So Much Fanfare, So Few Hits

It's been reported that Google employees can allocate up to 20% of their time on developing new products, focusing on anything that interests them. Business Week Online reflects on Google's culture in So Much Fanfare, So Few Hits. In short, the article's author questions whether Google's technology-driven culture has produced any successful products.

The problem is, he says, "Google has product ADD. They don't know why they're getting into all of these products. They have fantastic cash flow but terrible discipline on products," says Paul S. Kedrosky. "It's a dangerous combination."

Furthermore, product managers at Google tend to have less power than engineers, say several former staffers. This can contribute to slow product upgrades, since most engineers want to work on the next big launch.

I've used many metaphors for product management's role in producing new products: president or parent of the product. Sadly, some companies use product management as the janitor or maid of the product, the one who cleans up after the developers. Perhaps Google needs the "product manager as producer" metaphor.

In creating a movie, there are two key roles: producer and director. The director has creative control, determining the actors, the script, the camera angles, which 'take' is the best, the editing of scenes; the director owns the art of the movie. Meanwhile, the producer owns the business of the product: how to promote it, when to release it to the theaters and which ones, how to fill the theater seats, and so on. Not that I'm in the movie business but I imagine there are many heated discussions between director and producer about hitting dates, length of the film, and incorporating test market feedback into the final product. Sounds like product management to me.

Google needs some 'producers' to re-focus the engineers on market requirements, incorporating market feedback into versions 2 and 3, and ultimately finishing the product. Their approach of "always in beta" basically says it all; it seems they work on a product until the team gets bored.

Google has many ideas but do they have products? Products solve a problem for a market segment--and for a vendor, these products have to deliver profitability at some point.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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