What I’ve Been Up To Lately

Some of you have noticed that I have dropped off the conference circuit and I haven’t been very active publicly for a while. Here’s what I’ve been working on lately.

In December 2013, I left the testing field and started working full time as a product manager and a software/user experience (UX) designer. My consulting work had evolved so that I was doing a lot of product management and design anyway, and it was time to make a complete transition. It has been quite the ride. I have worked on products and services for web, mobile, smartwatches, wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT) in several industries.

What is a product manager anyway?

Sometimes product managers are called “the CEO of the product” or “mini-CEOs” which means you have responsibility to package a product and/or service into something that can be marketed, sold and solves a real problem for real people. You try to help the organization determine the right thing to build, at the right time, at the right price, using just the right technology.

The product manager doesn’t do this alone, and when we get it right, the team gets the credit. When we get it wrong, the product manager has ultimate responsibility for the product or service, just as a CEO has ultimate responsibility for the organization.

It’s not an easy job, and one of my mentors told me that if I didn’t experience times when it seemed like everyone in the organization was angry with me, I should worry I was doing something wrong.

In the book The Art of Product Management, p. XIV, Rich Mironov describes:

… the product manager is responsible for the long-term development and health of a product, and is constantly faced with co-workers (or customers or partners or company executives) who want short cuts to good results.

The role requires a lot of diplomacy as well as a willingness to make difficult decisions to help do the right thing for the product, the customers and the organization. It’s enormously challenging, but hugely rewarding.

What do you do all day?

Product management varies a lot from organization to organization, and from person to person. It can be as unique as the person in the role, and different people have different aptitudes, interests and strengths. Some of my colleagues do more work on the business and marketing side, and some of them are more big picture strategists with a lot of team members doing the hands on work. Others have more of a role in day to day project management. I tend to focus more on UX and design as well as typical product management activities.

Todd Birzer from Kevolve describes four areas where product managers work:

  1. Market Intelligence
  2. Product Strategy
  3. Product Development
  4. Lifecycle Management

When I am doing work in market intelligence, I may be doing market research, customer research, competitor analysis, technology analysis and I am constantly keeping up with media and trends.

Product strategy work involves product/service idea validation, determining differentiators for a product/service, developing a monetization strategy and financial analysis. At this point I am also helping find the right technology fit and validating technical, legal and business requirements are all in alignment. Usually I start to create initial product roadmaps at this point to help us determine a focus on what we would like to deliver when. Sometimes we prototype or build a proof of concept, and I may do the initial app designs and UX work here as well. A lot of work at this stage involves making sure there is an entire product from a marketing, sales, support, pricing and technical implementation. It is really easy to end up with a “bucket of features” at the end of a release rather than a real, quantifiable product. A bucket of features is incredibly difficult to sell because it is vague, and doesn’t have a clear differentiator from the competition.

There are a lot of business and sales areas to explore here as well as the technical implementation. Analyzing financials and forecasting by testing out revenue models is important. In an early stage startup, I am actively involved in business model validation and helping with business plans, investor pitches and other funding applications.

During product development, I often do hands-on activities such as business analysis (requirements work, modeling, etc.), planning, setting up a project management practice, but mostly I do a lot in UX, design and gamification. In some cases I oversee others doing the work, and on smaller projects, I am heavily involved. I also assist product owners on Agile teams, helping them write stories and epics, figure out testable requirements and quality criteria, and make sure they have support from other areas of the business and enough to do.

Lifecycle management involves analyzing metrics and financials and helping stakeholders make decisions about products/services that are out in the market. You combine your market intelligence and product strategy and customer experiences with metrics to determine enhancements, bug fixes, what features to add, what features to cut, etc. You also look at the lifecycle of the product in the long term and plan for obsolescence. Ongoing funding and cost vs. revenue analysis is also important here as well as measuring ongoing customer engagement. The information we provide is helpful for teams as they plan out future development and other activities.

Why don’t we see you at conferences anymore?

When I decided to make a career transition, I tried at first to work in both worlds. For a couple of years I spent some of my time doing work in testing training and consulting, and the rest of my time doing product management things. The transition got stuck so I cut out testing and made the leap to full time product management. Previously, most of my public appearances were for testing topics, or for conferences heavily associated with quality and testing. Now I speak exclusively about product management, design, UX or gamification. So you won’t see me at the same conferences I used to attend.

On a personal level, I have had some health challenges that have been slow to heal which have made frequent travel difficult, and my wife and I welcomed our son (our first child) into the world. Not travelling very much meant we were able to start a family and I can spend more time with them. It is amazing to be around to see our little guy grow and change before our eyes. Cutting travel down significantly is also much healthier for me overall.

I also started feeling strongly about building more locally. Supporting local organizations can be better for the community we live in, for the people we see around us in our daily lives, not to mention the environment. I have been working with companies in Western Canada, and started a local meetup for Calgary-based software product managers.

What’s next?

One of the most difficult things about a career transition like this is that I don’t see most of you face-to-face anymore. I am now exploring options for more remote work so I can collaborate with more of you and share ideas and learn from working with different people and teams.

I am writing more based on what I have learned, so you will see more from me on topics that I described above. I wrote an article on designing for wearables for Smashing Magazine: Designing For Smartwatches And Wearables To Enhance Real-Life Experience and I have more to come in this space.

I will also slowly begin to explore opportunities for more public events, but sorry, no more testing conferences.

If you would like to keep in touch, feel free to contact me. I always enjoy hearing from anyone who I have met in the past, or people who have read my work and want to chat about it or to just say hi.

One thought on “What I’ve Been Up To Lately”

  1. Hi, Jonathan!
    Agreed that career transition is a very complicated thing. At the end, you have to choose the more interesting/profitable/competitive field.
    Hope you’ve done the right choice!

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