Book Review: The Secret Product Manager’s Handbook

This last week, I eagerly bought a copy of Nils Davis’ newly published book, “The Secret Product Manager Handbook”, and eagerly read it. While it isn’t strictly targeted at newbies, or folks who are interested in joining the ranks of Product Management, it is both a great introduction, and a guide that even very experiences members of the Product Management community can find value in, even if it is just to re-focus them on the basics.


The Right People in the Right Roles

Last week, a good friend came to town and we had a chance to connect for dinner and drinks. During the course of the evening, one topic we discussed was related to an article that he read that emphatically made the case that small (and some not so small) companies often look to a single leader for “Sales and Marketing.” The case that was made is that these are two very different roles, and thus, it is nearly impossible to find a single individual who could do both roles well.

This reminds me of the conundrum we frequently face in product management. Often, product managers are expected to wear multiple hats, in particular to play Product Owner for the Scrum team, to be the business owner or the true Product Management function, and to be the outbound marketing expert and wear the Product Marketing hat.

Yet, all three of these roles are distinct, and have different charters, and are best filled with different skill sets. Sure, you can find people who can do all three, but I will guarantee you that everybody has a preference, and will focus their efforts in that direction, downplaying the other 2/3 of the role.

In my experience, the primary overloading of the Product Manager is to make them also the Product Owner. This seems natural, and in the first few programs I worked on that did Agile development, it was natural to just step into that role.

But it was never a primary focus. Two days before the iteration end, I would dive into the backlog, look at the progress in Jira, prioritize, do my mini-estimates, and then build a plan of what to bring to the sprint planning. That worked. Ok. But it wasn’t optimal.

I put a lot of thought into that mini-grooming and prioritization, and I was (mostly) available to the scrum team when an issue or question popped up. But, as the product manager, I spent at least a week a month on the road, and that wasn’t good for the scrum team.

Likewise with the Product Marketing function. All that messaging, content creation, social media activity, meeting with analysts, event planning and execution, working with corporate communications, and handling launch/rollout activities. Far too many places expect their product manager to also handle the product marketing function.

The truth is, for a mature organization, you need all three functions, and three dedicated, suitable people to be in these roles. They need shared goals, and their objectives aligned, but if you are doing justice to the team, you need separate assets for all key roles.


Like Marketing and Sales, where you are cheating yourself by not staffing with two leaders, product management, product owner, and product marketing need three leaders, who can effectively work together to deliver on the strategy and the roadmap.

It is time to set the team up for success.

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Digital Transformation

“Have you heard the news? Digital Transformation is rocking the business world …”

During the extended holiday break, I am spending time ruminating on the topic, as it dovetails into a key thrust of a project I am working on, loosely “The Future of Work”.

Foundations – The Network

Thinking way back to the first “dot com” bubble, and the insanity, the process for starting a company was pretty uniform.

  • Come up with an idea or business model
  • Pitch that to a dumb person with too much money (ok, VC’s aren’t dumb, but in hindsight, they sure acted dumb)
  • Buy a bunch of servers/racks/networking gear. Mostly from Sun Microsystems, and Cisco Systems
  • Build a datacenter or colocate
  • Lease a buttload of bandwidth
  • Profit

Customer Success – an important role

Digital Transformation, it’s all the rage, and doing a simple Google search yields a plethora of hits, from training to consultants, to the big market research companies, all weighing in. This wave of disruption continues to grow, and brings with it myriad opportunities to completely change the business.

In a nutshell, in the late ‘oughts, with the introduction of the Apple iPhone, the convergence of ubiquitous network connectivity, and the rise of the “*cloud*,” the stage was set for yet another transformation of business. Suddenly, the paradigm of where you work, and what tasks you perform were being disrupted. From the simple: an app on your smartphone to approve purchase requisitions, to the complex: integration of the CRM, the Marketing systems, and the ERP system to provide deep insight into the function and flow of business, and much more were realized every day.


The Importance of the Product Owner Role

A recent gig has me investigating the topic of Business Transformation, or as is also referred to as the Digital Transformation of the Business. If you do even a cursory Google search on it, you will discover reams of information about it.

In a nutshell, it is how the pervasive confluence of cloud computing, big data and analytics, the rise of software, and rapid development are all coming together to greatly disrupt the organization. Pick up any of the big analysts reports, Forrester, Gartner, and even some publications by the largest consultancies (EY, McKinsey, and others) and it is impossible to miss out on this trend.


Book Review: The Phenomenal Product Manager

I bought a copy of “The Phenomenal Product Manager” in 2009 or so on a lark. I was changing jobs, and had some time to read/hone my skills, and see what I could be missing.

Written by Brian Lawley, the top man at the 280Group, a consultancy, and training organization with deep product management and product marketing skills and reputations, I was at first put off by how thin the book was. I had expected there to be more “meat” to the book, judging by how much material was available publicly at their website, I was just disappointed that something that could be expected to be read in a couple hours could be helpful.


Structured Visits – The Ambush

The concepts behind structured customer visits are powerful tools that allows the product manager or marketing team to quickly validate their assumptions, and ensure that the market matches the internal view.

However, since you often must rely on groups that have an underlying agenda to select customers to visit, and also to coordinate the visits, there is a very real risk in this process. No, not the “familiar well” risk, where you run the risk of only visiting a small group of friendly customers, thus limiting the variety of opinions you listen to.

I am referring to the risk of being ambushed or trapped in your meetings.