Start with the Ending

By Pragmatic Institute August 13, 2007

Start with the ending,
it's the best way to begin
-- David Wilcox

So you've attended Foundations and gotten all fired up! You come back to the office ready to be market-driven. You're anxiously awaiting the looks of joy and amazement at your newly found skills as a product manager. And then reality hits you... hard! Development couldn't care less! They're not listening!! How could this be??

You missed a step: you skipped the part where you earned credibility.

I'm convinced that developers want to be market-driven; they want to be associated with successful products. I mean, who would want to be responsible for a failure? It's just that developers don't want to be driven by Marketing people. Or product managers.

Some people define product management as the CEO of the product; it's better to think of product managers as the messenger for the market. It's not 'I'm in charge now' but 'Here's how I can contribute to our success.'

You're all fired up to be market-driven. What do you do first? For an existing project or product, start with the ending.

Phase 1: join the team

It's a huge temptation to start from scratch: to start with Market Analysis and work in the Pragmatic Institute Framework from strategic to tactical. 'Let's throw out everything and start over.' Well, that's not gonna play well, is it? How would you react if the same happened to you? With a project in process, the last thing the product needs is a new strategy.

You really need to keep your ideas to yourself until you have a dozen or more client experiences. The source of your credibility is not your title; it's your market facts. Do you have any?

Maybe you've heard this one: Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant. Go to the Pragmatic Institute store and buy a mug with this quote on it. And look at the quote yourself; it's a reminder of your credibility--so far.

Fundamentally, the question for a new product manager is 'how can I help?' The developers already know what they're gonna build; let's help them get the product to market.

Sure, maybe the product is inside-out and you may find yourself trying to make a boring product sound interesting. But until you have better idea, it's best to go along to get along.

Focus your energy on positioning and the sales process. What can you do in the short-term to get the product to market?

Phase 2: earn credibility

In the process of going to market you will have lots of opportunities to listen for market problems. You'll do sales training and go on customer demos. These events are valuable in themselves but they also give you the ability to schedule other calls while you're already on the road. Channel Support is how you get unlimited travel authorization. Just extend every trip a half day and see some customers.

These trips had a short-term objective that funded your long-term objective: you now have market information!

With a few dozen customer experiences, the product manager can now contribute market facts to any conversation.

Phase 3: lead the team--with market facts

What should we do in the next model or version of the product? Let's scan the call reports for unsolved problems in customers and non-customers. Let's look at the number of tech support calls and identify the big time-wasters for support and thus for the customers. Let's scan ten RFP's looking for common requirements. Let's look at all the enhancement requests and tabulate the market evidence for them.

And what have learned directly from the market on those trips over the last few months? Our customers have probably told us our distinctive competence. They've also told us the two or three major problems they have with our products.

What has the channel told us? From the channel, we've learned about problems with the product and problems with the process of selling the product. We've supplemented this knowledge with the results of win/loss analysis.

What has management told us? Within our distinctive competence, how does management want to grow the business? What aspects of the product will leverage and extend our distinctive competence and our competitive position?

Market facts are the source of product management credibility. With these facts at hand, development will solicit our input instead of fighting it.

In the ending of 'Saving Private Ryan,' Tom Hanks implores Matt Damon to 'earn it.' And so should product managers.

The market-driven product manager should be the final authority of what goes into the product. The key to this is to actually be market-driven--to replace personal opinions with market facts.

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Pragmatic Institute

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