Product Managers are Product Innovators


(B) The birth of a product in technology originates in two ways. Either a new product (or technology) creates a new market (or application). An example is the Web that has enabled online commerce. Or a new market drives the need for a new type of product. A reverse example is an online commerce that could not have grown without the creation by Netscape of SSL/secure HTTP into the browser to secure online financial transactions.

A new product always targets an “inflection point” where the market is changing. In mathematics, inflection points are easy to find and occur when the second derivative of a function changes its sign. In the business world, inflection points are much harder to create!

Restless Students of Markets and Technologies

Every company starts with one product.  And to grow, it needs to expand from one product to multiple ones. The challenge for every company that wants to last is to find those inflection points from its inception and over its lifetime and ideally those that can be leveraged by the company core competencies to maximize its return on capital.

In any high-tech company, the product manager is the one who has the best skills to discover those inflection points because the product manager must be a restless student of the markets and technologies. He or she is the best leader to start a new product and to grow an existing product line. Product managers are product innovators!

The “PRODUCT” Side of a Product Manager

A PRODUCT manager must be the first product expert from the company. That expertise requires him or her to be a permanent student of markets, customers, products and technologies. And, he or she needs to build that expertise by leveraging the knowledge of his or her organization. In return, the product manager must always own, share and disseminate critical product information within the various parts of the organization in order for the organization to make the appropriate business decisions.

Like an entrepreneur, the PRODUCT manager must feel the customer demand, establish a business case and develop a business plan to start or to grow his or her product. The best opportunity for a product comes when there is a growing demand, a lack of suppliers and the possibility to create competitive advantages that can lead to significant market share. The next step for the product manager is to make a business case that is to size the revenues and the profits that can be made in order to provide the necessary return for the capital invested. The last step is to elaborate with his or her management in a business plan on how to build the business in terms of competencies, structures, and financing. And since no high-tech company can succeed without a great product, product managers should be key contributors to the executive team when investigating or formulating new business strategies for the company.

How to be a Successful “PRODUCT” Manager?

The PRODUCT manager is successful if he or she is recognized as “The” authority both inside and outside his or her organization regarding any product aspect. The product manager must have good business instincts and be passionate about new technology. Ideally, having both a business and a technology education is a good foundation. But it is not enough. Both market and technologies are always changing. And, breadth and depth of knowledge must always be expanded either by self-learning or by learning from others.

The “MANAGER” Side of a Product Manager

The product MANAGER is well known to have responsibilities “without” authority. He or she must lead cross-functional teams in the organization without having those teams reporting to him or her or owning their budgets. That leadership requires having product MANAGERS who are capable to establish product decisions and to have those decisions being quickly implemented across the various parts of the organization: engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and sales.

Products go through a life cycle, called the product life cycle (PLC), that is defined by key milestones: from the initial concepts on the “white board” to the launch of the first release/version 1.0 followed by additional releases until the product ends its life in the marketplace. The product manager is the one that should define and manage those toolkits and processes that provide the vehicles to achieve the successes of those milestones of starting, launching and growing a product line.

How to be a Successful Product “MANAGER”?

A product MANAGER is successful if he or she owns the process of driving products from development to successful sales. The successful ownership of that process can only be measured over a full product life cycle.

A product manager must always know the key challenges and priorities that a given part of the organization or the organization as a whole needs to focus and solve. And, he or she needs to spend his or her time according to those challenges and priorities. Sometimes sales cannot sell because of a lack of product training, lack of competitive features or outdated pricing. Sometimes development is inefficient developing new releases because of a missing product road map, late detailed requirements, or too many features requested without adequate planning. At any given time, the product manager needs to assess who are the stakeholders that cannot achieve their contributions to the product and why they cannot. He or she needs to be the first advocate to push any resolution and decisions in solving any hurdle that they might have with eventually bringing the attention and the involvement of the company management.

From Leadership to Innovation

Product managers must establish themselves as effective leaders that set up and drive the product agenda in harmony with their management. And, they need to incubate technical innovations and manage those innovations into new products, new releases, and new road map all the times.

Note 1: Many people in the past have asked me about the required skills to be a product manager. I hope that this article will provide some hints.

Note 2: The picture above is “the Fountaine Place de la Concorde” in Paris.

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Categories: Product Management