Building A Product Timeline - Useful slides available for download

As a product manager, you will have to make presentations that indicate timelines, progress, status, resource utilization etc. Unless your firm has a standardized template for these, making such slides gets tiresome.

While there is never a perfect timeline slide for all occasions, I have created the attached template, that can be useful on many occasions. There are 3 slides in this template, that can be used in different ways. Feel free to modify or use them in any way. Tip: The long term monthly slide is useful for communicating with senior management, to show the big picture.

Annual slide with months

This slide is useful when you want to show a long term roadmap with key milestones called out. This is typically used for marketing, or for summary presentations to senior management. For example, you can use this slide to show when the product concept will be defined, engineering specs delivered, marketing tasks completed and the new version released over 18 months. If you want to add more details, then you would add rows indicating different people or departments where these milestones will occur.

Monthly slide with weeks

Sometimes, you have to show the weekly progress being made towards internal milestones. This slide is typically used when you want to show when each feature is being released. The attached slide shows a timeline over 3 months, and is formatted for the 52 week calendar year. Again, if you want to provide more details, add rows of data for the audience.


Daily progress in a month

This slide is useful for showing tasks to be completed within a month. You can show each day, and exclude weekdays, while indicating when each task is to be completed, using icons from slide1. I have used such slides to show the cross-functional deliverables for a product, when there is a tight deadline to be met. Apart from this, you can also color holidays or internal "dead" days.

So will you ever use all these slides in a single presentation? Unlikely, as these are meant for different audience.

How is an enterprise software product planned, designed, built and released?

For a large software vendor, there are several processes and departments that work together to create a product that can license for hundreds of thousands of dollars. This takes a lot of planning, time and effort across multiple functions.

In addition, there can be delays and risks in developing such software.

PLM software is available in the manufacturing domain, from vendors such as Siemens, Oracle, Autodesk and many others. These describe how different functions and processes are used to release products and support customers.

One such PLM diagram that I created is shown below.  Each department in a firm is shown as a swim lane. And there are different product life cycle phases that run from left to right over time.
The flowchart depicts the different activities that occur within the cycle, and the different checkpoints that occur.

You can observe the complexity that a product manager for enterprise software handles, compared to what the simplified role of a product (feature?) manager is in the e-commerce or web world.
PLM for software


More to follow.

Evangelize product management to stakeholders


In my career, I have attended a mind-boggling number of meetings where my stakeholders are absolutely clueless about the role of a product manager (especially someone working in India). And these stakeholders have been from engineering, sales, field marketing, program management and many other teams. So a lot of time  is then spent on explaining what a PM does and why that is useful to their team/their own goals.
[Hint: most of these guys are superbly competent in their own field, but have a very narrow view of the business, product portfolio]
 Here’s my approach towards enlightening the clueless stakeholder verbally. Note: I am not in favor of sending email blasts, unless most of your stakeholders are not in the same location.

1) Identify the type of stakeholder

Without stereotyping too much, an engineering manager would have a very different personality and skill set from an account manager. So we need to identify what facet of a PM’s role he would be interested in. For e.g., if an engineering manager wants the product roadmap, he is probably looking for details on proposed features, that his team needs to prepare for. He wants information on what are the technologies of focus, what are the skills his team needs and so on. However, if an account manager wants to know about the roadmap from the PM, it is likely that he is looking for a competitive edge while positioning the product to his account. He is looking for something to sell to the account. So you should focus on only the business value of your roadmap.

2) Prepare for the geographical/market context

If you are part of a new setup in India, then you may only need to mention this fact, and that you will be carrying on all existing activities and initiatives. For most stakeholders, this is enough. If you are working with remote stakeholders then be ready to do a lot of follow-up over emails and IM and meetings. I have found that those stakeholders are the hardest to influence. Typically, such stakeholders include C-level leadership, who really need convincing on why someone 10,000 miles away is useful to them.

3) Sell the role

If you meet a skeptic, then the best option is to offer examples and success stories about the benefit of having a product manager in their midst. For example, if the company is facing pricing pressures, then show, with examples, how product managers can create pricing strategies and the impact on margins.
The challenge here is that you might need to make space to accommodate your role, which means reducing the role of someone else. That someone else is unlikely to ever become your champion, so you need to keep a close eye on such stakeholders.

4) Sell the personality/capability

End of the day, a PM is expected to lead the virtual, cross-functional team towards successful software and hardware releases. He is also expected to be the key expert on customer needs. If you have something unique that you can share, then you must do so. 
I remember a time when I was asked by engineering, why I’m the right fit for the role in the first meeting. In response, I listed down multiple planned improvements for the product, and the outline of a high level PRD. This gave that team the comfort that I am capable of doing the work, even though I have an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. Sometimes, that is all you need.

 For some people, negotiation or public speaking classes can help them increase their communication effectiveness. If these courses are available to you, do check them out.

Ask Me Anything - Within Reason

It is always great to hear from people who read this blog and have responded over email or comments. Sometimes you use real identities, other times it's an alias. I am fine with both. If your questions are interesting or within context, I will try to respond back quickly.

However, if possible, kindly provide more details before asking for for my opinion on questions such as:
  • How do I get more competitive compensation? (You need to share what you earn now and how you got there)
  • How do I get into product management? (What do you do today and what is your educational background)
  • How do I crack product management interviews? (There are hundreds of resources out there on this topic)
  • How do I grow in my career? (You need to provide your career and current job details)
  • I want to return from US and into a product management role in an offshore setup ( This is a mix of #2 and #4)
I try to answer most questions, but without details, you may not get a good response.
All the best in your career, and I look forward to answering more such questions.
For compensation benchmarks or past interviews at large firms, Glassdoor.com has pretty good information.

Role Overlap: Business Analyst and Product Manager

The number of business analyst is growing within the product management organization. In addition, there is significant overlap between the role of offshore enterprise product manager and the IT Business Analyst. So does it mean that a product manager is simply a glorified business analyst?
Not at all.
A product manager has skills along multiple dimensions, business analysis being one of them. So you can actually think that the activities of a business analyst are a sub-set of the activities that a product manager undertakes. Additionally, the business analysts usually have strong domain knowledge as well as software development knowledge and strong customer interaction skills. This should and indeed does, make them valuable as market facing product managers. And there is a natural career growth towards product management.



PMvsBA

Unfortunately, in India today, if a business analyst wants to move to the role of an enterprise product manager, he could encounter strong resistance from various teams.

The top reason for this resistance is the idea of Technology Products development being superior to IT Services. A Business Analyst is seen as supporting IT services and custom application development and is not expected to "cope with" the challenges of product management. This bias eliminates the résumé of even the most competent BAs right at the recruitment stage.

After recruitment, the BA faces the challenge of adapting from a structured, process driven IT services firm to the "chaotic", agile world of software R&D centers. This is a transition that many BAs fail to make, and prefer to return to the world of IT services and custom application development.

Finally, the BA also faces the challenge of learning multiple dimensions of product management, such as sales and marketing support, pricing, UX design, analytics and many others, which he may not have touched before. This is the last competency hurdle that causes many of them to either avoid the transition to product management or often fail in the new role.

If a BA can successfully overcome these challenges, then it becomes easy to succeed in product management, and can offer a very enriching and lucrative career.

Phone interviews can rejected valid candidates due to 7 reasons


In India, a common and costly mistake by the recruiting team in MNC R&D centers or Indian firm is arranging a candidate's phone interview with a peer product manager. This is seen as the first bar to clear, before a full day interview is arranged with multiple people.

The common issue with this process is that it does not account for an interviewer's bias, which often leads to rejection of a perfectly valid candidate. 7 common pitfalls that hamper phone interviews include:
  • Short listing candidates from the same school or former employer as the interviewer, while rejecting others
  • Rejection of a brilliant candidate due to fear of competition 
  • Misuse of informal networking to pre-judge the candidate in his current role
  • Rejecting candidates because the panelist is not trained properly
  • Rejecting candidates not referred by existing employees
  • Rejecting candidate referred to by existing employees
  • The interview is just a formality to complete the process, candidate’s resume is already rejected by the hiring manager
There are more, but if you have experienced rejection in PM phone interviews, you are not alone. Many fully qualified candidates continue to get rejected for inane reasons.

(Re-post) I Went For An MBA Because I Hate Coding

binary-code(This was originally posted in February 2013, updated here)


Ask any software engineer turned MBA student why he is in business school in India, and you will probably hear about his dislike of software development. This is especially true when the student is in his 20's and studying in a full time MBA program. He has seen the typical roles in Indian IT and is looking for something more.

So here's a reality check for all young MBAs out there looking for well paying jobs. The best paying jobs, which occasionally include product management roles, require a significant amount of technical knowledge and close interaction with software developers. And this includes knowledge of software development, business domain as well as familiarity with software engineering processes and technologies.
This knowledge is not important for doing code reviews or software QA, but for truly understanding the efforts required to build a product feature. It is also useful in rapid prototyping of features, building or validating UX designs, reviewing system architecture and so on. 
If a top-notch software engineer is rated a 9 or 10 in his knowledge of Java and SQL, you should reach at least a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 10) in those technologies. Otherwise you risk being shut out of design discussions and your UX and design contributions may be ignored.

You can become a product manager in India without software development expertise, only if you have significant post-MBA experience and strong domain knowledge. Otherwise, treat your programming books with respect and they will help you earn the programmer's respect.

Resume Variants You Need as a Technology Product Manager


Most interview preparation sites will say that you need to customize your résumé for every job application. This is correct because if your customized resume does not contain keywords a recruiter is searching for, you are unlikely to get shortlisted for an interview. However, what they often neglect to mention is the need for multiple resume templates for applying to product management roles in India. This is even more important once you gain some years of experience in product management.

[In large firms, your résumé is typically scanned by a recruiter, shortlisted by an HR manager, forwarded to the hiring manager and then scanned by the interview panel. It may also be scrutinized by a background checking team after you accept the job offer]

You should remember some points while creating a resume template for each category. Remember, the template is the master list of all work related activities, you need to trim it and customize it for every job application.:

Offshore Enterprise Product Management

  • Highlight cross-functional, program management and engineering work experience
  • Show details of customer and account team engagement or work as a Business Analyst
  • Add keywords that match the technologies advertised (security, virtualization, networking etc.)
  • Based on the job description, you may want to highlight work done within Asia-Pacific for sales support, RFP response and so on

Offshore Consumer Product Management

  • Show patents, innovations, work on new product design etc.
  • Show experience in UX design, product release etc.
  • Also mention if you have conducted customer interviews, done customer data analysis or have worked with web analytics

Market Facing Enterprise Product Management

  • Show financial skills (you can decide what flavor you wish to add)
  • Show pricing, sales support and marketing experience
  • Add points to show that you are tech. savvy (but you need not show engineering experience)

Market Facing Consumer Product Management

  • Show brand names you have worked with
  • Show impact on profitability, sales, customer acquisition or other relevant metrics
  • Add details of your MBA projects, data analysis skills and interpersonal skills
  • Add details of team management if done earlier
Your résumé is the key to your success in the technology industry in India.The reviewer must grasp the essentials in a single glance to retain his interest. 

And remember, there is no such thing as a catch-all resume that can be used for applying to any product management role.

10 Reasons why "MBA preferred" appears in Product Manager recruitment ads

This is a very old post from my previous blog, reposted as it is still relevant.

10. The recruitment team wants to shortlist candidates from thousands of applicants for an entry-level role, and MBA/PMP is chosen as a criterion. This is fairly common in large firms.

9. The Product Manager is actually required to have business modeling/statistical analysis or product pricing/marketing skills. This is very rarely needed in India, for both offshore roles and for Indian market facing roles.

8. The "MBA preferred" lets the recruitment team decline internal applicants who want to move out of an engineering role into product management.

7. The head of product management/hiring manager has an MBA

6. This product management role reports to the local sales head, and it is actually a category/brand management role for India/Asia-Pacific. Such roles are quite prevalent in hardware/mobile firms.

5. The role requires the product manager to work with vendors/clients/account teams etc. based in India, and a person with an MBA might have an edge in relationship building and management, as per the hiring manager.

4. The ad wants applicants with a full-time MBA from a top business school, but the recruitment team was not sure if they would actually get many applicants. This is often the case with senior level positions.

3. The PM head wants a "business oriented" product manager, even though the role is actually completely engineering facing, and requires strong domain knowledge. This often happens in offshore R&D centers, and often leads to a bad hire.

2. The "MBA preferred" can be interpreted as a code for highly paid candidates to apply for the job.

1. (My favorite) The ad was copied from a standard template and it contained the words "MBA preferred" in the original ad.

Consulting Product Managers

I like the idea of having consulting product managers. They are available on a need basis, you do not need to keep them on full time. And they can be engaged for specific projects (pricing, market research, product specifications development etc.)

On the flip side, they will cost more and may not have a long term engagement with the engineering teams.

I am yet to see many consulting PMs in India in the technology sector.

What's your Compa-Ratio?

A product manager's CTC (cost to company) can have many components, which are mainly broken down into the following:
  • base salary
  • variable pay
  • retirement benefits
  • stock (ESPP, RSU, Stock Grant etc.)
  • bonus (joining, annual, shipping bonus etc)
Knowing that there are so many CTC components makes it difficult to evaluate competing job offers or even "quote a salary", as is commonly demanded by recruiters these days.

For offshore product managers, one way to benchmark your salary is to find out your compa-ratio at your firm. The Wikipedia link has the basic explanation of what a compa-ratio is, and how it is applied during recruitments and performance appraisals. In a large firm, this is the direct way to find out if you're paid above average, at par, or below average. And actually, this also has a good correlation to your past performance, your relationship with managers and the industry performance as well. So knowing or guessing your compa-ratio puts you in a good situation during the salary negotiation time both within the firm or when you have an offer in hand.

For startups, smaller firms or Indian technology firms, you might not find this information from your HR contacts. In this case, one alternate is to trawl the web with queries such as "salary for X role" in "City Y" [ I get some traffic on the blog from these queries too!]. And thankfully, there is quite a lot of reasonably accurate information on this available in 2013, compared to the situation five years ago. These give some pointers on the potential offer, given your current compensation, the industry standards and the salary at the company in question.

One final thought, given the limited risk-reward situation in high-tech product management, it would be wise to only compare base salary as a lump and all variable components as another lump.

Who's the Hiring Manager?

Based on the number of calls from recruiters these days, it looks like the Product Manager hiring season in India is on in full swing. However, one simple question makes it easy to identify which firms are likely to have a long and tedious recruitment process for a PM role, and which ones are really keen to hire new people.

And that question is a simple one...
"Who is the hiring manager for this role?"

Now some recruiters will hem and haw, while others will say we simply look for a fit between candidate and company (many internet firms still try this line). It's very simple, if they are not able to give you a credible answer, then there is something very wrong with the picture. They can hide the compensation range and ask all details from you, but this is a very important question that the recruiter must answer. Actually, they should give full details on who is the hiring manager, what job grade the role is at, and which business unit is hiring.

I have observed that some startups and a few teams in large technology MNCs do try to be secretive, saying that they would reveal these details after you join them. And the recruiters also seem to avoid replying to this question. Well, that's like buying a pig in a poke. No matter how good the brand name, you can still mess up your job change, and negatively impact your career.

The One Pager about a new product or software release

I first heard about this in a Microsoft team (I was working elsewhere in enterprise software at that time). The one pager was supposed to be the answer to every product teams' planning initiative, and the composition of the one pager was given top priority by senior management as well as the product management team.
Well, when the one-pager finally arrived, it was a big letdown. It was not of one page, was really vague, and was closer to a mangled mission statement (follower's of Dilbert will know this) than any product vision.
So what goes into a good One Pager?
A good one pager, in my opinion, should have the following 5 sections:

The Market Description

This section should give insights into the following:
  • What is the market like in terms of geography, verticals etc.?
  • What are the current solutions in the marketplace
  • Where is it heading, or what are the observed trends?
Do not spend too much time or more than a few sentences on this, as this is a very high level description of the market.

The Problem Statement

What is the exact customer problem? For online clients, it could be something like too much data, or stagnant e-commerce revenues. For enterprise customers, it could be a customer needing a "simple" and easy to use product for his IT Service Desk Management needs across all geographies.
If you know that this is common knowledge within your firm, then you can even get by with a single line problem statement, with subordinate clauses.

The Proposed Solution

This is the section that is of major interest to engineering teams and other internal stakeholders. First, clearly describe what the solution is, in a single sentence. Then use a few words to describe the different components of the solution and the benefits of each component. Finally, describe ONE usage scenario where the solution will solve the customer problem described above.
If you like, you can even fill in a few engineering details, such as the need for Open Source Web Servers, API requirements and so on. A block diagram will probably take too much space without adding value.
You can leave the remainder of the use cases to be filled out during PRD generation (to be explained in a future post).

The Financial Benefit

This part causes the most heartburn in product managers who rise up from engineering ranks. They have been used to precision and results, and building financial models to predict the range of revenues and profit margins of this product over 3-5 years based on multiple assumptions can be a big challenge. My personal belief is that this stems from a lack of confidence, which can be overcome simply by practising this repeatedly.
Do not skimp on this section, and try to put as much detail around pricing, growth in customer base and quarterly revenues as possible. The lack of details around financial benefits can easily kill your vision as it moves upwards through corporate hierarchy.

The Challenges

This is an easy one. If you have an idea of the market and the customer problem then you can describe the external challenges around achieving revenue goals. And if you know how engineering will build your solution, then you can describe the internal risks.
If you have a good sense of what the competition is doing, you can write a line about it here. Although this is not recommended by most experts.

So what do you finally deliver in 5 sections, 1 page and 400-500 words?

Ideally, you deliver a "One-Pager" that is a summary of the goals of a product team, for building a new product or designing a product release. If you can actually deliver this, it will go a long way towards building confidence all around, in your capabilities as a product manager.