Inspiration: If human beings don't keep exercising their lips...

If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, their brains start working.—Douglas Adams, author, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Why do we have such trouble with silence?

A caesura is a long pause. The term is mostly used in music and poetry but I first learned about it as a “technique” in sales methodology training. The idea is that extroverts are so uncomfortable with silence that they rush to speak before the other party has finished thinking.

Sales people and other extroverts need to get comfortable with silence. They need to slow down and let the client process information.

Product managers do too.

There are lots of great sources for product ideas but interviews and observations are clearly the preferred method. With observation, you see with your eyes those things that clients won’t mention but drive them crazy.

The key in observation research is to watch (and not talk). You’re not trying to persuade or cajole. You’re trying to see what they do; you’re trying to understand their workflow. Your goal is to understand and describe the persona and their journey based on your observations.

Want to earn credibility with a client? Have the nerve to listen. Perhaps Will Rogers said it best: Never miss a good chance to shut up.

Inspiration: The only thing worse than training employees and losing them...

The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.—Zig Ziglar

I once had a person working for me who claimed she didn't need any additional training due to her 20 years of experience. One of my colleagues remarked, "She actually has one year of experience, repeated 19 times."

What are you doing to stay current?

I spent 15 years at Pragmatic Marketing teaching product management techniques and the last two coaching product management teams. And often, this is the first professional skills training the team has ever received. That's a real shame.

The rules of marketing have changed; so have the rules of development and sales. Are you (and your people) keeping up?

Every week I speak to people who are trying to adapt agile methods to their products or are trying to adopt David Meerman Scott's "New Rules." These new techniques are powerful! But how do you apply them to your business situation?

Training and coaching may be the answer for you and your team.

According to my friends in HR, the typical annual allocation for on-going professional development is 3% of the employee's salary. Does that align with your training and coaching plans? If not, why not?

There are four types of expertise needed for most product management teams. Learn more in my free ebook, Product Management Expertise.

Inspiration: Visionaries and nut-cases...

You will have both visionaries and nut-cases using your product. It's very hard to tell them apart.—Cindy Alvarez.  Do you have ideas that are crazy? Are they visionary ideas or are they just crazy? It’s hard to tell sometimes. After all, crazy ideas don’t seem so crazy after the fact. Who would have thought that Apple could re-invent the mobile phone? Sure, it seems obvious now but it wasn’t when they began. And the idea of pursuing consumers instead of their core business buyers probably seemed quite logical to the folks at Blackberry. Oops.

New ideas—crazy or not—meet huge resistance internally. “We tried that once and it didn’t work” is a common response. The key is to examine carefully your unique ability to solve this problem. Do you have abilities that you didn’t have years ago? Do you have an innovation that wasn’t available before?

After all, ideas that were once crazy seem quite normal today.

When faced with a crazy idea, get it into the market as quickly as you can. Share it with some of your best customers. Make sure you really understand their problem. Get them to explain in detail how they might use your idea to improve their business.

And remember, not every customer is a good customer. Not all customer are visionaries. Some are just nuts.

What’s your idea? Is it crazy? Ask a customer.

Inspiration: You've got to start with the customer experience...

You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology—not the other way around.—Steve Jobs. Have you ever helped your parents with their computers? It becomes shockingly obvious that there are too many options and too many ways to do too many things. I often find myself shaking my head, wondering, “How did you even find this?” Things that ought to be clear aren’t, and danger lies in only a couple of mouse clicks.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t really understand our customers. It’s not that those who have responsibility for technology products think more options is better; it’s that we don’t know which to include and which to omit.

How often do you hear (or think), “I’m not sure which is best, so let’s include both.”

I have a periodic battle over the options on my iPhone account. Every time I upgrade, something breaks; something that used to work doesn’t. The last time, I lost visual voicemail. The result—after 30 minutes of messing with it—is there are two option settings “visual voicemail ON” and “visual voicemail OFF.” The poor guy at the store probably sees something like on the screen:

visual voicem… visual voicem…

And I suspect these two options are listed alphabetically; OFF comes before ON. Since he couldn’t see the full name of each option, he chose the first one, and turned OFF this option.

Who doesn’t want this option?

“Well, somebody might not want it turned on.”

Who is this “somebody” we’re talking about?

Products designed for everyone (or someone) don’t really meet the needs of anyone.

If you find yourself guessing which option to include or omit, it’s time to interview some customers. The more you understand them, the more you’ll see that they’re probably not the power users that your product team expects them to be. Jack Trout wrote, “Complexity is not to be admired. It is to be avoided.”

Indeed.

(If you need help interviewing clients, see my new article series, Interviewing clients: a field guide)

Empowering judgment with context

It is better to train ten people than to do the work of ten people. But it is harder.—Dwight Lyman Moody

The typical product manager's inbox is a mess. Maybe yours is too. But when you're working from your inbox, you're working on someone else's priorities, not your own. The same is true for your calendar. Before you know it, your calendar is filled with appointments that seem really urgent—but are they really important? And are they furthering your agenda or someone else's? Others are determining your priorities, as you go from one urgent meeting to another.

Attending meetings, responding to emails, helping individuals one at a time can't be maintained, at least not for long. We need to find a better way to empower others.

Instead of answering questions, explain the vision. Instead of providing detail, provide context. Tell stories about personas and their problems so development and marketing teams can use their judgment.

After all, what is the goal of product management? We want developers to build the right product and we want sales people to know how to sell it.

We want to build the product right and also build the right product.

In a small company, the executive team manages the product and defines product direction, perhaps with ideas from developers and sales people. But as the company grows larger and the product set more complex, the company leaders are too busy managing the day-to-day of the company to focus on a single product. That's when you need product managers and product marketing managers.

Ideally, product management is making decisions that the leadership would make if only they had the time to do so.

Product management professionals serve as the leadership's eyes and ears, at the product level. Looking at the business aspects of the individual products and spending time in the market to help make product decisions with the right priorities.

Share market information with the company

Every development methodology calls for someone to represent the market to the product team. Developers need to understand the people who use the product and the problems they need to solve. There are two ways to help this effort: either work side-by-side with the product team and answer questions as they arise, or help the team understand the context of the problem so they can answer their own questions using their judgment.

That's the power of product management artifacts: personas, stories about problems, and descriptions of workflows. These help the team understand what they're trying to solve.

patton

patton

General George Patton said, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." Yet many leadership teams and many product management teams insist on telling the developers both what to do and how to do it. And after a while, the developers learn not to use their judgment and insights and innovations. They say, "Just tell me exactly what you want and I'll do it." But that increases the amount of work dramatically.

harmonytouchmd

harmonytouchmd

Think of the remote control for your television. For some people, choosing inputs and channels is all rather like magic. One solution is to document everything: "to watch a movie, switch to HDMI-1 by pressing the INPUT button up to three times until you see 'DVD' in the upper-right corner of the screen" and so on. Instead, you'll have better luck if you can explain how the input button toggles between the different input sources—cable, internet, Blu-ray player, game device, and so on. Once your family understands what devices are connected where, they can use their common sense to operate the remote control.

The same is true for developers. This is the essence of agile.

And sales people. You could give them a long list of answers to memorize and a Q&A document to reference, or you can help them understand who buys the product, what issues they're facing, and the philosophy of how you solve it.

Help them understand the why, not the what.

Help them help themselves

Telling stories about the work your customers do, explaining personas and their problems—these help the development, marketing, and sales teams learn to help themselves.

Think of a legal document, like a will or an employment contract or an employee handbook. These documents attempt to describe in laborious detail every aspect of the problem to be solved. How much easier would it be if these documents explained the ideas rather than the details?

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1. Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

That's it. The Nordstrom Employee Handbook. On a single index card.

This sort of "use your judgment" idea affects the kind of people you hire. And is impacted by the people you have already hired. If you've hired mindless drones, if you think product creation is like factory work, you can't expect them to use their judgment. If you hire people who know nothing about your industry and domain, you'll likely be disappointed if you expect them to answer their own questions. So you need to either hire for expertise or supplement the people you have hired with expertise.

I believe that people can learn. I believe that people want to know more about their products and their customers and their companies. You can help your colleagues learn to use their judgment by sharing your product vision, the kinds of customers who need your products, the problems that those customers are trying to solve, and the tools you're using to connect with those customers.

What's next?

Look for ways to explain and teach and empower those who need product and market information. Instead of responding to each request one at a time, ensure the information is available online or in ready-to-use tools.

I have a personal rule: if one person asks, then most people don't know. So whenever I get a request from a colleague or a customer, I write a comprehensive answer and then publish it. That's the reason for an internal wiki or external blog; you can respond to inquiries, in detail, and never answer the question again. Before you know it, you have a collection of documents and articles and posts that answer almost every question.

Use the artifacts of product management—personas, stories, roadmaps, and plans—to give people the information they need when they need it. Show them where it is so they can answer their own questions and use their own judgment.