Sunday, September 08, 2013

PM in a Can (a.k.a. Is this the best part of being a PM?)

Hello again.

I'm now 39 days into my new operations role and may I say, I am loving it.  Most of the time.  But that's pretty much life, right?

One of the 'challenges' of taking on a new role is making sure you stay far, far away from the comfort zone of your previous role.  For me, that comfort zone is Being a Product Manager.  It's something I know How to Do.  Kind of like falling off a bike or setting fire to an abandoned car, it comes easily to me.  Also like juggling and hobo tracking.

I hear the voice of my board chairman echoing, echoing, you can't be the product manager anymore, Bob, you're an operator now, but you've still got to find a way to get that work done, have a nice day, oooooo (rattles chains).

Sigh.  Yes indeed.

And so, faced on day one with the operator's challenge to "assess a new opportunity to determine whether it can contribute to the sustainability of the enterprise", I considered my assets and liabilities.

Assets: Some reasonable amount of cash and freedom to spend that cash
Liabilities: The clock, no in-house staff capable of doing the work, no time to do it myself, no Holocaust Cloak

OK, I can work with those, I said.  And so I set forth to establish the PM in a Can.

"What is a PM in a Can? It sounds like Prince Albert in a Can."


I sat down and asked 'what is the absolutely smallest set of information I need to make the best possible decision?' and came up with the following:

1. I needed to develop a product concept and its value proposition
2. I needed to test that product concept with some people who could conceivably buy it
3. I needed a minimally viable product spec (my favorite new acronym: MVP)
4. I needed a business model that challenged all of the assumptions of #1-3

I figured, OK, I really shouldn't ask one organization to do both of these because that's a fox in the henhouse problem - of *course* an organization that heard happiness from the market on the product concept would conclude that there's a business model that could support that concept.

So I hired two sets of people to do the work, serially.

And in doing so, I realized something entirely terrifying about product management.

This part - the PM in a Can - is the MOST INTERESTING PART OF THE ENTIRE PM JOB.

Everything else is. . .how to put it . . . .just 'work'.

Maintaining the story backlog = Just Work
Going on sales calls = Just Work
Negotiating with development around product delivery = Just Work
Evaluating win/loss assessments = Just Work

I could go on.  I won't, because it's too depressing.

The very best part of being a product manager is finding brand new problems to fix, and figuring out whether or not an investment in fixing them will advance the cause of the enterprise.  At least it was to me.  But now I've got a sinking feeling that those opportunities are, practically speaking:

1. Few and far between and
2. Often co-opted by clever operators who understand product development

And so I arrive at the point in this post where I ask you, my dear friends and readers, if you agree, disagree, care, wonder if Green Bay beat the spread, etc.

Because I'm thinking I may have just figured out something that has vexed me for years - why all the talk of "strategic product management" never seemed to translate into actual work, because all of the most strategic work gets directed & evaluated by others.

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