Friday, October 21, 2005

GYAN:: Product Management

Hi, Today I wanted to touch upon the role of product management in the success of a product company. Sounds obvious doesn’t it. product company must manage its product or else it wont do well. Funnily enough this is THE most neglected function and the single most common reason for the failure of a start-up.

In my meetings with founders of technology companies, I end up slotting most of them into three categories – the techies, the slimies and the product managers. What do I mean by these ? The technies are the researchers, the guys fascinated by technology and the guys who love creating new features and cool products which only they would use. The slimies are the venture capital insiders – the finance guys, the analysts the associates and many other assorted MBA type creatures who post realization that their opinion is not valued by the fund their at decide to try and make money by doing a start-up. They are able to raise capital because of nepotism and the companies are symptomatic of the trend of the month. The third caregory and the rarest of all is the product manager type. These are the guys who are semi-technical and love tinkering with technology but they never talk technology – they talk about the customer. Their pet subjects are solving customer needs, simpler user interface etc. etc. In all of these categories the technies are most likely to fail, the slimies are most likely to flip and only the product managers have any chance of creating a long term good business.

Why is this would you say? Isn’t Roshan being very biased in his views? Well, not really. Having interacted with multiple founders the one question I always ask each one is “Why will your company succeed?” The standard answers end up being

“Some cool technology we are using which will kick butt and ” –techie

“We are cheaper, this is a crucial need, customers much buy” – slimy

Only the product guys actually end up saying “Because our product is the best”. This is the one true test I always run. The product guy is usually the only one who is willing to bet the success of the entire company on the superiority of the product as a whole. The technies very frequently also might say that their product is the best if you were to ask them but on probing their reasons for the same are non-customer related etc.

Now what is this role called product management and why is it so crucial to the success of any company?


I’m a firm believer that product management has to be a function led by the CEO of the company and assisted by a mixture of veterans and young bright engineers. Why do I say this?

If product management is the most crucial role for the success of the company shouldn’t it be handled and supervised directly by the head of the company? Its really that simple. Not doing so is like saying “We are going to focus on quality” and then assigning the role to someone who is known to be incompetent and on his way out. For a product company product management is core.

I’ll define product management as the organization that interacts with customers and industry conducts market research and gives engineering a crystal clear brochure, data sheet feature list, screenshots, mock up of what the product should look like once it is developed. This is crucial. Product management’s role is not to come out with single statements like “We will build a ultra scalable open source portal development tool” Product management’s job is to define the product to a level of granularity that engineering, sales and marketing can visualize the product even before it gets built. This means a lot of effort into screenshots, mock-ups, feature lists before embarking on development and this means that the product management organization MUST have resources sufficient to deliver at this level of granularity.

Typically the product manager’s role should encompass the following on a continuous basis:-

  1. Market research both on the market (passive) and about the organizations own proposed offering (active)
  2. Industry interaction – ensuring that the product is aligned with initiatives by larger industry players and the state of the industry in general. Closely working with their own teams to time product roadmap to their own internal roadmap for launch of various initiatives.
  3. Product Feature management – Creating the detailed Feature list, sales proposal and data sheets which the product should meet and seeing to it that the same are attractive to potential customers. Some times this would also entail vertical specific product add-ons for companies adopting a “Axing the tree” marketing strategy. Further details of this strategy will be given in my next posting.
  4. Competitive analysis and fine tuning of the product based on continuously changing market environment.
  5. Working with key beta customers, handholding them through the process and ensuring communication of the product roadmap which might include features not in the present release.

On the whole, the product managers role will ensure that the money being spent by the organization goes towards creation of a real asset similar to a house, factory or any other physical asset. It is worth it to remember at this stage that cool technology or a cost advantage can never be sold. Only products can.


  1. And especially if you are a startup with development team out of India/China, you need someone to keep the vision in-sync. It's easy to neglect it in a 'jargon-bashing' mode but it's something you will have to deal with.
    Good post, Roshan.

  2. Ah! Well said..
    I am a product manager ..and so fully appreciate this post :))


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