Connecting the Dots: Decision-Making for Next-Generation Products

“Connecting the Dots: Decision-Making for Next-Generation Products” with Vanee Pho, Senior Product Manager, Life Technologies

by Lisa Rathjens

August 2013 Event

Vanee Pho, an accomplished product manager, spoke to a packed house for the first in a three-part SVPMA series intriguingly titled “Innovation to Execution.” Holder of both a Ph.D. and an MBA, Vanee is a Sr. Product Manager at Life Technologies, a $3.8B leader in the biotech field. Using a case study of their OpenArray product, she led a lively and practical session, walking through the life-cycle of product management including best practices and lessons learned that are relevant to any technology product.

In discussing the “path to innovation,” she walked us through the process used to lead the transformation of an expensive yet poorly designed and error-prone product to a redesigned,sleek, and successful product that delighted customers and won her company’s award for most innovative product of 2012.

“Design Thinking” is a way of using the perceived problem itself to identify and understand the solution and to get to the desired result.  It doesn’t start with the product or the problem; it begins with customers and what they need to accomplish. The raw input to fuel your “design thinking” comes from observing and gathering input directly from your customers. In Ms. Pho’s case study, customers had purchased the product but, for a variety of reasons, were unhappy with it, frustrated with it, and even afraid to use it for fear of damaging or losing precious data. By spending significant time watching and talking with these customers, her team was able to better understand the product’s intended use. From that they were able to define and support meaningful and practical product requirements.

“Understanding the Marketplace” is equally important to your product’s success. To whom will you sell this product?  What are the segments within that overall market?  What are the motivations that drive each of these segments to make a purchase? Undoubtedly there are a number of different motivations, and your marketing messages need to be crafted to address all of these. Just like with “design thinking,” the most important input for “understanding the marketplace” must come directly from customers. But this time the input should not be from your existing customers; instead, it should come from your competitors’ customers and other potential customers. By understanding and addressing their needs, you expand and grow your customer base. When you do your “market analytics,” use an outside vendor and third-parties to collect and analyze this data. This makes it easier to collect data/input from your competitors’ customers. It also helps make sure the data is not biased towards or against your company/products. Understanding your market deeply also helps you as a product manager when you are trying to defend or advocate for features with your internal engineering and development teams.

“Positioning the Product to win in the Market” requires the creation of targeted and meaningful marketing messages, as well as appropriate training of sales and marketing teams for the product.  Once again, competitive and customer analysis is needed to determine the right price-point. Pricing is always challenging, as you want to set a price that is not too high or too low, but will be perceived as a good value for high quality. Van Westendorp’s traditional PSM (price sensitivity meter) approach is probably the best method. Test your proposed pricing and your marketing messages with target customers before launching your product.

Vanee left us with the following challenge: Throughout your product life-cycle, remember to consider your entire company portfolio and roadmap and ask:

  • How does your product fit in?
  • Will your product cannibalize other products?
  • Will the sales team have incentive to sell your product?
  • Is it possible that your product could hinder sales of other company products?
  • What accessories and other consumables does your product require or leverage?

Lisa Rathjens has spent the last 15+ years in the midst of the explosion in mobile computing, working at Palm and Motorola Mobility.  She focuses on designing and building products and services that encourage and enable developers to build apps that delight and surprise, and that people love to use. She is currently looking for her next great adventure, and can be reached at: and