Interview with Gabriel Stenhardt of BlackBlot Product Management

I’ve known Gabriel for a few years now and worked with his PMTK toolkit and I was keen to interview him for the benefit of the many people who still misunderstand the Product management Profession.

 I wont bore you with the “Good morning, how is your day” stuff and I won’t wait till the end to express my gratitude to Gabriel for giving us his precious time, so here goes:

ED; The Million dolar question, what is product management?
Gabriel, Product management is an occupational domain which holds two professional disciplines: product planning and product marketing.  This is because we build product functionality for the user via product planning, and market the product’s value to the buyer via product marketing.A somewhat more expanded interpretation would be to view product management as an occupational domain that is based on general management techniques, focused on product planning and product marketing topics.


Ed; Which common problems exist in the high-tech industry relative to product management?
Gabriel, Every company is different and handles product management differently – meaning that the product management discipline is not standardized as much as it could be across the industry.  We often see how different product delivery strategies, such as being technology-driven, impact people in product management to the point where product managers are mostly engaged in pre-sales and logistical support, and do not perform their true strategic planning and marketing roles.

For companies to be successful, other than just pure luck, all areas of product management must be fully addressed and handled professionally.  Failure as success is extremely complex.  One can attempt to investigate why certain companies and products have failed, only to very quickly realize that the cause is multi-faceted and that many factors need to be considered.

Relative to product management we know that providing wrong market requirements, wrong pricing, wrong timing, wrong market, wrong assumptions; are detrimental.  Getting just one of these factors wrong strongly diminishes the product’s chances of success.  Therefore, a company must cover all key aspects and details in product management in order to increase its chances of success.  Even though there might be failure, chances of success are increased if a company follows and consistently implements a complete product management methodology.


Ed; What characterises high-tech companies that have good product management practices?
Gabriel,  Relative to product management, companies with good product management practices are companies which realize that product management is a core strategic function to the organization and that there is great importance in making sure that product management processes are sound and fully covered.  As alluded to earlier, if this happens then products have a much better chance at success from the very beginning of the development process.

There are always external factors and some luck involved when products are successful.  Not all successful products have had great product management behind them, but it is clear that most product failures have had poor or no product management behind them.  Companies will most likely be more successful per each dollar they invest in product development if they do a better job in the area of product management.  Combining a definitive product management process with technology development is the key to commercial success in the high-tech world.


Ed; What are the challenges which product managers encounter at high-tech companies?
Gabriel, The main challenge product managers are faced with is the lack of professional focus.  Many companies erroneously view the product manager title as a collective term used to describe a combined role.  The product manager is often forced to act as a program manager, project manager, product planner, product marketer, product architect, and more.  Many struggle to define their own role.  Ask several product managers what their responsibilities are and you will get a variety of answers and descriptions.  This situation can reach a point where several product managers working at the same company and department provide very different perspectives on their position.

The remedy to this situation is primarily based on the realization that being professional means being very focused and strategic; and by ensuring that product management roles and responsibilities are profoundly clear, understood by everyone in the company, and their interpretations are consistent.

Additional issues product managers are faced with include which product management methodology to use, where to find uniform work tools, which tasks and processes to execute, and how to manage relationships with other corporate departments.  This matter is addressed by the adaptation of product management best practices.


Ed; What is the best way to improve product management practices at high-tech companies?
Gabriel, Improvement in product management practices is done via the application of a complete approach, which means “Processes > Tools > Implementation”.
From a practical perspective, this approach is manifested and accomplished by implementing a correlated set of “Training > Templates > Consulting”.

Often the implementation of product management best practices is done with the aid of a consultant after the company’s product management team had undergone training.  Product management training is helpful to foster corporate change as it makes methodology implementation much easier because of the shared knowledge and common terminology.

The key to any corporate change, particularly in the high-tech industry, is the understanding that success is often more dependent on following a process than on developing technology.  This notion is clearly exemplified in Toyota’s lean strategy which claims that Toyota gets “brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes.”



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