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The Dude is a grizzled product management and development veteran, and he has seen and/or experienced a lot in all his years. However, one thing really gets under his skin.
We are finishing a product development program, and I had predicted that we would compromise our beta program. Repeated development delays, and difficulties that we needed to overcome have delivered about 8 months of delays. So we first compressed our beta, and reduced the timeframe repeatedly.
Executive pressure lead us to announce, and of course take orders, long before we were ready (sadly this is not uncommon either). Now, we are at a critical point. A customer commitment, with a massive delay penalty, and we are under the gun. Meanwhile, our beta systems are delayed.
Now, we are doing the unthinkable, shipping our FCS at least a week before our initial beta shipment.
Yep, this is why the Dude drinks.
First and foremost was motivation of the meeting. Our VP, a pretty good executive, almost had to force the issue with Sales Leadership. Sales was against the meeting as there wasn’t anything “new” to train on.
Excuse me. Talk to any sales person in the field, and the number one thing they will mention is how isolated they are from the factory, and how they miss out on what is happening. Hence, the idea that once a year, we gather the troops, have some team building, drink some adult beverages, and in general, share our experiences. We in the factory support this, and make a LOT of people available to participate.
But, to get nothing but grumbles from the field is dispiriting. This is your chance to bend our ear.
The Dude used to be an avid off road (and on road) motorcyclist. One thing that always gave him the willies was target fixation. You are blazing along a trail, and you see a big rock. You think to yourself “I better not hit it”, and then next thing you know BAM! you have nailed it.
This is target fixation. When you instinctively know something bad will happen if you encounter it, yet you keep heading towards the disaster.
This also affects those people in the sales organization.
How so Dude?
I am going to tell you a story. Like most businesses, our main market is segmented (scientific instrumentation). There are high end products (high performance, high value, differentiated segments) that are very profitable. There is a midrange where differentiation isn’t as important to the customers, and there is a low end, where price is the only factor considered.
The Dude knows of this division at a large-ish company that has a completely unbelievable level of dysfunction. This group has developed a hierarchy that is completely devoid of any chain of command, and yet the senior executive is “proud” of this structure.
The Structure as evolved
Instead of group leaders (engineering, finance, marketing, sales, manufacturing) that sit at the table, there is a curious twist.
There are heads of Finance, Sales, and Manufacturing; so in that way it is normal. But the rest of the organization is a hydra headed monster.
Since this group has about a 40 year history, predominantly in making OEM solutions for big semiconductor manufacturing equipment, they had a unique development process. A “customer” needs a solution. They contact this team with a set of requirements. Engineering would put together a proposal, and “marketing” would package that into a statement of work (SOW) that defined the program.
Picture if you will, a small-ish division at a big company (say 9k employees, $3B in revenue). You are in a meeting, learning about this “stealthy” program that is working towards a product release in the next few months.
You are the product marketing person, learning about a project at the brink of going to beta testing (i.e. actually delivering hardware and software to outside potential customers.
You wonder why you never heard of this program until now. It has been a well kept secret, and you know that some marketing influence happened, right?
Today the Dude will share his recipe for assembling a team to be a kick-ass product team. You should count your blessings that the Dude is bestowing this kindness upon you.
The SW Team
Always build the software team with experts. The best experts in the world: Ph.D. Physicists. Fuck yeah, pile them in at least in a 5:1 ratio over people who know software development.
Make sure that you have all prima donnas. No average contributors, all rock stars. Who needs version control? That is for pussies who don’t know how to roll. Marketing wants an installer? Screw them. Make them manually copy files to directories, and tweak the ini files.
Also, make sure that there aren’t enough people on the team. If you really need say 12 people (including a manager, and 2 SQA people) staff it with three permanent employees and one contractor. Surefire path to success.
‘Cuz that’s how kick ass software gets written.
As I sit in my office, wondering why our latest product introduction isn’t selling as much as I expected (and more importantly, forecasted), I begin to look for potential causes.
Sales assures me that they are beating the new product drum with customers yet it isn’t resonating. Smelling the whiff of weapons grade baloney, I muse to myself “Can I find out how often they are quoting the new product?”
Turns out the answer is yes I can find out how many times they quote the new versus the old product. This leads to today’s sermon from the mount, “Drowning in Data.”
In my line of business, scientific instrumentation, we have a few odd facts and behaviors. An overriding theme is that due to how our industry was created and how closely intertwined with the academic research field, we have a pretty monolithic sales organization. This is best described as “Scientists selling to Scientists”.
It has been successful for a long time, but it has also become a boat anchor. There are many issues, but top of the list is the desire to collaborate with the people you are selling to. This goes way beyond collaborative selling, into more of a partnership.
I don’t mean co-authoring papers, or the like, but more to “Oh, I see, how about we customize the Alpha 3 system to facilitate your bolting on a zeta mark 3 whatchamacallit to it.” Hence, we do a lot of engineering to order.
This has been a bad week for a variety of reasons. A product we have been working on for quite a while is not going well. It isn’t MY project, I am a “hired gun” doing the product marketing for it. There is a formal product manager, and I work with him (a great guy, I have known him for about 16 years, so it isn’t a stranger relationship between us.
About 15 months ago when I began this stint, we were talking about a 3 month beta test program. (actually, he was talking about it, I was listening) And I quipped that that was quaint, a beta program, but that I would bet a dollar that we wouldn’t do a beta test.
Here we are, the program is way late, we just talked today of using our three beta builds as our first customer shipments.
My original statement was: “Mark my words, alpha, will be beta, will be first commercial shipment.” And now, that is the most likely result.
I feel like a schmuck. Banana product management again.