Product Management

Target Fixation – as it affects Sales

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.

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Marketing/ Product Management

The Completely Dysfunctional Product Group

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.

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Product Management

PM Dream Sequence

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?

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Product Management

How to build a kick-ass product team

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.

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Marketing/ Product Management

Drowning in Data

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.”

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Marketing/ Product Management

The Challenge of Reforming a Sales Lead Organization

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.

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Product Management

I Hate it When I am too Smart for my own Good

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.

Product Management

Product Management Lesson from the Apollo Program

moon landingA picture a friend posted on Facebook got me thinking. I wanted a comment to be accurate, and since the Dude is getting old, his recall isn’t what it once was, so I looked up the Apollo missions on Wikipedia.

(BTW: I thought it was Apollo 11 that first landed on the moon, and I was right)

However, reading the details of the Apollo-Saturn missions was a mini case-study in product development, and in product management.

When asked about the space program, most people just remember the crappy, yet wonderful, black and white footage of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. But prior to that event was a deep series of unmanned and manned missions to validate and test the various platforms, technologies, and aspects of the mission(s).

Reading about the progress, it tells a tale of:

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Product Management

When the Wrong People Run Engineering

The Dude has been blessed with (mostly) competent engineering management throughout his career. For the most part, they have been technically competent, and reasonable at negotiating scope and schedule. When that happens, the Dude’s job is much easier, and the Dude is an ally in the battle to get resources.

But, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes a truly awful leader is running the engineering team. Nothing ever gets done, schedules are blown, and without some track record of delivering, it is impossible to wrangle more resources.

To be certain, the Dude will hold his nose and work with these engineering managers, but it is difficult.

Some symptoms of poor engineering leadership:

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Product Management

Sales Discomfort – Product Mix Edition

courtesy of Siddharth Singh

In all the Dude’s years as a product manager with some {explicit|implicit} P&L responsibility for new products, there has been one fact that has really torqued him.

The sales team laments that they can’t meet quota because they don’t have new and exciting products. Yet when we deliver a new and exciting product, sales are glacially slow to start, and suddenly sales of the now legacy products jumps.

Not an isolated instance, but something that has repeated over and over in the past 15 years. This dichotomy has had the Dude massively depressed many many times.

However, today the Dude has a boss, the VP/GM, who has a marketing bent. And this VP/GM manages directly the WW Sales Director. So the VP/GM has put metrics on the sales director that is ensured to increase focus of the sales team on selling new products (or, in other words, a mix of products that is weighted to the new products).

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