spends about 35 percent of their time in meetings while upper management spends upwards of 50 percent in meetings.”  

With this staggering amount of time dedicated to daily communication—whether in meetings, on the phone, or by email—it’s vital to know whether the time spent was effective.   

“Communication effectiveness” initially seems difficult to put a finger on.  Determining whether revenue grew from new products is easy, but knowing whether the communication related to a product launch was adequate or exceptional appears harder to discern.  

 It’s not.   

 To gauge a product manager’s effectiveness, communication must be broken down to the measurable and manageable aspects of the product life cycle:

  • Clarity of vision for new and existing products based on market assessments
  • Strength of product business case to senior management
  • Precision of direction given during design and development phases
  • Persuasiveness of product positioning and benefits for sales personnel
  • Consistency and quality of communication to stakeholders

For each of these, product mangers should ask themselves: Am I tailoring the message based on the audience?  Am I delivering the right content?  Am I providing too much or too little information?  Am I articulating succinctly?  Am I communicating changes quickly and clearly?  Am I proactively managing, updating, and motivating stakeholders? 

These activities and questions help move communication from a so-called soft skill to a tangible aspect of product management.   Product managers should perform a self-assessment and survey stakeholders for each of these to create a baseline of performance.  They can then use that information to establish goals and strategies for improvement.    

What are the skills to develop for communication effectiveness? 

Before doing any assessments, most managers believe they’re decent communicators while they also on occasion admit to the need for improvement.  But there’s a significant difference between being a decent communicator and an exceptional one.  Bridging that gap is what separates a manager from a leader. 

Have you ever attended a presentation during which the speaker had everyone’s rapt attention from start to finish?  Have you been in awe of someone who could3rd Graphic

 

eloquently express ideas in documents and emails?  Have you ever walked out of a meeting amazed by a person who brilliantly facilitated a difficult discussion? 

These are the leaders.  These are the people who have honed their communication skills.  These are the product managers who successfully become the CEOs of their products.

These leaders often possess four key skills, which all product managers should emulate:

1. Become an active listener.

Effective communication begins with listening.  Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tells us, “We have such a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice.  But we often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first.” 

Before dashing off a curt email in response to a delay in product development, seek to understand the reasons behind the delay; read the mood, dynamics, and complexity of the situation; and hear the people involved.  By doing so, your communication will be more thoughtful, appropriate, and successful in the end. 

When in face-to-face discussions or meetings, become an active listener by providing your full attention to the speaker.  Avoid interrupting—truly listening is different from waiting your turn to jump in.  Show interest in what the person is saying, recap main points, and probe for more information.  This is what makes people feel heard and develops trust between you and them.

2. Match the content to the audience.

Not all information is created equally nor is it all valuable.  People often feel the need to convey everything they know simply because they know it.  I once heard a Chief Technology Officer respond to this information overload with, “Don’t tell me what you want to tell me; tell me what I need to know.”

Effective communicators don’t spray content with a fire hose when a glass will do. 

Avoid “data dumps.”  Pare down and deliver only the information necessary for the recipient to understand the main point, make a decision, or take action.  One occasion might call for an executive summary while another might require intricate details.  On a dime, be able to modulate your message, style, and tone based on the audience.

Moreover, adopting a deductive approach to communication is usually most effective.  Begin with a high-level overview of your ideas to orient your listeners before jumping into the supporting details.  

3. Tap into the power of storytelling.

Stories illustrate ideas and engage listeners.  In politics, for example, grasping the financial ramifications of unemployment can be abstract until hearing a politician tell the story of someone who’s lost a job.   Politicians don’t tell stories by accident; they tell them to humanize an issue and create a compelling case for change.

In the Harvard Business Review article “The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool,” author Harrison Monarth explains how “storytelling evokes a strong neurological response.” To prove this, he summarizes Neuroeconomist Paul Zak‘s research:

Our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol during the tense moments in a story, which allows us to focus…  Other neurological research tells us that a happy ending to a story triggers the limbic system, our brain’s reward center, to release dopamine, which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic.

Becoming an effective storyteller is a skill that has to be developed like any other.  Practice builds confidence in the ability to apply stories to business situations.  To develop stories, draw on previous experiences.  Include well-developed themes, plots, and characters; drama or conflict; and vivid, descriptive words.  Don’t lose your audience by overdoing the background or details.  Keep stories focused and tight.

4. Use common language.

Aristotle once said, “Think as wise men do, but speak as the common people do.”  Too often in business, people use inflated vocabulary and drawn-out sentences in the false sense that they come off as more intellectual or professional.  Or, they bandy around business jargon because they sound as if they’re “in the know.” 

The goal of business communication is clarity of thought and speed of understanding.  The longer the words and sentences, the harder the idea is to easily understand.   Business jargon is so overused that it actually prevents creative or original thought.

Use short, simple words to convey ideas.  A central adage for writing is this: Write to express, not to impress.  There’s no reason to write “gain financial traction” when we can more clearly use “grow revenue.”  In The Elements of Style, E.B. White summed it up this way: “Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.”

All moments of communication—whatever the medium—can be capitalized on or squandered.  Poorly developed presentations don’t contribute to communication but instead sabotage it.  Unclear emails prevent stakeholders from understanding direction and taking specific action.  Mind-numbing meetings leave participants confused and uninspired. 

On the other hand, implementing the four skills described above provide product managers a step up and help them seize each communication opportunity with vigor.  Since communication ability is a yardstick for performance, and because people judge one another on the way they communicate, showing command of communication skills is crucial to a product manager’s job, products, and company.  If successful, product managers can indeed become the CEOs of their products.

Barry Mohn, President of Speak and Write, trains workshops on clear, compelling, and concise communication to corporate employees around the world.  Visit www.speakandwrite.com or contact him at 775-762-8322 for information on his workshops.

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April 2015 Event

Posted on | April 10, 2015 | Comments Off on April 2015 Event

“Innovate or Die – Technology, Innovation, and Product Management: A Discussion and Case Study” with Nivedita Ojha, Sr. Director Product Management at Citrix

By Dan Galatin

Nivedita Ojha, Senior Director of Product Management at Citrix, presented at the April 1st meeting of the SVPMA.  Nivedita discussed the whys and hows of innovation both inside and outside the technology industry, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Nivedita acknowledged that simply getting a product to market, especially at a large company like BT, is a significant success.  Innovation is sometimes stuck in a silo, such as a separate lab, but it’s the job of product managers to examine the roadmap and determine whether to build, buy or partner.

Innovation starts with understanding the customer’s needs, and you always need to consider the return on investment in innovation.  There is a distinction between “innovation thinking” and “business thinking.”  Innovators like Google, Facebook and WhatsApp are focused on changing the way business is done.  Less innovative businesses, by contrast, are focused on meeting the numbers.  Product managers who wish to innovate need a champion such as a CEO or CTO, but PMs are a “key spoke” in the innovation process.

A lot of innovation is happening in the rest of the world, not just in Silicon Valley.  Nivedita described how Starbucks innovated starting in 2008, during the economic downturn.  They noticed that their same store revenues were declining at the same time that their typical customers were younger and more technology-savvy than before.  Customers wanted to become more engaged, and so Starbucks started developing apps that transformed customer experiences, as well as bringing WiFi service into stores and partnering with Square for mobile payments.  By 2013, Starbucks was perceived as a leader in adopting new technology and making full use of their real estate.  These efforts caused their net income to increase by $100 million per quarter.

At the end of the day, the object of implementing innovation is to improve customer satisfaction and to increase profits.  Innovation continues in a number of sectors, including near-field communications, biometrics, wearable computing, and mobile loyalty programs.  The rollout of high-speed mobile networks has enabled innovations from different regions of the world.  Nivedita cited major new innovations at Citrix in the field of virtualization that are being developed in Hyderabad, India.

It is also instructive to compare the U.S mobile market to the mobile market worldwide.  There are still hundreds of millions of users on feature phones, and innovation continues on services for those devices.  Although the majority of mobile users in the U.S. are on contracts, most users worldwide are on pre-paid plans.  Everything is moving from desktop to mobile, and that has changed where companies are innovating.  Nivedita contended that there is still room for Windows Phone to have a significant impact, especially in the enterprise.  Google is rolling out a new platform for less expensive smartphones for developing markets.  Nivedita described how she was able to conduct a focus group study for a new gaming service in Taiwan more cheaply than in the U.S., since consumers in Taiwan were similar to target users in the U.S. and Japan.  This is yet another example of how innovation can be accomplished worldwide.

It is also important to understand the relative popularity of social platforms in different markets, in order to successfully launch products.  For example, QQ and Tencent are helpful for promoting products in China.  WhatsApp is popular in India.  Likewise, different ecommerce retailers are popular in different regions. 

Nivedita concluded by urging the audience to remember that innovation is not only about building products yourself.  Partnerships can help bring innovative products to the market.  To quote Heraclitus, the best think about innovation is that “the only thing contant is change.”

Dan Galatin has over 20 years of combined experience in product management and software engineering.  He is Co-Director of Communications for the SVPMA and can be contacted at dgalatin@yahoo.com.

March 2015 Event

Posted on | March 17, 2015 | Comments Off on March 2015 Event

“Datacenter Architecture for the Next Decade” with Howard Ting, Senior VP of Marketing at Nutanix, Inc.

By Pushpa Chandrashekaraiah

This was a very different topic from most of the SVPMA monthly events, in terms of the topic itself and depth of technical details covered in this session.  Howard Ting talked about how new data center businesses, with a total market capitalization of a trillion dollars, have emerged in the last decade. Read more