Thoughts on Product Management

On my last day at VMware I was pulled aside by Glenn Sizemore who interviewed about me for the “career day” episode of the vSpeaking podcast. Glenn asked me a few questions about my role and I thought it would be helpful to write my responses and add a bit more detail for people who are interested in the Product Management role.

How would I describe Product Management?

Product Management for enterprise software is about building the right products, products that provide real, demonstrable, value to the customer. As a Product Manager you have to be able to get to grips with some of the underlying business challenges faced by customers. Keeping everyone aligned on that north star ensures that, as a team, we spend our effort building something that customers both value and are willing to pay to unlock that value.

How did I decide to get into Product?

I trace my Product Management roots back to my time at a small startup company in the UK called Mobysoft. When I joined as the first full-time employee the company was much smaller than it is now. Being involved at an early stage gave me the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility, build the engineering team, and develop a new service called RentSense.

In the early days of developing the new service I got to work closely with customers to understand the challenges they were facing and ensure that the product my team were developing was going to hit the mark. That was my first experience on the Product side of the fence and I definitely wanted more.

I decided at this point I was interested in transitioning my career from engineering to Product Management. I made the move to the USA to pursue my MBA and began transition into Product Management.

3 things I love about Product Management?

First, I love the satisfaction of seeing something through from beginning to end. Being able to work with customers to identify their needs and then work on bringing to market technology solutions to solve those challenges and close that loop is hugely satisfying for me.

Second, is the people. I get to work with some incredibly intelligent peers across multiple disciplines. As a former engineer I always appreciate being able to work with high caliber engineers and I have been incredibly honored to have worked with some exceptionally talented people during my times at AWS, VMware, and now Rubrik. Being able to share the context of the customers pain points with the engineering teams is one of the things that I think Product Managers absolutely need to do. Ensuring that customer empathy is baked into the product throughout its execution is how good products are forged.

Third, as a self confessed data geek, I love the opportunity to dive into data. Direct customer interaction is critical to gathering insights, but the qualitative insight has to be married to quantitative analysis. Without this combination it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of building a great solution for just one customer and being a consultancy versus a Product company.

Something people don’t tell me before taking the job?

Probably the biggest surprise for me was the opportunity to work collaboratively across many different teams. Not just cross-functionally with the teams that were involved in delivering the same product, but also with teams across the company working on a variety of different initiatives. Ensuring that as a PM you remain focused is critical, but being open to working with adjacent teams (both within and outside the company) can bring a lot of leverage in delivering value to customers.

Design Crazy?

One of the perks of traveling for business is the time I get to catch up on some reading while flying between locations. Last week I had the chance to travel to Missouri to visit some customers and was able to reread a couple of books I’ve found interesting. The one I want to write about now is an interesting look at Apple’s approach to selecting, designing, and bringing products to market. The book, Design Crazy, is very short and a quick read, it is really a large collection of quotes from people involved in the work arranged around certain themes and events.

Here are a few of the items I highlighted while reading:

“The competitors, like Commodore and Kaypro, were all doing speeds and feeds, whereas Steve always wanted things like “What is the significance in the world? How might this change things?” – Steve Hayden

 

“He was thinking about the problem very holistically, saying, “Can we unify this experience?” – Don Lindsay

 

“The challenge in delivering simplicity is, marketing wants to bring more functionality to bear, engineering wants to bring more options to bear—and all of that just adds to confusion and clutter.” – Don Lindsay

 

“Jony’s funny. He’s an artist, which made him very different from the engineers. We would have arguments about stuff, but the best products come when there’s creative tension.” – Jon Rubinstein

 

“The compromises Apple took on design were legendary: you didn’t have copy/paste, you didn’t have multi-tasking, you didn’t have apps. Apple said, “We just want to have a cool phone.” They focused on making people love the product. And that’s the distinction at the end of the day. Everybody else was focusing on being smart. Apple focused on being loved.” – Horace Dediu

 

“There had always been products that had been beautifully designed. But they were high-end, and very few people actually owned them. Apple was the first company that took high design and made it mainstream. It taught the world taste.” – Phil Libin

The author, Max Chafkin, uses selection and organization of the quotes to share the story rather than trying to clumsily imposing a more explicit narrative on top.