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Talent and Passion in product management
on February 28, 2010
It is a pity that there are only 5 stars to award the maximum appreciation for this book. There are a number of achievements that deserve, alone, five stars.
First, Marty Cagan clearly states what qualities a Product Manager must have. Not everyone is talented to be a Product Manager. The author lists unmeasurable traits, such as product passion, customer empathy, innate intelligence (there is no substitute for it, we learn), ethics, integrity and confidence. The latter is very important as the entire teams in engineering and marketing must be kept inspired. This leads to the corollary that simply training a person to be a Product Manager is not enough. One must know when an unsuitable person must look for other positions. This is something uncommon, to consider what many view a process driven function to a talent.
Second, the book asks where to place the Product Manageent function. In Engineering? In Marketing? There is a distinction between a Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager. As veteran product manager myself, I know the challenges to be part of engineering. Engineers are sometimes suspicious of marketing and their product manager becomes the "piñata" everyone beats in frustration. As part of Marketing, there is tendency to follow release processes and create demands engineering can not deliver in a logical way. Marty advocates the creation of a Product Council with equal rights as engineering and marketing
Marty says a successful product manager sees himself as the CEO of the product. This is absolutely true, but unfortunately the Directors of Engineering and those of Marketing, also see themselves as CEOs. As long as an independent product council does not exist, the product manager must be a CEO with zero authority. S/he must be a diplomat and shrewd negotiator before he can be a CEO. Yet the true blue blood product manager is the one whose skills are required for start up.
As startup is usually a one product or service company. Chapter 28 is dedicated to product management in a startup company. The challenge is a new start up is started with an idea that comes from engineering. However we must have the right product for the right audience, before "before burning through $500,000 or more in seed funding".
Every aspect of the product management function is presented.
I am an alumni of UC Berkeley Haas School Product Management executive program, one of few, if not the only program dedicated to Product Management. Berkeley program talks of portfolio management. What products to release, how many are completely new and how many are new releases of older or even very old products?
It all depends on the risk tolerance. A products portfolio must include new high risk, lottery-like winning products. This is what made Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley. After reading Marty Cagan, every professional team all over the world can produce "inspired" products. Silicon Valley and it's personalities now share all they know. But what is a low probability to create outside Silicon Valley is another Google. The Google Sequoia Capital VC's made more money in Google than all the rest of the portfolio combined over the last 20 years.
Another topic that I would have liked to see expanded in a next edition is pricing. How do we price the products in such a way that we do not leave money on the table? But this is another subject. Marty's book is both educational and thought provoking. The book self published by Silicon Valley Product Group, the company of Marty Cagan, went beyond the goal of being a reference for it's prospective v customers. It is THE BOOK for of product management, a must-read for anyone.
The idea of the product manager as a creator with talent and passion I advocated for years in my blog, "The memories of a Program Manager". It is re-assuring to see the same sentiments shared in the more comprehensive, practical and sensitive book of Marty Cagan..