I just finished Expert Product Management by Brian Lawley of the 280 Group (and they have a blog), which I received as a gift shortly after starting my new role as a product manager. It's intended to be a quick read (80 pages) to highlight the basics of what project managers do. I've already learned in my three months on the job that the answer to that is either "everything" or heavily dependent upon the company.
So, what do product managers do, based on this book (Chapters):
- Product Roadmaps
- Beta Programs
- Product Launches
- Review Programs (publicity)
I found the chapter on Roadmaps to be the most relevant to my situation -- possibly because we are in the midst of developing roadmaps for our product suites. Actually, the roadmap exercise seems like something that never really ends. As it was the most relevant, it was the most frustrating because I kept wanting to ask questions about how to do roadmaps for my situation, but the information didn't seem to be as deep as I would have liked. Within this chapter, Lawley included his Eight-step process for creating a product roadmap:
- Determine the detail level & time to spend
- Competitive, market & technology trends
- Gather & prioritize requirements
- Decide on timeframe
- Choose organizing strategy
- Build internal roadmap
- Fine tune and get buy-in
- Create external roadmap
That sounds about right.
The other chapters were interesting, but it felt like I was reading about a different world from mine. That said, we do beta programs (asking customers for input), though it feels very different than a mass-market product where you want to get beta input from many users. Our products and market are fairly well established, and when we want to test product extensions, we typically call on our core user community.
And we obviously have product launches. It seems like they are managed by (product) marketing much more so than product management, as we tend to release a huge suite of product updates / new products at once.
I'll need to learn more about our review programs and publicity in general. Again, marketing take care of a lot of that, but product managers are the ones that know the products inside-and-out, and can talk about everything from market size, success stories, development timelines, etc.
Additional chapters or discussions I'd like to see would include
- Product lifecycle management: As most of the products I manage are existing products that are undergoing revision, updates, etc, I would have liked an additional chapter on "following through with your roadmaps" and everything that needs to happen behind the scenes to deal with the ongoing process of build-release-build-release of existing products.
- Development methodologies: talk about the various methodologies the development organization use to plan and execute their work. How does the roadmap discussion fit into these?
- Managing roadmap inputs: customers, developers, research, marketing - all have input into the product roadmaps. And they usually have more input than can be accommodated in a given development cycle for established products. What are some mechanisms for drawing boundaries?
Note: In looking for a good link to Brian Lawley, there is a ten-minute interview with Alexander Haig (yes, the former Secretary of State) from CNBC. This was a cross between a discussion of product management and a company advertisement.