Natalie Yan-Chatonsky interviewed Scott Sehlhorst, Global Product Management Consultant from Austin Texas, when he collaborated with the Brainmates Team at their office in Sydney, Australia on some Product Management leadership initiatives. Scott shares his thoughts on Product Management trends, globally and in Australia.
Scott’s foray into the product profession was when he started his career as an Engineer. He started as a Mechanical Design Engineer before he became a Software Developer. He drifted into requirements gathering, project management, pre-sales, R&D, then eventually into program management and product management.
He started his own Product Management consulting firm Tyner Blain in 2005 which offers Product and Strategy consulting.
Having spent time in Sydney with Australian product managers, what’s your impression of the Product Management community in Australia?
It feels surprisingly like the community in Austin – the vibe, energy, level of interest and aptitude is comparable.
The main distinction is that Austin has a bias towards high tech and software. The startup scene overlaps more with Product Management than in Sydney, probably because 11 Product Camps have been run in Austin over the last few years.
What are the key components of good Product Management practice?
It is important to understand the market, which is a combination of the following:
- Customers – understand the perceived and actual value that you provide them with.
- Problems – your customers are trying to solve.
- Alternatives – to your product and competitors.
I like to tell my clients that your Product doesn’t solve problems. Customers solve problems and maybe they use your product as part of their solution.
For a Product Manager to succeed, what traits are important?
- Intellectual Integrity – Not chasing an idea because it was your idea but rather because the idea has rationale and data behind it to enable the idea to stand on its own.
- Influencing Skills to affect change within your organisation.
The combination of these two traits to help you converge on the right products and be effective in getting your organisation aligned and organised in moving them forward to create those products.
What are the most important environmental successful factors for the Product Management function?
The most important environmental aspect is to encouraging people to take risk. Don’t reward failure but also don’t punish behaviour that causes people to try things or try to hide mistakes.
Also an environment that doesn’t encourage people to make them look better at other people’s expense. It helps discourage bad behaviour.
What essential ingredients are required an entire organisation to be customer centric?
Manifestation of the company identity – who they want to be in the marketplace – it’s about their customers, not about being the number one. If the executive leadership of the company embodies the vision of starting with the customers.
- Making the lives of the customer better.
- Start with your customers.
How has the Product Management discipline changed?
Product Management discipline hasn’t changed in the last few years, however there is more corporate awareness of the discipline.
There is a contrast of broad sets of expectations of the variety of skills that are put on product managers to succeed, versus the training provided to Product Management, as well as the sets of experience that people should have before they become Product Managers.
The universally inconsistency with the expectations is getting more visibility at the C-level.
What is driving this change in the higher visibility of Product Management at the C-level?
My hypothesis is that customer-centricity is the corporate shiny object right now.
There is more visibility around startups that have succeeded because of customer-centricity. This has then shined the light on Product Management being able to help deliver it, along with User Experience.
What do Product Managers struggle with?
Depending on the Product Manager, it’s one of three things that they struggle with:
- For Product Managers who don’t have strong technical backgrounds, they may struggle with having effective communication and interaction with those who are building their products.
- Product Managers who are operating in some environments where their sales teams or executives create artificial barriers for them to make direct contact with their customers.
- Product Management sometimes doesn’t have the veritas to put the compelling pitch to executive level to effect change across the organisation. They may not have the corporate juice to shift the way the organisation may redesigning or revisit their approach to customer service.
It is a mindset shift for an organisation to think about employing customer service to engage the customer, instead of thinking about customer service that is a cost that you have to incur to engage the customer.
Do you have antidotes to help Product Managers overcome these 3 barriers that you mention?
- Dedicate time to learning about the relevant technology through the relationships in the team & studying on your own.
- When it comes to being effective in creating change through persuasion, you need to go and develop your soft skills.
- Ask forgiveness & not permission to talk to your customers.
My observation of Australian Product Managers is that they are fearful of talking to their customers. Can the same be described about American Product Managers?
It’s probably a universal truth. As a self-professed introvert, I’m always scared of setting up the conversation but once I start, I’m never scared. Weighing out the upsides and downsides it’s easier to reach a conclusion its worth talking to your customers.
Do you have any advice for Product Managers starting out?
The biggest decisions to be made about a product, whether they be tactical or strategic, such as prioritisation for features, who is the target market…the vast majority of these decisions are primarily made based on opinion.
Your hypothesis should be based on data, not opinion. You will instantly be more credible if you can enter any of those conversations with data. With it, you will also accelerate your power within the organisation.
As a side benefit, you will understand your customer more thoroughly, and quickly make better decisions about your product.
What advice do you have for Senior Product Managers and Heads of Product?
I would think about the role that each of your products play in as a part of the portfolio. Understand what role that product needs to play in supporting your company’s objectives, identity and vision. Being able to assess the effectiveness of achieving those roles are a differentiator.
What are the top 5 Product Management tools?
- Tim Tams
What are the top 5 techniques that Product Managers should use daily?
- Discovery – gather data, analyse to figure what’s relevant and use it to guide further discovery.
- Synthesis – is data that’s been assigned meaning. Separate the wheat from the chaff to form a point of view based on trends, outliers, and identify what’s relevant and what’s not.
- Pattern Matching – Connections, parallels, analogies and trends. What’s happened and happening tends to inform what is likely to happen. There are patterns in individual, corporate, crowd and technology “behaviour” that can inform hypotheses.
- Correlation – Identify interdependencies and related aspects of information to help identify trends extrapolate into future trends and what that information represents. Cause and effect is baked into everything. If one can detect outcomes, one can infer root causes.
- Reading people – So much about Product Management is about influence. Rarely do we have authority. Being effective in making change, is having the ability to read people to know how to influence them.
Where would you like to see the future of Product Management head?
As a consumer and a Product Manager, I would like to see better products.
For this to happen, I would like to see Product Managers be driven by the data of what is important to their customers, what their competitors do and what they are likely to do. This will ensure that they will be more likely to affect more change in what becomes good product.
Thank you Scott for taking the time to share your rich observations, experience and insights with Brainmates. I’m sure that many members of our Product Management community will enjoy absorbing some of the key takeaways from your interview and applying your tips to their jobs.