Posts Tagged ‘Product management’

Can product management be scientific?

March 12, 2011

I know a spell
That would make you well
Write about love, it could be in any tense, but it must make sense

Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love

Some companies believe that product management can be reduced to scientific experiments.Instead of using intuition and customers interaction one should run experiments and measure results.

While I have great faith in measurable product management , I think that the dream of product management without the human factor is wrong and dangerous.

Everyone seriously involved in pattern recognition and data mining knows that one can’t just throw tons of raw data into an algorithm and expect to gain (artificial) intelligence.

In most cases it is hard to build a large data set to train the algorithm. Once such data set is built , the raw size is too big for any algorithm to train on. As a result ,the raw data needs to be reduced through feature extraction. For example, if we want to build a face recognition algorithm in a video stream we can help the algorithm by removing the soundtrack. While in theory the soundtrack can add information to the algorithm, we guess it is not very helpful.

The process of feature selection and even dataset selection involved intuition and domain knowledge. This is similar to the generic scientific model.

In 2008 wired magazine claimed scientific method is obsolete  in “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete“. The article claims that models are not needed anymore, as data is stronger than models.

However, even the first example is wrong

Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough

But Google’s early  success was  not just because of the algorithm. The clean UI,text only ads and great performance were crucial. I’m confident it was intuition\product management that led into these decisions. Moreover, the statistics for incoming links  from fraud (link farms) are also very high. The algorithms needs “help” on the features that identify fraud.

Google Suggest brings another example. It is a great feature which interactively “guesses” the search term for the end-user.

For example, typing the word “Robert” suggests the following :

Google Suggest For Robert

Google Suggest For Robert

But looking for the word “Naked” brings no results at all:

Google Suggest For Naked

Google Suggest For Naked

But “Nak”still shows some alternatives:

Google Suggest For Nak

Google Suggest For Nak

Does anyone think the algorithm decided on this feature based on statistics 🙂 ?

Obviously, someone decided that following the real statistics of the human mind would be too dangerous.

I’m very much in flavor of usability research and detailed numerical specs. But in most scenarios, the psychology, human interaction and models are crucial for a building a great product.

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Is the new CEO a Chief Product Manager?

March 5, 2011

If you can be a product manager, you can acquire the experience of acting as a CEO. The skills gained in product roadmapping, prioritizing tasks, interoffice communications, customer understanding, and product marketing are absolute necessities for being an effective enterprise lead.
Mark Pincus(video on Product Management as CEO Training), CEO and Founder of Zynga,

Is the new successful Hi-Tech CEO actually a chief product manager?

While this may be an over simplistic view, I do believe we are seeing a trend in the industry.

Google recently decided to appoint its president of products as the new CEO. Steve Jobs is known to design Apple’s product features down to the smallest detail. But maybe he is just a Chief Product Manager ?

Looking at ten leading CEOs background, this might be a a sign of a new trend.

Company Name Previous Title Formal Education
1 Apple Steve Jobs GM Macintosh Division None
2 Google Larry Page President Products Ms. in Computer Sc.
3 NetFlix Reed Hastings CTO Ms. in Computer Sc.
4 Oracle Larry Ellison ? None
5 Twitter Dick Costolo Group Product Manager BSc Computer Sc.
6 Microsoft Steve Ballmer Assistant product manager (P&G) BA in Math and Economics
7 VMWARE Paul Maritz VP  of the Platform Strategy and Developer Group Math and Computer Sc.
8 Cisco John Chambers Senior VP,Worldwide Sales and Operations MBA
9 NetApp Tom Georgens VP Product Operations MBA and Computer Sc.
10 DataDomain Frank Slootman Senior VP of Products(Borland) Economics

In the past, CEOs came from a legal or a financial background. Later on they came from a scientific or engineering technical background.

Promoting the sales executive was  the key trend in the 90’s and in many more modern organizations the marketing leaders were “moved” upward.

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

Image via Wikipedia

But some of the 20th century reasoning and basic  assumptions are no longer valid, at least in the technology sector.

Lets assume that the new tech and consumer markets are frictionless and all information is publicly available.

As a result we can observe that:

  • Sales people are less important  since products are sold directly of the web and personal relationships are less relevant
  • Finance is less critical as the standard financing options are pretty well understood and commoditized
  • Marketing is still important, but traditional outbound “tricks are less important. The “Gartner” marketing that does not say anything about the product, is much less effective. Product marketing, pricing  and daily analytics are much more critical. If everyone loves your product, marketing is easy, channel management is easy and awareness is easy. Nowadays the customers can try the product immediately and they are the ones who create most content about it.
  • Technical innovation is still relevant, but in many cases the big companies are not the ones inventing algorithms or new chips. Ask yourself who invented the iPAD battery,GPS or screen or compass and what’s their stock quote.

In these markets, the best product has a good chance to win everything. There are plenty of examples how a great product makes the rest of the company functions much easier and successful. Of course, there is no first degree in “Product management” and a strong technological  is definitely an advantage. However, it does seem that great product leaders, are able to drive few of the most successful  companies in the world (even, in some cases,  with a lack of great people skills:) ).

The Big Red Button of Product Management

February 25, 2011
A Big Red button

Image via Wikipedia

A fictional dialog between an investor and a product manager:

Investor: Why isn’t our user interface as simple as Google or Twitter or DropBox?

Product Manager: Did you have a chance to login into our application lately?

Investor: Never. But I really want us to have just one single button, so anyone can use it.

Product Manager: You do know we are constructing nuclear weapons? (Drum Roll)

The B28 Type Thermonuclear Bomb

The B28 Type Thermonuclear Bomb