Friday, May 21, 2021

Product Management 101


What defines a Product Centric Organization?

As more and more organizations move to providing digital services, adding new capabilities on existing products and enter new markets the need to ensure rapid innovation, uniformity of mission and maximizing investment becomes critical to staving off competitors. A strong Product-centric mindset and organizational principals enables this focus, innovation, experimentation and planning.

Product-centric organizations are unique from sales-led or engineering-led teams, their differentiation is their ability to align closely with the proven needs and responses to behaviors of their users and customers. Where sales-led organizations will often align on how they can craft a message that is compelling without the necessary capabilities to back it up, product-led organizations will focus on testing not just a message, but a capability and relying on peoples reactions to determine the viability of new capabilities. Engineering-led organizations will focus on the more elegant solution to the problem in-front of them, even if a simpler or less elegant approach will not make a noticeable difference for the consumer.

Why do we have Product?

Product is a critical function in every organization to ensure that the work being completed aligns with the organizational needs while ensuring that constant experimentation and measurement is being done to optimize investment, features and planning. The role of Product is key to highly successful teams to ensure engineering teams are protected from changing requirements and market research activities, that while critical to the product direction, can become a distraction for engineering teams. The Product role works closely with the leadership of Engineering to partner on making ideas real, running experiments against prototypes and ensuring the entirety fo the engineering team understands our user base and their needs.

What does good Product Mgmt look like?

Centered around a Product Manager that owns 1 or more products, with a team around them that own similar and related products. The Product Manager operates as the gateway between engineering teams that build products and the supporting parts of an organization that ensure the products are marketed, sold, legally compliant, and supported. To become this center of communication a successful Product Manager must demonstrate some key characteristics:

1) Collaborative - The role of Product must build relationships across the organization, both to leverage for moving forward ideas but also to enable other teams to collaborate more effectively when the Product Manager is not immediately available. The role of Product is about creating organizational patterns for effective communication to enable a shared understanding.
2) Engaged - The Product role is built around team members that see potential issues and risk, propose solutions, gather interest to resolve and drive to completion. Product Managers bring a passion to their product, their domain and inspire the teams around them.
3) Evangelizing - The Product Manager is a public figure, representing the product and the teams that crate it. They are the voice of the product direction, the inspiration to try new things and the conduit to buyers and potential buyers to learn more about their needs and feedback.
4) Passion - Strong product teams are built around people that are passionate about their product. The use it daily. They ask people about their experiences with the product. They are constantly putting a critical eye to the competitors on how to excel. This passion is critical to bring out the best ideas, drive the most speed and allow for strong, education points of view.

Building a Prod Management Discipline (not organization)

There are two distinct areas of building the function of Product Management within an organization. The competency part is ensuring the necessary skills and practices are in place to enable Product Managers to be successful across the organization. The Product Management organization is the second part and supports the execution of the function but ensuring alignment with corporate investment, strategy, planning and regional execution.

The maturity of an organizations product function is a reflection of learnings from the outside community, the organization identifying those with the best traits to be Product Managers and building structures around them to enable their role to excel with the right air cover and resources.

Who does PM engage with?

The Product Manager in the most simplistic terms is a partner with everyone in the organization. The most successful Product Managers work in a way that creates powerful connections across the organization to ensure awareness, alignment, engineering and delivery of capabilities are working in parallel with effective communication points.

The Product Manager will foster relationships with a variety of individuals and teams, this will enable them to effectively drive their strategy, coordination communications and ensure resources are aligned on priorities and key decision points. The most common touch points for a Product Manager are:
1) Engineering Leader - The Engineering Leader is the primary conduit for a Product Manager to realize their vision, the engineering team will enable both experimentation and implementation and act as a sounding board for feasibility, timeline and innovation.
2) Marketing Leader - The Product Manager has entire Marketing teams at their disposal to not only identify customers, but to use as a sounding board for messaging and identifying potential customers to explore new ideas with and use for real world feedback on experimentation.
3) Finance Leader - The Finance Leader can be a powerful aly for any Product Management team, enabling them full visibility into how their product is selling, their cost of delivery and where and how best to optimize investments.
4) Sales Leader - The Sales Leader, in conjunction with the Marketing Leader is the conduit into the market for all product teams. This team is the best source of feedback to reactions to the product, new features and what competitors are doing to beat you out in the market.
5) Compliance Leader - Compliance is a key component of all products, between consumer privacy, healthcare law and ethical obligations Product Managers need to ensure that their launched capabilities align with the companies legals obligations, ethical imperatives and messages to the market.


Critical to the maturity of any organization is the engagement with similar minded organizations to share ideas, learn from and compare outcomes from different techniques. An effective Product-centric organization will look inward for new ideas, trial those ideas and put into practice the ones that are the most effective. A Product-centric organization will also look outside to identify new techniques, new skills and new tools to become more effective. This community engagement is a two way street, not only does the organization benefit from the outside perspective, it gives them the opportunity to share a point of view with other product teams and build consensus in the Product-community about best practices.

Building a Product Organization

The role of Product is never ending, in a small company it is possible for a single Product Manager to be effective. As the number of products increases, as the user base becomes more diverse and as the engineering team becomes able to increase capabilities at a more rapid pace the time will come that the Product Manager will grow into a team and become the Product Organization.

Growing a successful product organization has several components that must be done in parallel, if one component falls behind then the org will be stuck at lower maturity levels and unable to multiple their impact as they grow:
1) Grow Talent - The key to successful leadership is always building the next generation of leaders, grooming team members to take on more diverse work, larger bodies of work and more complex engagements with other stakeholders. As a leader of any Product organization, you must work to mentor those around you - Both Product Managers and other team members that aspire to grow into product management on the right techniques and tools be be effective and scale the organization.
2) Hiring - Any growing organization much balance promoting within and hiring externally. Hiring is key to bringing in fresh ideas, scaling the organization and increasing the collective knowledge of the organization. Before hiring, an organization should align and document what success in the role looks like and use this as a litmus test during interviews to identify the candidates best experienced to scale the organization and affect change in a positive way.
3) Work Boundaries, Priorities & Shared Vision - The effectiveness of a growing Product Management organization can be measured by the increased adoption of a product and associated revenue growth. Enabling that while growing requires that individuals know where they can operate independently, have sufficient awareness of the larger vision they are enabling and how to make solid priority calls. Organizations can not scale effectively if all decisions must goto to top; and strong organizations enable distributed decision making for effective scaling.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The CISOs evolving role in a cloud-first world

As cloud-first becomes more dominant in organizations looking to balance risk, cost and agility, the role of the CISO will change dramatically.  The CISO and their team will have to evolve from policy and compliance (P&C) to a model of policy and enablement (P&E).

Many CISOs have organizations today focused on the identification of threats or organizational security and violations or corporate security policy. Activities can include application scanning, penetration testing, event monitoring and identification of vulnerabilities in homegrown applications. 

As organizations move more applications to cloud platforms, the role of the CISO and staff will evolve to support the business units that are driving the migration and new application deployments.  The CISO support for the business units will come in the way of education and enablement to allow the business to be successful when using cloud resources. The CISOs role will become about engagement with lines of business to provide enablement and advisement.  The role of the CISO, to effectively enable the organization, will be about establishing habits and education about securely managing the business, picking vendors and implementing new technology.

The key with this shift in focus will be for the CISO to be seen as an enabler and partner to the business.  The primary driver for most business organizations leveraging cloud resources is the ability to quickly deploy new capabilities to enable staff to be successful.  The CISO can partner with the business with this goal in mind, realizing that security enablement can be done in parallel to deployment and enable, rather then prevent, new capabilities from being deployed.

Even in this world of change, there are roles and responsibilities that will continue to be the primary focus of the CISO; these include definition and execution of incident response policies.   Even as the role of the CISO changes in the cloud first world and areas of focus evolve, the need for centralized incident response will not be eliminated in an organization.  The CISO will continue to be the focal point for this responsibility.

As more and more organizations look to the cloud to enable rapid deployment of new capabilities and technologies for enabling business users, the organizational dynamic around security will evolve as well.  The CISO will lead this change through focusing on enablement and education across the organization through sharing of best practices, policies and knowledge on how to securely leverage cloud-resources.  The CISO will continue to play a primary role in policy creation, incident response and incident management, while leveraging staff for new roles like education and partnering with business leaders on organizational priorities.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Security as a business enabler

All organizations today are worried about the security of their data and systems.  As more data is collected, the requirements and expectations for proper access to data have grown.  This is magnified by the growing media coverage of many spectacular breaches and compromise of large amounts of personal information.  For an organization to be successful into this environment risk associated with data must be properly understood and managed.

Security is a difficult scope to define for most organizations because it varies widely based on industry-specific standards, regulation, cost components and local laws.  Many organizations create a budget for security and it is up to specific departments to manage to that budget.  Security should not be a budget, but rather a prioritization of exposure of the company and a balanced approach to each risk for the cost of incident response weighed against the cost of preventing an incident.

While the goal within all organizations should be zero incidents that cause data loss or compromise, this is a difficult goal because of an increasingly mobile and interconnected world.  Organizations should begin with defining what the consequences of lost data are.  Many organizations have data that falls on various places on a spectrum from no consequences, through reputation loss, all the way to legal consequences.  Security planning and implementation should focus on the data sets with the highest level of consequences first.

Once the data with the most severe consequences has been identified, an organization should define the threats and actors associated with that data set and creating a risk to the data.  By understanding these threats and actors, an organization can begin to define data protection standards and incident response plans that factor in organizational needs for business continuity and legal requirements for reporting to various agencies.

From these protection plans and incident response plans a cost can be identified to secure the data from compromise and respond to compromised systems.  This process can be followed iteratively for all data sets and applications within an organization, creating a financial impact plan that can be prioritized to ensure spending focuses on the highest risk data and applications.

This exercise will enable your organizations CISO to closely align with peers including the CMO, CFO and CIO on prioritization of risk management to the organization.  Alignment between the CISO and peers is critical to ensure that all parties understand the spending priorities, as well as how industry standards like privacy for their specific areas are affected by potential data loss.  Proactive engagement also enables the CISO to properly plan for systems that are purchased and managed through lines of business like Marketing and Sales operations.

The final goal of a CISO should be to properly prioritize spending against the items that pose the highest risk to an organization.  This risk comes from the cost of compromise and associated legal requirements for response.  By partnering with peers, the CISO can properly plan which data is of highest value to protect within an organization and ensure that line of business purchased systems and tools are included in this prioritization.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Unlocking the value of Big data in the Cloud

Successful businesses today are data driven and focus on fast iteration.  The ability to quickly test new products, features and user experiences; while measuring the impact and adjusting user experiences in an iterative fashion.  Cloud based Big data solutions enable organizations to quickly deploy new technologies, integrate with existing business systems and iterate the solution as business needs change.

While most organizations have a cloud-first policy, many also still stick to traditional architectures for new systems because of experience and comfort by staff with on-premise based solutions. On-premise based solutions provide a level of comfort through experience with previous implementations, but can also insert unnecessary delays into delivery of capabilities to the business.  Struggles with current on-premise technologies can include:
  • Delays – The time necessary to deploy on-premise solutions is often measured in weeks and months.  This time is a combination of working with vendors, waiting for equipment to ship and finally installing and configuring new systems.
  • RiskIn todays environment of complex IT systems and changing business requirements, all new application deployments have risk associated with project failure, cost over runs or changes to business requirements.  On-premise solutions have a longer design cycle, because the cost of a failure project is much higher in resources, capital costs and recovery time.
  • Capital Costs – On-premise solutions have higher capital costs because of the initial hardware and data center space required to begin.  These capital costs are often difficult to absorb in organizations with tight budgets and limited cash flow.
  • Scalability – Scaling with on-premise solutions means keeping spare capacity around with the expectation that it will be needed.  Often this means over provisioning environments to ensure proper response time and hedge against delays in purchasing additional capacity.

There is a lot of comment in the technology community that Big Data in the Cloud has limited adoption, the reasons vary, but often include cost, security and compliance concerns, and performance.  While there were periods of time, that technology maturity did create these challenges, the speed of evolution with cloud based solutions has enabled Big data platforms to be efficient and effectively deployed today, speeding time to value for the business and new capability adoption.

With advances in technology, the ability to build Big data platforms in the cloud can speed adoption, lower risk and increase security through consistency in deployment methods.
  • Agility – Cloud providers like Amazon and Google have a variety of different tools for building Big data environments.  These tools span NoSQL capabilities, unstructured text processing and relational environments for supporting transaction processing.  Modern Big data environments require multiple tools for creating integrated pipelines for data ingest, analysis and presentation.  These cloud solutions enable users to quickly spin up new capabilities, one piece at a time, test them and either put them in production or turn them off.
  • Elasticity – The primary value of any public cloud environment is the ability to almost-immediately scale capacity up and down based on your specific user and workload demands.  This ability ensures prompt response on all workloads and minimizes expenses related to unused capacity.
  • Security – A key component to security is repeatability and ensuring that operations staff do not create security threats through misconfigurations.  Cloud environments create simple, easy to reproduce methods for deployment of systems, connectivity and access controls. 
  • Data Mashup – Many public cloud providers provide access to local, public data sets for combining with in-house data.  This data is locally accessible, eliminating transit costs, and often low cost to access for testing model creation or other analysis.
  • Optimization –Cloud based applications gain the performance advantages of optimization across thousands of users and varying workloads.  Each cloud provider works to ensure that queries on large data sets are optimized and provide rapid response to users, without specific tuning by the users.
  •  Risk –Cloud based solutions enable organizations to quickly change priorities and operational requirements.  Because cloud resources have no up front commitments or long term contracts, organizations can adjust or eliminate resources that are unneeded temporarily while business needs adjust and clarify.
  • Capital Costs – Cloud based solutions eliminate the large capital costs traditionally associated with data center builds outs and server purchases.  Organizations can begin projects small, with minimal budget impact until project success is proven.

With the continued rise of both capability and agility with cloud-based offerings, Big Data platforms can be successfully deployed, with minimal risk.  Cloud based Big data solutions give organizations the ability to quickly test new capabilities, minimize capital costs and scale the environment as needs change and grow.  Big data solutions enable organizations to quickly analyze complex data, make informed decisions and measure the impact of changes to their business model.  Cloud based solutions ensure that the features and capabilities needed to build these environments can iterate just as quickly.