When does product management matter: Part Two

In this short series I am addressing the question of should all companies invest in product management? Can product perfection drive marketing leading positions. In part one of this series I explored what I call the Product Motivational Hierarchy. 

One set of signals that will inform you of route to achieving a “Favorite” product in your market is frequency of use and perceived competing value.  I call this the Market Frequency Value Matrix which can be used to analyse your product and the market. 

Market Frequency Value Matrix - helping product managers focus efforts to deliver success

Market Frequency Value Matrix - helping product managers focus efforts to deliver success

Frequency of use is easy to understand, but what is perceived competing value? For the purpose of Market Frequency Value Matrix it is the value or benefit the consumer believes they get from the using your product compared to other products in the market place. Consider it the consumer perceived value of your USPs when compared to the competition. This can be revealing, specially when in some product segments, all the products ironically claim the same USP (not Unique is it). 

For example lets consider the insurance comparison aggregator market. In this sector consumers save time by only having to input their personal information once to get the cheapest insurance quote. Users get the value of saving money and reassurance they have conveniently shopped around from the wide market. Statistics suggest a high volume of consumers of insurance comparison websites get quotes from multiple comparison websites. The product does deliver a high value, it save money and time, however the products have the same perceived value when compared to the rest of the market. In such an example they would be low usage (annually) and low perceived competing value. 

It would take revolutionary innovation (disruption) of the feature set to catapult the product of insurance aggregator to a market leading position. Insight into user pain and learning exactly how users consume the product might inspire a suitably impactful innovation. However probability and investment required for revolutions suggests this should not be the core focus of product management. Referring to the Market Frequency Value Matrix product management needs to focus on optimisation and product marketing to create a differentiation with consumers. Optimising the sales conversion through the customer journey is the core product priority. 

There are other strategies product management can explore when products are in the tricky bottom left corner. Product extension can be a powerful tool, this is where the product aims to solve a related user problem (which may have little or no revenue, or even a cost). The extension must be either highly regularly used and, or has high perceived competing value. 

Focusing on increasing perceived competing value may extend in surprising ways. In the UK the market leading insurance aggregator is CompareTheMarket.com. They have a highly successful marketing campaign which has ran for many years. Through TV advertising they developed lovable fictional characters. The key to the overwhelming success was to create a free product, a soft cuddly toy, of the characters and limiting the toy to be available only when you purchase insurance. In a market place full of low frequency and low perceived competing value they now have a higher value than their competition - because their customers get an exclusive toy. Their marketing has made this toy desirable and focused on the characters more than the insurance comparison. 

When products are in the low usage, low perceived competing value box I have heard people suggest product management is not required. Clearly this is incorrect, it is critical to focus on optimisation and improve features sets as the market develops. 

When does Product Management Matter? Part One

We all have our favorite products that we recommend, we are loyal users of some product and some people are die hard fanboys of products. The product purist in me wants to believe that product perfection exists and can always take a market leading position over inferior products, however this is not reality. So how can a company pick where to invest heavily in product management and r&d? How can great product managers choose which jobs or products to take on, in order to set themselves up for success? What is the objective for product managers in these different situations? Over the next few blog posts I will provide insights, examples and a framework to answer address these questions. 

Lets start by introducing what I call the product motivational hierarchy.

Product Motivational Hierarchy

The first level is “Functional”. The aim for any product is to deliver some value through functionality. To achieve this status there must be value for money or value for cost. This simply means the product solves some problem for the market delivering some perceived value which is greater or at least equal to the cost. The cost may be:

  • money
  • user effort or user time
  • user data
  • user sharing / promotion

The second level in the product motivational hierarchy is “Value Add". This is a products ability to go further than the minimum expectation set by the market and deliver additional value. This unique value proposition is what makes gives a product a competitive edge. In real world this level a moving target, as markets often play copy cat and companies improve their products, which increases what the markets minimum expected value is. In very established markets such as project management software stripping back features and being simpler can be the added value, e.g. Basecamp which simplifies complex project management software. So do not interpret value add as size of feature set. The value add proposition is often derived from a unique insight in to the users real problem.

At the top of the hierarchy we have “Favorite", this is where a product delights users so much they must tell other people how great this product is. This is far beyond your product helping a user post on Facebook that they consume your product. To reach this level your users are loyal and will argue why your product is the best. An extreme example is the army of fans that Apple enjoys. 

Clearly not all products can reach “Favorite” status typically there will be winning and loosing products. It is important to recognize markets exist where it is highly unlikely any product will ever reach that sort after "Favorite" status.

Know the different between product and project managers

Product management is in its pure abstract form is deceptively simple. There are really only three outcomes any product manager can impact, which I describe as the value triangle. During my experience as a product management consultant I have observed these three key product management goals being lost as the business forces product managers to invest most of their time being project managers. 

A great product manager is the conduit between sales, marketing, the customer / user and engineering teams (including UX / Designers). Product managers capture the creativity and intelligence of the business as well as the user to shape products that engineering can deliver, resulting user / customer value and realizing the company strategy.

All the techniques employed by a product manager should result in adding value to the product. The product manager focuses on what I call the value triangle, at the three corners of the triangle are:

  1. Add a new feature
  2. Make product changes to encourage users to a valuable feature more frequently 
  3. Make product changes to encourage users to users more valuable features

Making a product change is quite a diverse statement, it may involve reducing feature set, removing complexity, adding new options, user journey changes, UI tweaks, etc. 

Adding a new feature is typically going to impact the users workflow associated with the product and the product manager has to aim to understand that impact and how this new feature improves and adds value to the user. 

As one corner of the value triangle is focused on, another corner will likely be compromised. It is a careful balancing act to deliver the required value. In complex products the value triangle should be modeled to fit different user / market segments (or personas).

While many product manager roles will have to use the project management skills and techniques this is not their core responsibility.  The key product artifacts such as product vision, product value proposition, product roadmap, product concepts, product feature descriptions, the product backlog, product analytics and competitor analysis are all tools to enable communication or achieve collaboration.

Often these artifacts get confused with project management artifacts where the focus is the resources allocation, removing impediments, stakeholder expectation management (typically around cost and schedule), contract management, role definitions and accountability.  

Product managers do often manage release plans and by default have to fulfill the role of project management, but it is a mistake if this becomes their core role. Product must think of value proposition and the user / customer first, this can be a conflict of interest when they are wearing the project manager hat where typically delivery on time and under budget is the core goals.

Do you have hidden revenue streams among your internal tools?

Many companies have wonderfully sophisticated and clever tools to support their organisational workflows. These workflows are what deliver their customer value and result in profit for shareholders. These workflow's are everywhere such as how news publishers collect date specific information and package it as tv shows, websites and newspapers or how restaurants collect edible ingredients then convert it to beautifully presented scrumptious dining experiences. Typically these workflows follow some industry common practices, but at microscopic level are full of unique details.

It is a fair assumption to say that those tools that support the workflow add value to the organisation. Knowing that your organisation has tools that are valuable, drives some organisations to package the tool and sell it to others?

I have experienced a number of organisations who decide to repackage their internal systems by converting them into products to create new revenue lines. And why not? Some of the most successful product organisations rely on "Eating their own dog Food" - meaning they use their product daily themselves. EG Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc, etc. 

Typically these organisations are at core product organisations. However some organisations have flipped their tools into successful products, eg Basecamp - a web agency that productized its internal project management tools with so much success that they turned into a project management software company. Unfortunately most who go down this road, will fail. 

Obviously building and selling a product is tough and full of potential dangers which might cause failure. These organisations who see potential opportunities to productize their internal tools have one big challenge in common. They have the wrong culture.

R&D for internal tools focus on the inane unique details of the workflow that exist in no other company in the exact same way. The feature lists are often dictated by HiPPO (highest paid persons opinion) and saying "no" is rarely an option.  These internal tool end up like swiss army knives - they do all sorts of things and very few people know what most of the "blades" are for. Worst still most of the assorted features added to the tool are used by very few people and not very often.

The best products in the world have great product managers who's main job is to say "NO". Great products solve one problem and they achieve it through simplicity. They ignore all edge cases. They avoid those features that very few people actually will use. In most cases they take away options to achieve value. 

For internal tools to be turned into valuable products, you need a culture that allows product teams to say "no". You need a collaborative and evidence based culture that relishes experimenting to prove what to say "yes" to. And importantly, you need a culture where "failure" is encouraged! Failing is learning what does not work, which is critical to achieving big success as it directs product managers towards those key features that delight users with value.

Before you choose to productize your most loved workflow tools - first set your business up for success and create a space and culture that empowers the product team to say "no" and let it deliver the revenue goals you have dreamed of.



5 reasons why the online recruitment experience still sucks

The general state of the online talent attraction experience is shameful. The web has matured, even my local plumber and butchers offer a smoother, easier to use and simpler experience than many Fortune 500 career sites. Recruiters accept that it is ok to provide a sub standard online experience.

I believe online recruitment experience is out of date because of the following reasons:

  1. Lack of tools delivering best practice online experience.
  2. Overwhelming volume of 'legacy' systems deeply rooted in recruitment.
  3. Defensive mechanism held by some recruiters where they promote the myth that a painful application process filters out poor candidates and leaves the only the top talent. Where as the only certain truth here is it reduces application volume.
  4. Impossible to measure the unknown - recruiters can only measure what talent applies to jobs. The quality and potential of talent that drop out of the online experience comes with no metric.
  5. Inadequate statistics to provide insights around the true performance of the current talent attraction experience.

Unfortunately many UX concepts and best practices completed ignored. If you don't believe me, and think the landscape is better let me know so I can share numerous examples. Countless fortune 500 companies  show candidates a page with a full job advert, on clicking apply the candidate is presented with the full job advert again, but in a different layout requiring them to find the apply button (which has moved) and click it again. This experience will result in drop off where potential hot talent leave the website instead of clicking the second apply button. Do these companies measure this drop off (probably not, specially as it is across multiple vendors)? do these companies know how much marketing budget acquiring talent is wasted from driving talent away? Ironically a few of these examples are from very successful e-commerce businesses who would never put up with such an experience for there customers. 

10 years ago, when many of todays recruitment processes and online practices were designed the general populations experience of the Internet was very different. Today people are used to easy to use and fast online services. In my opinion the frustration levels felt by many candidates can only have a negative impact. 

It feels absurd that the recruitment industry consider a career site as high performing if it generates completed applications from 3% of its attracted audience. Is it really acceptable that career sites, with millions of dollars of targeted marketing spend, frequently fail to obtain an application from 97% of its talent visitors? 

I want to see an online recruitment landscape, including small staffing agencies through to the Fortune 100, where the online experience is simpler for the candidate. Simpler means - easier, more obvious and less friction.

Less waste of talent visitors logically would reduce the need to attract so many talent visitors and save significant advertising dollars.