Diving Into Product Management

July 22, 2011

My transition from development manager to product manager was swift, and I’d sum up my first official month in a product management role as very active. I’ve been designated as the product manager of three products, one of which is a very technical, security-related initiative that is a BIG DEAL for our company. A product that will be a shared platform,involving integration of other products across our company...

My first order of business was to write a Product Requirements Document (PRD) for that very same security product (since we didn't have one). There has been various documents and artifacts produced to support release planning and development, so it wasn't like I was starting from scratch. Since we're a Scrum shop, the team has had a Product Owner in place along with a product backlog (the architect has been operating as the Product Owner until recently) and regular sprint reviews.

Did you notice a couple of warning signs? How about an important, new product under development with a part-time product owner? The absence of a PRD isn't necessarily a bad thing given that there is a product backlog, but in this case it turns out that we did have another problem that surfaced during my writing of the PRD.

I expected my PRD to be more of an exercise for me as a new product manager, collecting readily-available information, talking with some people, and basically producing a "historical artifact" that would get me intimately familiar with our product and position me to move forward. Wrong!

I discovered that we had a few minor misses, which I expected to find. However, I also discovered that we had one large problem in the making. We tried to take on too much in the early stages of the project, and due to the "continuous partial attention" problem with stretching the limits of Architect/Product Owner in particular, we didn't take a step back and examine the product holistically as changes took place. But that is why someone like me was placed into a dedicated product management role.

Needless to say, I've spent some long days dedicated to working with others to solve the problem at hand while conducting a series of cross-organizational PRD reviews to make sure that everyone understands where we are at, providing an opportunity for them to weigh in on the direction and decisions that need to be made. We're getting there, and at least we caught something now instead of later, when we have time to course-correct.

The pressure right now is relentless. And because I’m late to the party as the Product Manager for this product, there is a continual stream of requests for answers to things that I haven’t even had the chance to think about yet. But I’m handling it. My first order of business is to make sure that we’re building the right product, otherwise the latter-stage efforts of migration and commercialization will be valueless. It’s a balancing act, but everyone is being understanding and supportive, which helps a lot.

And while I’d like some formal training in product management, it looks like this may need to be deferred for a short while. I have managed to read a few books and there are others available – like my new boss – that have product management experience that I can lean on.

Right now I’m focusing on getting the job done that needs to be done now, and in the process I’m receiving a tremendous amount of invaluable, hands-on experience that comes with rolling up your sleeves and diving into the deep end with a technically involved, cross-organizational effort.

I’m sure the snow will be flying in Maine before I know it!