Jazoon 2012: Software product creation

As we all know, there is no surefire way to get rich. But in his talk “Software product creation”, Robert Brazile bombed the audience with lots of useful hints how to shape the odds in your favor when you try to sell software. His focus was on the “product manager.” A product manager (PM) is the interface between customers, developers and sales. She must know:

  • Which features are important
  • And how important
  • To which customer
  • How long they will take to develop
  • What’s really going to be in the next version
  • What to tell sales
  • What to tell the customer
  • Are you selling a product or a feature?
  • The roadmap

The core tasks of a PM are:

  • Gathering data (bug reports, development points, sales figures)
  • Manage the vision for the product
  • Saying “No” to sales (because they always want to promise everything)

Since the PM is so important, one could assume she has a lot of power. This is true but all the power is indirect. She can’t control the customer. She can’t force sales to tell what she wants them to. She can tell the developers what should be in the next version but that doesn’t mean she’ll get it.

In some ways, she is also like an on-site customer: She must know exactly what each customer needs most dearly and what was promised to them. She knows all the requirements and has a clear idea how to evolve the product in the future.

She’s not sales, but must have know exactly why customers should by the product.

When supporting sales in a meeting with the customer, always undersell and over-deliver. Sales tends to promise everything in the kitchen sink (that’s what they are paid for). As PM, it’s your responsibility to build trust. Only promise features that you are 100% sure will be in the next version. There will be a lot of pressure to say “yes” (customer expectations, accusations by sales that “you’re not a team player”). Always remember: It’s hard to build trust but easy to blow it. There is no blame for being early but a lot of negative consequences for being late.

The main tools of a PM are data (a.k.a facts) and persuasion. The aim is knowledge not solutions. She knows what everyone wants but the teams must provide solutions.

To help with the process, she must aggregate the data into consumable chunks. Just don’t aggregate too much.

“Pricing is an art,” says Robert. In some cases, a higher price can make it easier to sell because cheap means “no value” in the customer’s brain. You might feel compelled to split the product so customers can pay only for what they need. On the other hand, the product should work out of the box – meaning it should have all the features, or customers might feel cheated “why do I have to pay so much for one little extra feature?”

When it comes to selling, faster almost always wins. The generation MTV can’t wait.

When it comes to features, don’t be a victim of your last conversation. Always keep the big picture in mind. Yes, some features are an incredible great idea but do they really fit into your long-term strategy? What do you win if you sell more for a few months just to end up with a product that you can’t evolve anymore?

Biggest Mistakes

  • Telling people what they want to hear
  • No Plan B. Some things will go wrong. Always consider worst cases and risks.
  • Ignoring technical debt and focusing on features only

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