Product Management

Big Companies – the Lorentz Transform of programs

The Dude works in a big company. This is OK, as he knows how to deal with the politics and the various eccentricities that come with the territory. That doesn’t mean he isn’t at times completely frustrated.

Startups have one huge benefit. Often a single product or service, and everybody focused on success, that truly amazing results can be accomplished in very short time scales.

However, once you add a second product or service, the rate of progress begins to slow. You need to decide how to focus resources, and where the investment is best.

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Product Management

Business Disasters – The Botched Acquisition

The Dude has seen some dooseys in his days, but he has been digging through a whopper of epic proportions.

Acquisitions are a favorite mechanism by management to increase their domain. However, when doing an acquisition it is quite possible, or even quite likely to handle it poorly.

The Dude has seen many acquisitions that he has shaken his head at. Poor alignment, no synergy, picked the wrong company to acquire, all of these at various times.

However, the tale for today is an acquisition that was a good fit, a complementary technology, and for once, a good choice in the field.

So what went wrong?

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Product Management

Why you want a single Engineering Leader

I know the Dude said he was going to tone it down, but he has dealt with some idiocy in just the last two days that demand a venting session.

In the Dude’s business group (3 product lines, a mix of OEM and commercial products), there is an “odd” structure. Where most companies have a single head of R&D or engineering, we don’t. Instead, we have a head of Mechanical, a head of Electrical, a head of Software and a head of Optical engineering. It is a matrix organization, where each group acts as contractors for major projects.

Marketing (me) gets to define these programs and projects, and then the respective group does their thing. For some programs, this works well. Particularly well defined OEM programs where the savvy customer is crystal clear on what is success. You get reams of documentation, almost too much, and you know what is expected when, and how much you agreed it will cost.

But of course, for a non-OEM program, life isn’t so easy. We in marketing gather and draft requirements, and bring the program to the table. That is all normal and good.

And that is where the shit hits the fan. Since all disciplines are commonly needed, and often a heavier lift from SW, ME, and EE, those groups immediately begin the blame game.

  • Unfair assignment of tasks. EE’s in particular seem to think that the SW team should be circuit designers. But all groups hedge and sandbag.
  • Lack of ownership. With 4 heads in the room, and not one “owner”, you can imagine that the round table circle jerk is the principal dance. So much finger pointing, you would swear that their digits would fall off.
  • The blame game. When (not if) something comes off the rails, even if it is something so obvious (like the EE’s designed a board with a connector wired backwards), the blame starts flying. Hoo boy, get the popcorn out and watch the fireworks. You can sit in the corner of the office and watch the chaos dissipate through the building.

Ultimately, our executive is the one that needs to arbitrate the conflict. But he is loathe to. In fact, I think he likes to keep the engineering team unbalanced.

The fallout

As you can imagine, the Dude sucks it up, tries to broker peace between the warring faction, and wonders if anybody else has this particular brand of crazy in the office.

One ultimate result is that programs are never on time and on budget.

It is important to have a single leader who is responsible for all aspects of the engineering team, one person who has the authority to “get shit done”. Without that, herding cats is an easier vocation.

Dude-ness/ Product Management

Time to turn down the lights

The Dude is facing a difficult decision. What to do with The PM Dude blog. As his role has changed, and his responsibilities expanded far beyond the scope of merely product management or product marketing, he finds it difficult to keep the flame alive.

Not that there aren’t asinine things happening in product management land that the Dude experiences, but in his new-ish role, he needs to step back, and provide a wider canvas to view, instead of the narrow focus of product management.

What does this mean?

The near term is that posting frequency will go down. The Dude knows that the last year has seen the fewest posts, but some hard hitting ones. He enjoys the snarky, biting commentary about the zaniness in engineering, or the privilege of the sales team, but it takes time to write, and time is what the Dude is lacking the most of.

The longer term? The PM Dude blog will probably be mothballed. The Dude has several web properties, so he will keep the hosting alive indefinitely, but long term, it will become more of a static resource.

Open to ideas

The Product Management and Product Marketing world is well served with consultants, and “positive messaging” blogs that paint the profession in a positive light. All nice and dandy, but, like all professions, there are a lot of hidden hijinks and mayhem that confounds the newly inducted, and those who toil away, wondering why it isn’t all “Unicorns and two drink minimums”.

If you are interested in a guest post (anonymous or with your real name attached), drop the Dude an email. Likewise if you just want to shoot the breeze.

It has been a fun 4 years as The PM Dude, but time rolls on.

Product Management

The “Myth” of the Product Manager as CEO

One thing that has really begun grating on the Dude, is the mantra that product management is like the CEO of the product. It is a nice idea, and it makes us feel good and valuable, but it really isn’t a good analogy.

Unless you have control over headcount, the composition and size of the engineering team, the deployment or operations team, and a heavy knob to turn on the sales channel, you really aren’t even a CEO-lite.

Note: there are some companies and industries where the product manager or equivalent role has this sort of authority. However, this person is often closer to a general manager, and has true P&L responsibilities.

You might say “Dude, but my job description says I have profit and loss responsibility.” Yeah, the Dude has had a couple roles where he was told he had P&L ownership. But invariably, there were very limited knobs to turn. If you can’t resize engineering or marketing to adjust the burn rate, or alter the direct versus representative composition of the sales team, or make a decision to outsource a business function, then you really have “loss responsibility”. The Dude calls it this because it means that you can’t turn knobs to improve profitability, but you will get slaughtered if there is a loss.

This is not to say that you aren’t crucial or influential in the development and scoping of products, and markets, but let’s not delude ourselves any longer.

Product Management

Sales versus Product Management – The Battle for the Future

The Dude is getting reflective in the holiday glow, and on one of his long bike rides, he was reliving the memory of the recent sales meeting.

The feedback from the sales meeting was the usual. The sales team didn’t think there was enough “new” stuff, and it was a waste of their time (even though it was a sales meeting, not sales training,) whatever.

The real takeaway is that like many mature industries, the external pressures make it difficult to continue in our old habits. I.e. what worked last year, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, if we would just get that mojo back, all will be good (shorthand for “we would have phat commission checks again”).

But that is not the case. Hence the tension between the sales team and product management / marketing.

The way things were…

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Product Management

Getting to No

The Dude has been gaining some new converts in his company. A little history: The Dude works for a LARGE company. His tiny division was bought about 10 years ago, and the big company put their “trusted” management team in place.

The immediate goal was to not alienate the team, and to placate the sales force (a small, but highly specialized team).

So a culture of “Yes” was put in place. Want a custom modification to the system? Sure. Special software? You betcha. Something that is really one off? Ok.

This has lead to a belligerence and swagger in the sales team, and that dreaded phenomenon, a sales lead organization.

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Product Management

Things that should NEVER happen

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.

Product Management

Reflections: A Week of Sales Meetings

Powerpoint HellThis week, The Dude had to spend a week locked in a conference room with Sales for the annual, WW Sales Kick-Off meeting. As usual, he has some snarky observations to share.

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.

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