Business Knowledge

Why Product Management Should not be Responsible for Project Management

Jordan Bergtraum is a management consultant with over ten years of experience in the B2B SaaS industry, mostly as a head of product for various organizations in the legal, education, facilities management, and pharmaceutical spaces. He has been responsible for product strategy, UX, and teams consisting of product and project managers. In his ProductTank NYC presentation, he discusses the challenges of having one person in charge of both product and project management.

Tesla vs Software Companies

In his presentation, Jordan uses the Tesla automobile as a relatable example. He asks if anybody, assuming they were working at Tesla, would hire one person to be in charge of the car’s design and aesthetics, as well as setting up and managing the supply chain, manufacturing and assembly. Not one person in the audience raises their hand.

Jordan’s next question is: “So, why is this acceptable in software companies?” At other companies, people do not hire one person to do two completely separate and different functions. Why is it ok at  software companies to hire one person to own both product and project management? Jordan emphasizes that these are two drastically different functions that require very different talents and interests to succeed.

Brian Crofts – Innovation Requires Insights

Brian Crofts, Chief Product Officer at Pendo, believes uncovering and understanding client pain points allows him to build products that truly resonate. Brian joined Pendo from Namely, and formerly from Intuit, where he started his career in finance before finding his passion for product. He worked on new businesses for TurboTax and later led global expansion for QuickBooks, Intuit’s suite of accounting and payroll SaaS solutions for small businesses with 1.5M users. Throughout Brian’s career his unique perspective on product development is what led him to innovate repeatedly and successfully.

The Importance of Insights

During his tenures at TurboTax and QuickBooks, he’s had a lot of experience with innovating and gaining insights. For example, TurboTax was able to take something as complicated as a tax code, and make it not only understandable, but in some cases, enjoyable. Much of his work required him to gain insights and understand his customers on an empathetic level.

Namely, a startup software company in New York City, was the company he went to for about seven or eight months after leaving Intuit. When he joined, he noticed something that concerned him – They didn’t have very much data on how their customers were using their product. He ended up learning about another software company called Pendo, and actually found himself more interested in their product than the one he was working on!

Brian next mentions his daughters, and how they introduced him to the movie Moana which, in turn made him think about Disney from a product development perspective. They consistently deliver great products, so he began conducting research to figure out what they do differently. This research led him to the book Creativity, Inc, which focuses on managing in a creative space – a subject of study he highly recommends to anybody in management.

With all of his research into Disney’s development process, Brian found that a crucial part of their process was doing a lot of research. For Moana, Disney’s Chief Creative Officer – John Lasseter – challenged his team to deeply understand the characters, settings, and culture that they were creating. The team spent four years researching and gaining insights.

Brian decided to try and break down the insights that Disney found over those four years that ended up affecting the movie. He wanted to discover what they did, and how to apply that to his work at Pendo to bring out innovation in their product.

Design Disruptors: a community conversation 

Design Disruptors was released by InVision in 2016. The film was created to highlight some of the world’s most influential companies that are putting user centered design first, transforming the way users do everything from hailing a cab or using social media, to banking online, and finding new music.

In January 2017 ProductTank NYC in collaboration with nexTier Innovations and Lifion by ADP, held a special event which included a Design Disruptors film screening and a guest panel discussion about the film and the current state of the product design industry. The panel included six design and management professionals that hail from startups, midsize and large globally known companies, and I had the great pleasure of moderating the discussion.

These six people were:

  • Troy Wood, Founder & Principal Managing Director at nexTier Innovations
  • Jenine Lurie, Founder and Chief Strategist at Disruptive Experience
  • Eric Menzie, Head of Product for the WFS Markets Salesforce CRM at Wells Fargo
  • Daniella Patrick, Innovation Lab Product Manager at Accenture
  • Christopher Fahey, Head of UX at Lifion by ADP
  • John Laberee, Business Development Specialist at InVisionApp, the creators of Design Disruptors.

Initial Thoughts on “Design Disruptors”

Troy begins the discussion by sharing that he thought the film was very good and made many good and salient points, but he adds one by saying that when you have an idea, make sure your idea has value so you don’t end up wasting people’s time. Christopher adds that he found there to be a lot of romanticizing in the film, saying that product management and design can be much grittier than how they appeared in the film. Jenine also agrees, and adds that oftentimes there are nuances between teams in terms of how people lead, manage, and share tasks. She also adds that the energy that goes into the design of a product is the energy that is released.

Product Idea Generation – The Foundation of Product Development

Peter Duggan is Head of Product Management at Computershare Investor Services, where they have an intangible, service-based financial product, and as an organisation they are heavily focused on revenue goals. In this product idea generation walk-through from ProductTank NYC, Peter talks about how how to source, size, catalogue and prioritise new ideas from across the whole organisation.

Sourcing and Sizing Product Ideas

The key – in Peter’s opinion – is to make product idea generation an integrated part of daily work, not an occasional stand-alone internal campaign. In his case, he work with managers to connect with teams, joining stand-ups and making sure everyone understands the value of helping the company generate new product ideas and refinements. Given that these teams have the most contact with both sides of Computershare’s customer base, they’re in the best position to identify and suggest solutions for their customers’ real pain points.

But to make product idea generation an ongoing process, Peter ask managers to continue the push and support for new ideas, and makes sure to always acknowledge the contribution of a new potential product or feature (naturally, when people and teams feel that their input is respected, they are much more likely to continue engaging in the process). Of course, whether it is better to compensate people who submit great ideas (for example with some kind of bonus in relation to the value of the idea) or simply acknowledge contributions is up for debate.

When it comes to sizing ideas to determine their potential impact, it’s important to make sure that everyone in the company uses a simple template when submitting ideas to make sure that there is consistency, and then the question is essentially “who is best placed to make a quick assessment of the potential value of a new idea?”

Product Marketing at Stack Overflow – Alexa Scordato

Alexa Scordato is the VP of marketing at Stack Overflow. Her company is an online community for programmers, and one of the tops sites in the world. They see over 45 million visitors per month, seven visits per visitor every month, and each visit lasts about six minutes. The main focus of the site is the Q&A, and there have been over 7.6 billion times that a developer found a solution on their site.

In Alexa’s presentation at ProductTank NYC, she talks about the importance of brand and marketing. She states that there are not enough conversations about the intersection of product and marketing. In fact, many product team members don’t even understand marketing at all. She hopes to help change that.

Understanding the “Why” of Branding

Alexa hates the cliche “everything starts with brand,” but she can’t help but emphasize its accuracy. Brand is about understanding your “why.” Articulating your core “why” as a business and organization is foundational to everything that you do.

When Alexa first started at Stack Overflow, the company’s name was actually Stack Exchange Inc. Their flagship product was Stack Overflow, and that was where all of their brand equity was. This prompted Alexa to ask whether they were in the business of making the internet a better place, one Q&A site at a time, or if they were in the business of serving the world’s programmers.

It took them nine months to answer that question. As they struggled with something of an existential crisis, they came to the conclusion that Stack Overflow was their core “why.” Things began to fall into place after that

Launching Products – Paul Yokota

Paul Yokota talks to ProductTank NYC about the process of launching products and discusses the many associated challenges, reflecting on the challenges he faced when launching Animoto’s Marketing Video Builder app. Paul started his career at Mixbook as a product manager for Mosaic, a mobile app for creating photobooks. He currently works as a Senior Product Manager for Animoto – a company dedicated to giving people an easy way to create professional videos.

Launching Products – V1 Products is Different

While launching updates and/or ports to new platforms can feel like launching entirely new products, there are some fundamental differences between existing products and v1 products, especially with the launch.

Many product managers don’t get to work on v1 products right away in their career. Many wait years before finally seeing one. When you finally do work on a v1, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Existing product updates or ports tend to be easier, because there is already a base product to work with. With v1 products, you’re putting every piece of the project together at once. It is similar to the difference between a mechanic working on a car, and an engineer designing an entirely new car all together.

Not only have to work on each individual element, but you also have to work on the relationships between the elements and how the entire product will come together as a whole. This adds much higher chance of failure. In fact, Paul states that his first v1 product did not come together as he had hoped. The project missed deadlines, his team’s morale suffered, and team members quit. However, he was eventually able to launch the product, and he was able to learn a lot from his experience.

How to Win Enterprise-User Buy-In – Eric Menzie

Eric Menzie, CRM Head of Product at Wells Fargo Securities, talks to ProductTank New York about How to Win Enterprise User Buy-In. Eric shares six important User Buy-In lessons that are applicable to both enterprise and consumer product management.

#1 Find out What Really Matters

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
– Henry Ford

With so many stakeholders and complex requirements, enterprise product management may seem difficult at first. However, the core of product management is about having conversations with your stakeholders. Engage with stakeholders to find out what really matters, but remember, if you accept every stakeholder’s request, you will end up with a screen with a hundred buttons. Save your product by saying no.

The Evolution of a Product Manager – Josh McWilliam

Josh McWilliam is a co-founder and Vice President of Product at College Factual. Their mission is to help every student realize their full potential through the best fit education their money can buy. While their focus is on students with the College Factual brand, they also have other brands like (for advisors), (for colleges), and BRIGHT HUB (for teachers).

In Josh’s Product Tank NYC presentation, he explains his evolution as a product manager. His roles over the last 15 years have started with engineering and architecture, and moved on from there to product management, and now he oversees product, but also data science, engineering, and UI/UX teams. His current role is best identified as Chief Operating Officer.

What is a Product Manager?

Josh openly admits that he has struggled at times to truly define the role of product manager. In fact, many people, both outside and inside the product community also struggle with this reality. Knowing that the product manager role is dependent on one’s career background and skills and the industry that one works (among other things), Josh has gone through many different ideas of what product managers should do.