I heart Jeff Bezos

If you hadn’t heard, Amazon bought Zappos. And Bezos the CEO? He’s the real deal.

Every product manager dreams of working for someone that really “gets it”. Jeff Bezos is most definitely that person (Jeff, hire me!). In his video introduction to the Zappos team, embedded below, Bezos summarizes the four things he knows:

  1. Obsess over customers (sounds like knowing your market to me!)
  2. Invent (the synonym to innovation, my favorite topic)
  3. Think long term (as in a product roadmap?)
  4. Its always Day 1 (research, strategize, execute, analyze, REPEAT!)

There is most certainly more to product management on a day-to-day basis, but these four points encompass the true essence of what we all strive to do as product managers (and what we’d like to be encouraged to do as well – a fair distinction).

I was initially a bit wary about the purchase. It certainly makes strategic sense for Amazon, but what if Amazon ruins the wonderful culture and customer experience that Zappos has created? (This is in fact a selfish question – I’m a huge Zappos customer, as my closet attests). Bezos has not only set my mind at ease, he has also impressed me. Given what he “knows”, I now feel more comfortable that Zappos’ values will be embraced by Amazon, and my free shipping rights will remain. Yah!

So cheers to Jeff Bezos and building monopolies! I just had to throw a little bit of irony into the post. šŸ˜‰

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July 23, 2009 at 11:56 pm 2 comments

Revised Pragmatic Marketing Framework

Just a quick update to let you know that Pragmatic Marketing just released a new version of their Product Management Framework. I’ve embedded the new version below, but you can also find it here, including a great 10 minute video that summarizes the changes.

Pragmatic Marketing Framework

For those familiar with the framework, the biggest difference you’ll notice is the horizontal bar in the middle. I found the old version to be confusing. This new version better represents the process/flow you go through when working on your product.

Great job Pragmatic Marketing!

July 21, 2009 at 7:28 pm Leave a comment

Does your company need a product manager?

I’ve been paying attention to the a particular blog post by Rick Chapman that challenges the role of product management in SAAS companies, or rather argues that PMs are not necessary in that environment. Rick has caused quite a stir by his post, and at last count, there were 22 (lengthy) comments by others since it was posted last week, not including Rick’s responses back!Ā  If you haven’t read his post, I most definitely think it’s worthwhile.

Let’s say you disagree with Rickā€¦.how do you know if product management IS something your organization should employ? And once you decide that, how do you define the role so that it is set up to make the product more successful than it is currently?

I think many responses to Rick’s post answer the question of “Why”, but to answer the question of “How”, I’d like to point you to a great post I found last week (probably from someone I follow on Twitter but am forgetting to give credit to – sorry whoever that is!)

To give you a quick summary, Michael Schmier of Focus.com suggests asking the following five questions to define the role:

  1. Should the role be inbound or outbound focused?
  2. Is the PM also a project manager?
  3. How much time should be spent outside the office?
  4. Does your PM need be to technical?
  5. Is the role more strategic or execution-based?

After reading Michael’s post, I’d love to know whether you think there are additional considerations to setting up a successful product management function. Feel free to comment directly on Michael’s post, I’ll be keeping tabs on it.

6/17 addition: Tom Grant, an analyst with Forrester Research, has posted an excellent retort to Rick Chapman’s proclamation that PMs are not necessary.

June 16, 2009 at 3:49 pm 4 comments

The Customer’s Role in Innovation

I recently spoke with a company that is focused on innovating their product offerings, but is frustrated with the advice many have given them to look to their customers. They argue, “Customers don’t always know what they want.” Well yes, that’s true.

But customers do have problems. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a successful product that doesn’t solve one problem or another. Let’s look at one of the most widely recognized innovative products of this yet incomplete decadeā€¦the iPhone. No one told Apple “I don’t want keys on my phone” or “I want my phone to be more ergonomic.” Maybe they didn’t even say, “I want a bigger screen.” But Apple understood the power of observing users. They probably observed users squinting to read text on tiny little flip phones or struggling to figure out whether they should type with one hand or two. I’m just making these things up, but the point is that Apple focused on the problemsā€¦. they didn’t necessarily ask the user what they wanted. Then (this is key), they took all those problems and started brainstorming solutions that defied current technology or perceptions about what is and isn’t possible/feasible/logical.

The customer plays another role further down the pipeline (prototyping & feedback loop), but I want to focus on this first role a bit more.

I’ve recently read a fabulous book called “Secrets from the Innovation Room” by Kay Allison. I like this book because it provides excellent exercises you can do with your customer to identify problems without asking them traditional usability session questions.

One of the points Allison makes is to focus on the convergence of two opposing ideals that your customer may have. For example, if I’m picky about the grocery products I buy, but I don’t want to spend the time shopping, what is my solution? Oh well, I guess I’ll suck it up. Nope – I’ll use Peapod, which allows me to specify how ripe I want my bananas, and delivers them to me the next day. An even timelier example – I want to stay warm on my couch, but I also want my hands free to eat popcorn during a movie. Born is the Snuggie (which is so brilliantly simple, I wish I had thought of it).

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t claim to be an expert on innovation. But I do firmly believe that the start of all answers in developing new and innovative products is the customer. Heck, observing the customer is one of Ideo’s five basic steps in their innovation methodology. If they say it’s so, it must be so!

What are your thoughts on how customers plug into the innovation process?

June 8, 2009 at 10:37 pm 11 comments

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