I recently “met up” with Tom Grimshaw online. Tom is the founder and CEO of Just4usoftware. We asked Tom about his opinions on Product Management in a growing software company. Tom’s answers are refreshingly humourous.
Adrienne: Tom, please tell us a little about your company and products.
Tom: We are essentially custom software developers. The people who contact us are usually sitting with a burr under their saddle, their software not able to satisfy some sort of operational need. They rarely have a sufficient budget to do everything they want. I sometimes joke that all our clients have tall wish lists and short budgets. So our biggest challenge is giving them everything they want without sending either them or us broke! Obviously prioritising their requirements is crucial.
My first client was a print broker who needed something that required a name and address, job bag and a way of looking up past jobs that wouldn’t take as much time as his current foraging through a job book.
I took what I had built for my business, made a client specific copy of it and added the functionality that he needed.
After doing this a few times I had the BFBO (Blinding Flash of the Bleeding Obvious). Everybody needs to keep a name and address and telephone number, they all need to do a bank account reconciliation and pay tax. Why charge each person to build that basic functionality all the time? Why not take what I had created for my use, make it a base product we could just add specific functionality to for an individual client? If we could hide from other clients the functionality we had built for a client we could continue to add features till we had a world class application on which you could run an entire business. So BizMan® was born.
Adrienne: When you were developing your product, what steps did you take to ensure that your customer needs were met?
Tom: By 2006 we had an existing application that we had “grown” since 1989. Most of our clients wanted something a bit more than MYOB could provide, so we kept adding functionality to the product.
Looking back, with everything we had added, we now had a jumbo jet of a product. Trouble is, many client just wanted a Cessna with a few extra dials. They took one look at it, said, and I quote, “It’s fantastic, but it’s too damn big!”
So I took all the functionality we knew our existing users used, all the data that people had said after the words “Nice, but” and redesigned the database schema from the ground up to deliver the flexibility to turn menu options off for all or selected user groups, to rename menu options and field labels and to hide fields so they did not appear on a data entry or editing form.
Adrienne: Would you consider yourself the Product Manager at just4usoftware?
Tom: Absolutely. We are a small team, between 2 and 6 developers, depending on the work load, my son does the books part-time while not at uni and I do every other function on the organisational board.
Adrienne: What activities do you engage in as a Product Manager?
Tom: Interesting question. Because I do all sales, marketing, product management, systems analysis and design as well as project management. I have not sat down and listed every function I do grouped by role. I should.
To answer your question:
- Client and prospect surveys and feedback
- Product definition with specific attention to differentiation from others to create a USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
- Formulation of alternative marketing messages, trialling and testing them
- Product promotion
- Web site design and construction
What I should do more of is learning about the competition. To be quite honest I find it discouraging. There are always more features they have than I have time to implement.
Adrienne: Your organisation espouses the Agile Method. How do you see Product Managers working within the Agile Methodology?
Tom: For bespoke software development it is not an issue. We just deliver what the client needs and wants. For the rebuild we are doing of our core product I see the role of the product manager as being absolutely vital to the entire
project. The product manager, with his\her understanding of what the market needs and wants, with the development manager, must determine what features go into what iteration. Otherwise you run the risk of delivering trivialities when the users need vital functionality.
Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Tom!