Reflektions.com

Paul Ortchanian

This blog discusses leadership and product management. Contact me at paul@reflektions.com

I do it because it’s good business

This year, by partnering with Founder Fuel, Founder Institute and D3 Innovation Center I set a lofty goal to undertake pro bono advisory work. I gave over a hundred hours of advisory services in the startup interest. Including to individuals, fast scaling tech companies and incubator groups. I did so for the pedagogic value of enhancing my product and business related skill sets. The standout component was the one-on-one time with the startup founders. Running a startup is not easy work. They forgo stability in exchange for the promise of fast growth. The solutions are not obvious and success is not guaranteed. I hope they gained from my experience, network of people, encouragements and ideas. The ones below are leapfrogging to su...

Be the CRO (Chief Repeating Officer)

The tyranny of the urgent can lead product managers down slippery rabbit holes. The ones that set you up to those "unconnected dots" discussions where all you do is puke out frustration. You improvise, make up emotional reasons why certain features will take priority over others. You say it with a this-is-my-turf-don’t-touch-it tone. It stirs up resentment, leads to a loss of integrity and sometimes irrational acts. I’m often asked how I pull myself out of the weeds and work strategically and long-term. The first and paramount responsibility of a product Manager is a never-ending, difficult, oft-shunned task of building a shared understanding of the product strategy through listening, influencing, and repetition. The creation and man...

Empathy is the mother of all product roadmaps

Empathy is key to building great products. Give it to your office community, and they will love you. Be a good listener. Encourage them to talk about their product ideas. Talk in term of their interests, let them feel that the idea is theirs and use it to firm up your roadmap. The empathic component is what makes a product manager special. In a field that values objective performance, spending your time on empathic interaction is perceived as a waste of time because is not measurable. But there is a connection between empathy and other outcomes, such as enhanced team buy-in, smoother communication and information exchange. Patient-physician interactions Let's analyse this from another professions point of view. Researchers have long...

Appeal to the nobler motive

A business usually has two reasons for doing a thing: one that sounds good and a real one. The product manager will think of the real reason. Their job is about finding monetizable market opportunities. Business results matter and acquiring new customers and increasing average revenue per user is part of the monetization equation. But all of us, being idealists at heart, like to think of motives that sound good. So, in order to make it sound appealing, we talk in terms of what customers want. There is an approach called "working backwards" that is widely used at Amazon. Work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it. Because value springs out of what customers fu...

Product man, Renaissance man

Software development has become a strategic priority for all companies in today’s digital era. In turn, the product management role has expanded. The product manager of today is wearing many hats, using a broad knowledge base to define the problem-solution-fit, make trade-off decisions, bringing together cross-functional teams, ensuring alignment between diverse functions, while still commanding the respect of engineering. Required skills include a grounding in customer experience, market orientation, business acumen, technical skills and soft skills. That's not all, the product-management role will continue to evolve toward a deeper focus on data and a greater influence on nonproduct decisions. Jackof All Trades, Master of None O...

The Product Manager's Guide to Backlog Grooming

Wish lists are a pain. It looks like a small request – at best. It comes top down, it guts your strategy, it unbalances all the hard work you put in prioritising and forces you to make difficult trade-offs. Great news: you need to validate that it’s actually useful and/or important, Less-great news: If they clearly aren’t important enough to be done, then they don’t belong on the backlog. Your job is to break the news. Some of my stakeholders have tried everything to eviscerate a backlog: Last minute esoteric requests with intense pressure on me to say “yes", contradicting established objectives and priorities, discrediting the customer need/personas, questioning prioritization techniques …they just end up forcing me to take meas...

Product opportunity, It’s all about timing

Product management is empirical, verifiable by observation, experience, and practice. I’m amazed at how calculated and theoretical some make it be. Put yourself into the right critical thinking mindset, do some customer research, think through your market and validate if there is a product opportunity. In a great market, your product doesn’t need to be the best; it just has to basically work. In a terrible market, you can have the best product in the world and it won’t matter . If there’s no customer need, everything else falls apart . Move on! Find another market. Just another day in Vietnam. No big deal. I’ll draw a comparison to photo-journalism. Eddie Adams’s 1969 prize-winning photo shows a chief of the South Vietnamese poli...

Use a decision-making framework

Make the right hard calls. Prioritize ruthlessly. As a product leader, you’re most often evaluated by your ability to make difficult trade-offs quickly. When considering new features to enhance the existing product, what are the critical elements to look for? In the following lines, I’ll describe a process around decision making which you can use as a repeatable and sustainable methodology to constantly make important product decisions. Yes - you won’t have to rely on gut feelings or get trumped by the loudest voice in the room. Great product managers say no Research is the center around which all of the other dynamics of product management find their orbit. Spend as much time as necessary to become an expert in all details rela...

I haven’t heard what the strategy is!

It's bad when big decisions are made without context, or with little explanation. It’s worst when you're told that there are no master plans, that success will no longer be about delivering product features. Success will be about customer value learnings and adapting the strategy accordingly (read: there is no product strategy). Instead of executing on strategy we will look for one. Instead of making complex plans that are based on a lot of assumptions we will sketch out a hypotheses and test via constant adjustments called pivots (changing course with one foot anchored to the ground). We will go from failure to failure, adapting, deciding whether to pivot or persevere. It’s a methodology made popular by Eric Ries called the Lea...

Seek engagement from your office community to sell your views

You’re the one who will tell people what should be built and why. So why was it so tough to get engagement from the technical teams? Because people need to buy into your vision and engineers should understand the ‘why’ behind their work and how it relates back to delivering customer value. Nothing creates greater misalignment in an organization and slows execution speed than a conflict of vision and values. In the end, no buy-in leads to no delivery. Listening is about leading with your ears instead of your mouth A common mistake is to declare that you’re the “CEO" of the product. That stance leads product managers to anchor too heavily on their own vantage point, insufficiently adjusting to others’ perspective. The fact is, one le...