Saturday, April 2, 2011

What is the "Product" Anyway?

One of the more interesting aspects of Product Management is understanding exactly what is mean by the word "Product".  Believe it or not, many groups within an organization may have different impressions of what the term actually means.  Great Product Managers ensure that the company is united and has a common view of product and what the term means.

Specifically, to many technical oriented folks, the product is just the "bits" or "service" that is delivered to the customer.  Thus, they feel that the product is complete when the bits are completed by engineering (often abbreviated as RTM or "release to manufacturing"). So in their mind the product is ready when R&D is done.

However, the Product is more than just the code - it's really everything that goes around the code to make it successful in the marketplace, such as:

  • pricing, packaging
  • messaging and position
  • training for sales, support, customers and channel
  • technical collateral, including update decks, evaluation guides, FAQs
  • sales collateral, including pitches, battle cards, competitive info
  • PR plan - press releases, analyst briefings, reviewer's guides etc.
Releasing a new product or service without it's supporting material is in essence just "chucking it over the wall" to the field and hoping for the best.  This isn't how to succeed.  Successful companies know that success in the marketplace relies on much more that the code, and focus as much on these aspects as they do on building the product.  Generally, the term when the product is ready is known as "General Availability" (GA), implying that everything is in place in addition to the code, and customers can access.

Great Program Managers are essential to this success, and they must be tightly connected with their engineering Release Management counterparts.  The process to coordinate the complete product success is as complex as coordinating the product, and many individual groups, both inside and outside the company, need to be coordinated.

The quickest success is achieved when a product is released and everyone is ready - trained and has the material - to make it successful in the field.  Otherwise don't complain if it takes 6-12 months for your new product to get traction.