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March 2012

Where Are All the Great Product Managers?

Marty Cagan, of the Silicon Valley Product Group, is a guy I really respect. He knows what it takes to be great at Product Management. If you're not subscribing to his blog and reading his stuff, you should.

Marty's most recent post discusses what it takes for a Product Manager to make an impact, especially in a small company. Go read the post, but here are the bullets:

  1. Deep knowledge of the customer
  2. Deep knowledge of the business
  3. Deep knowledge of the industry
  4. Reference customers
  5. Motivation

Sounds good. So why is it that, with unemployment in Silicon Valley at the better-than-before-but-still-high 8%, I see so many Product Management jobs going unfilled? You would think that, with such a large pool of available talent to draw from, finding the right Product Managers for these roles would be like shooting fish in a barrel. (Maybe it is; shooting fish in a barrel doesn't sound that easy to me, unless the fish is really big and the barrel's really small.)

The challenge is that developing "deep knowledge" takes time and experience. If I need someone with deep knowledge of the video conferencing business, I'll go see who I know at any of a number of video conferencing companies. Their hard-earned experience will be just the ticket. So finding the right people should be straightforward; getting them to leave their company for yours may be another challenge altogether.

The bigger problem is this. If you're a startup, then by definition you're trying to do something new. You're trying to create a new business, address a new customer segment, disrupt an industry. So the people you want are going to have experience in what for your company is your past--not your present or future. How do I find the right Product Manager in the online collaboration space if I'm still inventing that space?

I'd suggest two approaches. One , from Kenneth Norton, argues for the "hire smart people" approach. More accurately, hire really smart people, preferably smarter than you. Why? Because their job is to figure out the customer, approximate what the business will be, and predict who will be both partners and competitors in the emerging industry. You're not hiring them for what they know. You're hiring them for their ability to know.

The other approach is to take Marty Cagan's direction, and modify it. You need to ask, "what business out there most closely approximates what our business will be?" And ask the same about customer type and industry. If you wanted to build a company around licensing academic course content and distributing it online, who has that kind of knowledge? Are you going to look for ex-Blockbuster people or Netflix people? Or YouTube or Vimeo? The point is, you have to think about what Product Managers in what industries/companies are most likely to have the skills and experience that are going to become relevant for your company.

These approaches may feel hard and risky; that's because they are. But if you can get a good outcome using them, you've put yourself ahead of your competitors. And isn't that where you want to be?

Social Media: DVR Killer?

I remember (from my visits using The Wayback Machine) when certain hit shows like MASH and Friends had their final episode, and people would gather at someone's house to watch together.

Then along came the DVR—Digital Video Recorder, the collective noun version of TiVO—and forevermore we were "time shifting"… recording shows and watching them whenever we wanted, as opposed to when the networks wanted. Media people wrung their hands and worried that this was the end of television advertising, since viewers now had the opportunity to fast-forward past the commercials.

Fast forward to the world of social media. People at an event are "live-tweeting", meaning you're getting a stream of messages that are directly or indirectly telling you what's happening at the event. So for instance, you didn't have to be watching or listening to know how the Stanford-Oklahoma State football game was going… Cheer, groan, cheer, etc.

And if they're not tweeting, they're using Facebook. Or texting. Or using any of a number of other commenting and sharing services. What's happening here is that the community that at one time would have gathered in someone's house, or a bar, or at the event itself, is now gathering in a virtual way. We're all watching, and social media gives us a way of staying connected and sharing the experience.

And here's where the traditional media people should pay attention. The trick is, you can only connect and share as the event is happening. If you recorded the Stanford-Oklahoma State game for later viewing, all this sharing is going to ruin the ending. And if you want to connect and share, you have to do it live. Which means you have to watch the commercials.

So if the traditional media people are on their game, they'll be creating all kinds of opportunities to share their shows, games, tournaments and so on as events.

Fast-forward that.

Happy International Women’s Day!

I was mentally channeling Seth Godin this morning, imagining this blog post…

When You're a Woman and You

Prevailing Wisdom Says

Are a star athlete

You're lesbian

Are a strong business or political leader

You're a bitch

Advance quickly through the organization

You're sleeping with the boss

Are in a relationship with me

You're my property

Like Math and Science

You can't get a date

You're angry with me

You must be having your period

Leave work to pick up your kids

You aren't committed to the organization

When I found out (thank you Google) that today is International Women's Day, I figured it meant I should not just think about this post, I should actually write it.

So here you go.