Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Agile Product Management

A few days ago, I posted a blog on Stage-gate model that received lot of comments for suitability of the model to use in today’s world where companies are under pressure to roll-out new products in shortest possible time-frame and constrained budgets.

While Stage-gate model has proved to be successful and highly evolved model with 70%-80% companies using it for new product development, it has also been criticized for being too linear, rigid and planned as well as being non-adaptive. Product Managers are looking for more agile, flexible and dynamic processes that put something in front of the customers and involve them in early stages of new product development. The idea is to get something out to the customers in the form of “virtual product” or “crude working model” that they can feel, use and respond to providing useful insights for product under development. Thus, the product might be less than half defined while entering development stage, but it evolves by adapting to new information and moved through development and testing. This change to stage-gate model is what people know as “Agile Product Management”.

AGILE PRODUCT MANAGEMENT is a product development approach that adds to Stage-gate model and reduces development time by eliminating undesired dependencies, incorporating customer involvement in early stages of the product thereby reducing the chances of product failure at launch.  

Agile Product Management
Agile Product Management

Agile Product Management allows early kick-off for the development stage (Stage 3) of the NPD process once identification of the CVP (Customer Value Proposition) is completed in scoping stage with the intention to develop something that the customer can see and provide feedback. It does not require Product Managers to finish writing down Product Requirement Document enlisting detailed feature set or wait for other departments to finish on their tasks. Rather, it allows them to efficiently manage cross-functional teams working in parallel on tasks of their domain.

While rest of the cross-functional team works toward other activities of “scoping” and “business case” stages (market sizing, P&L projection, GTM plan and more), product manager creates the story-board and requirements for first (maybe few more) sprint cycle for the product development. While technical team completes initial sprints, the product requirements are completely identified; TG2 gate is qualified, and product comes to visible and usable form. At this juncture, QA team is involved in testing the product and analyzes the suitability with the original value proposition.

Once the product comes to a usable form after few cycles of QA testing, customers are involved for early stage testing and feedback to ensure adherence to market requirements. Please mind that these customers are not open-market customers but the internal customers from cross-functional groups, other employees in the organization, friends and family members.

It is very likely that the final product that is launched to the market is very different from what was targeted at the beginning of first sprint. It is primarily because, over the time, more features are added; more changes are done as recommendation from the work of cross-functional teams for “scoping” and “business case” stages are incorporated.

Some of the benefits of using Agile Product Development process are:

  1. Reduced time to market
  2. Reduced uncertainty and chances of launch failure
  3. Eliminate undesired dependencies among cross-functional groups
  4. Early customer feedback
  5. Deliver as fast as possible

Most efficient way to use Agile Product Development is to customize the development and testing stage to progress in concurrence with “scoping” and “business case” stage and best fit for the project goal. The sprints should be planned to achieve maximum value from the product in early stages of development. This will ensure delivering a stable and maintainable product that satisfies your customer. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New Product Development using Stage-Gate model

New Product Development: is an organizational process that includes set of activities required to deliver a new product to the market identified on the basis of perception of market opportunity. Each organization has its own new product development process and they make changes to it over the time learning from experience and adapting to market standards. However, all of them typically follow stage-gate model. According to several independent research studies (i.e. Product Development & Management Association, AMR Research, Booz-Allen Hamilton, etc.) between 70-85% of leading U.S. companies now use Stage-Gate to drive new products to market.

Stage-gate model:
According to the official site of stage-gate model, “Stage-Gate® is a value-creating business process and risk model designed to quickly and profitably transform an organization's best new ideas into winning new products. When embraced by organizations, it creates a culture of product innovation excellence - product leadership, accountability, high-performance teams, customer and market focus, robust solutions, alignment, discipline, speed and quality.”

Stage-gate model
Stage-gate model
How it works:
Stage-Gate System is a conceptual and operational road map for moving a new-product development from idea to launch.  It is a product management technique in which any product development process is divided into various stages separated by gates.

Each stage consists of a set of activities and has to quality corresponding gate to start with the activities of the next stage. The gates serve as quality-control checkpoints with three goals: ensure quality of execution, evaluate the business rationale, and approve the project plan and resources. At each gate, the decision to continue product development is taken by the manager or steering committee based on the analysis done till that stage or information available at the time. The process is iterative in nature and product manager can switch to any of the previous stages in case of failure to qualify through appropriate gate.  

Now, let’s discuss each stage-gate of new product development in detail.

Stage 0: Idea Discovery:
New ideas are be generated by using multiple approaches like:
  1. Conducting marketing research to find out the consumers' needs and wants.
  2. Inviting suggestions from employees, consumers, vendors and partners.
  3. Brainstorming suggestions for new-product ideas.
  4.  Tracking global trends by searching in different markets viz., national and international markets.
  5. Exploring disruptive innovations to create new products.
  6. Tracking competitors for new products.

Ideas are screened for its uniqueness, market perception, and competitive scenario to qualify Gate0.

Stage 1: Scoping:
In this stage, the gap analysis is done between customer needs and available solutions. Once a gap is identified between customer needs and existing products, a customer value proposition (CVP) is drafted. During this time, the product manager conducts surveys and interviews with existing and potential customers, along with staff members. This stage also lets product manager initiate discussion with the vendor to establish a strategic collaboration for the product development, support and launch. The Scoping stage is concluded by preparing the market requirement document to qualify Gate 1.

To qualify Gate 1, product manager ensures a rock-solid customer value proposition, suitable time to market estimation and seek vendor support to continue product development.

Stage 2: Business Case
This is the last phase of concept development where it is crucial for product manager to perform a solid analysis before they begin developing the product. This phase is generally difficult, complex, and resource-intensive.  To begin with this stage, product definition and analysis are carried out by using the gap analysis, market research to determine the market size and segmentation, growth rate followed by competitive analysis. This will not only help you build a great product, but will also help in determining how and where to launch your new product.

Next, a technically feasible product concept is prepared, often called PoC (Proof of concept). Once the technical feasibility is established, the prototypes are developed and presented to staff and customers to gain feedback and gauge customer reaction. An analysis of production and operations cost along with the market and launch cost analysis is also carried out in-parallel to PoC testing.

On completing the technical feasibility test, a business case document for the product is prepared. This document set consists of: 
  1. Market sizing and penetration, 
  2. P&L statement, 
  3. Product Requirement Note (PRD), 
  4. Legal and Regulatory Requirements, 
  5. Safety and Other Considerations, and 
  6. Project Plan highlighting tasks lists with timelines, risk analysis and mitigation plan, resources required and cost involved.

Stage 3: Development
Essentially the execution stage of the product development, the most preferred process used is an Agile methodology wherein the product manager shares user stories with the project managers who specifies the product to be developed by the development team. The development team maps out a realistic timeline with specific milestones that are described as SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. In the development phase, the product builds momentum as more resources are committed to the project and makes full use of cross-functional teamwork as the marketing, technical, manufacturing, and sales departments all come together to offer their expert opinions.

The criteria to pass gate 3 are quality of work, adhering to development timeline, product consistency with the original definition of the product, and accepted maintenance cost of the product.

Stage 4: Testing and Validation
This phase provides validation for the product under development. A long list of tests is carried out to validate the product including at least: 
  1. White box & Black box testing
  2. Regression and Performance testing
  3. User acceptance testing
  4. Functional & Non-functional testing
  5. Alpha Testing
  6. Beta testing

The gate 4 is the final gate and opens the door for full commercialization, i.e. market launch and full production of the product. Criteria for passing gate 4 largely focus on test results, user experience, organizational readiness for the product, and GTM execution.

Stage 5: Launch
Stage 5 involves execution of GTM (Go-to-market) strategy and the operational plan. Industrial set-up for mass production of the product is done, the distribution channel is established and the selling begins.

Post-launching the product, the product review plan is executed focusing on the product performance measured mainly in terms of market share, growth rate and profitability. A debriefing document is prepared periodically and the product is customized or modified to adapt market requirements and feedback.

Mind it:
The entire new product development process is an ever evolving platform where product managers and entire organization learns from errors, design mistakes, losses. Having the entire team working in close synchronization will ensure creating and launching successful products. Productivity during product development can be achieved if, and only if, goals are clearly defined along the way and each process has contingencies clearly outlined on paper.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Product Management Vs. Project Management

What is the difference between a Project Manager and a Product Manager?”
This is precisely the question people ask when I say that I transitioned my career from Project Management to Product Management. In general, most people and organizations understand the role of a project manager imputing the position being popular across the organizations for long.  However the product manager’s role varies widely from one industry to another.  The role also varies by the size of an organization.

Here is my take on the two roles and the difference between them:
Product Managers are expected to identify customer needs, envision and design the product that creates value for the customers, take it to the market and generate revenue for the organization. They are focused on end-to-end life cycle of an identified value-proposition.Whereas, the Project Managers have a narrower scope and engagements span, responsible for the successful delivery of a project – one time endeavor with a scope, deadline, budget and other constraints. They ensure quality and timely delivery of the outcome using a specific set of resources.

Frameworks comparison for Product Management and Project Management:

To understand better the differences between the two roles, we should first understand the framework that governs the product life-cycle management:
Project Management Stages
Project Management Life-cycle

As per PMI (project Management Institute), every project life cycle has 5 stages: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Control and Closing and nine knowledge areas required for effectively managing any project: Integrate, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, HR, Communicate, Risk and Procure.

Product Management Stages
Product Management Life-cycle

On the other hand, a product life cycle has seven different stages: Ideation, Planning, Development, Qualify, Launch, and Deliver and eventually Retire and requires expertise in knowledge areas of Organization, Market, Business, Customer and Product.

The two frameworks are not independent and co-exist in a product life cycle. Each phase of product management has one full life-cycle of project management. An example is that every planning stage of a product has 5 stages of project management, i.e. initiating to planning to executing to monitoring to closing. Similarly, the launch phase of product also has 5 project stages, i.e. initiate, plan execute, monitor and close.

Product Management and Project Management co-existence

A tabularized comparison between key deliverables for Product Managers and Project Managers here:
Project Management
Product Management
Project Knowledge Base and Portfolio Analysis
Product Knowledge Base and Portfolio Analysis
Project Charter and Management Plan
Market Research and Competitive Analysis
Designing Work Breakdown Structure
Product Business Case (usually P&L statement)
Earned Value Analysis
Market Strategy Plan
Feasibility Study
Identifying and documenting Market Requirements and Product Requirements
Communications Plan
Product Roadmap
Procurement Plan
Technology Roadmap
Quality Assurance Plan
Beta Plan
Risk Analysis and Mitigation
Launch Plan
Status Summary and Reporting
Go-to-market Strategy
Project Debriefing
End of Life Plan

Similarities and common challenges:
They manage end-to-end life cycle of their deliverable. They co-exist and collaborate to drive strategic initiatives, guide key activities and decisions, and significantly impact over P&L statement. Both the jobs lack direct authority to carry out responsibilities; they have little influence over cross-functional teams. Product Managers guide key decisions to maximize value and create new streams and Project managers ensure maximize quality and minimize risk.

One of the key challenges of the roles is that they can be at odds with each other at times. When a product manager wants to add a lot of features to meet identified customer needs, the project manager may want to keep the scope as small as possible so that the project is delivered on time and under budget. An appropriate way to resolve the conflict is to understand each other’s requirements and constraints, making a perfect balance between meaningful deliverable and restraints. Good project managers know that the true success of a project is timely delivery meeting budget and other constraints ensuring that it meets the defined goals and objectives. Good product managers know that all the features in the world will not matter if the project is continually delayed and never makes it to market or if it is too over budget to be completed.

Few important points to keep in mind are:
  1. Product Management and Project Management roles co-exist and cannot work in isolation.
  2. Skills, expertise and traits required to efficiently carry out the two tasks are very different from each other.
  3. Good product managers spend as much time with the team as project managers.
  4. The less time product managers spend on project management, the more time they will be able to create a value for their customers.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Understanding Product management

Often intrigued by the role of Product Manager, the so-called mini-CEO, I haven’t found any source that exactly defines what Product Management is.  An online search for understanding this role makes the task more confusing and difficult attributing its incredible breadth, specifically in the context of the technology industry. The best definition so far for the role is given by Marty Cagan in his book “Inspired” as the job of the product manager is “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”.

As I understand, the Product Manager identifies a market problem, quantifies the opportunity to make sure it’s big enough to generate profit, and then articulates the problem to the rest of the organization to build a product that caters to the precise problem of the customer. The job of a product manager is central to the business requiring interaction with senior management, technology and marketing functions. A candidate desiring to excel at product management needs to be equally conversant in all three dimensions equaled.

Product Management Triad

Product Management job:
The job of a Product Manager starts with setting a vision for the product, engaging him into lots of research to identify right market, target customers and the problem they have that he is trying to solve. Product managers process huge amount of information in the form of client feedback, quantitative data from web analytics, research reports, market trends and statistics, and extract useful insight to define a vision for the product. Once the product is envisioned, Product Manager performs forecasting and financial projections based on market research and shares the same along with vision with senior executives to secure budgets, staff and targets.

Based on the vision, commitments and budgets, Product Manager builds a roadmap and iterative plan along with user-stories and other documents to enable development teams for incremental improvements and iterative development. As the product progresses with the development and incorporating customer voice, Product Manager gets detail oriented redefining and refining scope ensuring not to derail from the original vision of the product.

Product Manager also prepares a Go-to-market strategy for the product identifying customer segmentation, messaging goal and strategy along with a value proposition for the customers to share with marketing and sales team who eventually interact with customers, the end-users of the product. Once the product is out in the market, product managers start pouring over data on consumer insights again, carefully observing product use, reaching out to customers, taking their feedback and analyzing back again the initial assessment about the problem that they were trying to solve, connecting the product with the user and monetizing the product or underlying technology.

Surely, it sounds a tough job, but there is more fun, dirt and money involved because in all eventualities, the product manager owns the market acceptance of the product. Product Managers interact with people from almost every domain of the business ecosystem, right from CEOs to technologists to marketers to the whole crowd of your product users making them the unsung hero of business world.

Friday, August 1, 2014

And... here I begin preaching Product Management

Welcome to the blog – I’ve thinking of setting up for a long time. A passionate for PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, my enthusiasm, love and experience (so far) with this domain of management has compelled me to come out in the open and express my opinion on various aspects of it.

An IT professional for 7 years, I’ve been into Product Management for a year now working on end-to-end product life-cycle from product concept to launch for different categories including mobile apps and s/w to VAS services to internet-of-things to healthcare platform.

I’m currently working for a healthcare start-up in US handling various aspects of product management. Ideally, I would like to update the blog as I keep on learning, however occasionally I will also be posting blog on topics that are of interest to product manages.

This blog will be considered a success if it helps anyone learn product management, improve their performance or at-least enables someone take a decision that makes his/ her product a success.