5 Minutes With Ray Ross (ninemsn)

Ray Ross, Windows Live Mobile Product Manager at ninemsn

We received a fantastic response from Ray Ross when we asked him to participate in our Product Management interviews. Its always great to receive such in-depth answers to the 3 simple questions we ask Product Managers.
When asked to describe Product Management, here’s what Ray had to say.

Describe Product Management

Product Managements is responsible for optimising a product portfolio’s contribution to a company. Optimising is usually thought of as “making the most money”, but sometimes the best contribution a product can make to the company is quite different. For example, losing money to increase market share, brand awareness or customer loyalty, discontinuing the product because it is no longer competitive and isn’t worth investment of more resource.

In a day-to-day sense, the Product Manager usually has 3 main areas to juggle:

  • monitoring and supporting product sales/operations to ensure they are meeting/exceeding plan. This includes product performance analysis and reporting.
  • monitoring the competitive market to serve as product expert for the company
  • creating and executing forward plans for product changes and strategies.

Of course, there are dozens of activities that can fall under these main responsibilities. Another way to look at it is it is like running a ‘business within a business’. Product Managers act as business owner of a product and manage it end-to-end. The good part is you don’t have to handle your “business’s” HR (other than your direct reports, if any) or facilities. Someone else runs the functions such as Customer Service/Sales teams, paying the rent and making sure the LAN works.

What are your main responsibilities as a Product Manager at ninemsn?

I look after a new suite of products called Windows Live for mobile. These are products (eg email, instant messenger, blogging, personal information management) mainly for the consumer market that are delivered via mobile phone networks and handsets.
I have all the standard responsibilities I mention above. To accomplish them in this role, I serve as the main conduit between Microsoft, who develop and operate these products, and the Australian mobile operators (eg Telstra, Optus, 3, Vodafone) that distribute and sell to the end users. Additionally, I promote the products on ninemsn and Microsoft web properties such as http://www.ninemsn.com.au/, Hotmail/Windows Live Mail, and MSN/Windows Live Messenger.

My products are fairly new so at this stage most of my role is working with Microsoft to ‘localise’ their products to meet the general needs of Australian consumers as well as ‘customising’ the products to meet the specific needs of each Mobile Operator and their customers.

Supporting business development and contract negotiations are also a focus during this product phase — to strike commercial deals that benefit all parties offering the Windows Live for mobile products.

What are the main issues facing Product Managers in general and at ninemsn?

I’ve been a Product Manager in the Internet and Telco space. The main Product Management challenge is always where to spend your limited time and resources. Product Managers can be held responsible for just about anything that touches their product (“it’s your product…fix it”) so it is easy to get trapped in the details — fixing lots of issues that may seem important to the person raising them but aren’t critical to the overall big picture. As trite as it sounds, communication is the other important area. As long as you show people your big picture for your product and keep them up to date on where their task is in your priority list, they are typically quite understanding that your resources are limited. But if they hear nothing or don’t understand why their task must wait, they call/email you to ask many questions and this takes up lots of your time. A good personal system of pro-active communication to your stakeholders saves you and them time and effort.

Another challenge is the speed at which this industry moves. If you can’t make pricing or product changes to match or beat your competitors when needed, you are toast. So you have to think on your feet, make fast decisions and execute quickly and without errors. But that is the fun as well as the challenge. If it were easy then anyone could do it, but I like to say we Product Managers are a special breed that “bring order to the chaos”.