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From software development to product management

I’ve been a developer for 15 years and I love my job! I love coding!

That moment when you’ve completed a piece of code and you run it for the first time and it works! Oh, wait a minute – it never works the first time… Nevermind, you know what I mean, right? That moment when you run your code and it (finally) works! It is so satisfying!

I like the quiet of working with a machine. I can put my headphones on (it’s actually a must – I work in an open space after all) and just focus on my code.  It’s just me and my computer, and computers don’t have opinions (at least not yet, or not the ones I’m using).

I also love the fact that to be able to write something I need to get to the bits and bytes of every aspect, and therefore I understand all the details that later evolve to a full concept or flow. High level and seeing things as black boxes is just not enough for me.

So… what was I thinking when I decided to change course and put all that aside to move to our product management team?? It’s the complete opposite to everything I love in my job!

I guess I needed a change. I felt that being on the backend of the product and having a narrow point of view of the product is not enough anymore. I wanted to understand the whole picture, the different scenarios our product serves, the product’s vision, the market trends, and to hear from real customers about their use cases and how we can improve. I was looking for new challenges in the unfamiliar area of the “product” rather than in my own comfort zone of “development”.

And so, I thought, joining the PM team would be the opportunity to do just that. After all, that’s what product management is all about. Right? Product managers talk to customers, they meet customers, and they attend customers’ events and talk to the customers attending the event, and…well I had no idea what else they do! And I bet neither do you!

What do product managers do?

It took me a few months, but I am proud to say I can now tell you what stands behind the very generic title “Product Manger”.

So – what are our goals? And what exactly do we do all day long?

  • Seed the market with product awareness, which we simply call “rollout”
    Rollout activities can be a variety of different things such as blogs, webinars, workshops, social media, movies and tutorials. The purpose of these activities is to “spread the word” and bring awareness of the product and specifically of new features and versions. In SAP, a lot of the rollout activities are focused around yearly events such as TechEd and SAPPHIRE. Our job is to plan the rollout activities, using content that is created by us or by anyone else – product owners, developers and others.
    We also maintain a bunch of product “assets”, which is just a pretty word for documents describing the product and its roadmap, each targeting a different audience – from the decision maker to the product potential user.

 

  • Market Intelligence
    We can develop an amazing product, but if it’s irrelevant to the market, it will fail. Our job is to make sure the product is relevant, competitive, and aligned with the current market trends. How do we do it? Well, not by checking our competitors’ products – that, we must not do! We can access competitors’ public materials such as videos, blogs and marketing information, public information on the web, and learn from analyst reports published by research companies such as Gartner and Forrester (which we might be able to figure out, if we try really really hard…).

 

  • Increase customer and partner satisfaction, also known as “customer success” (I knew this one all along ;-))
    We have a few tracks to keep in contact with customers and partners, for example – meetings, newsletters, workshops and CEI (customer engagement initiative – a monthly meeting with a large group of customers).
    These channels give us the opportunity to hear about the (sometimes wrong) way the customers are using our product and help them to better utilize it, to learn about possible problems the customers are facing and assist in solving them (sometimes this only means to encourage them to open a support ticket), to share new capabilities in the product, or connect them with other colleagues to get technical support or anything else they need from our side.

 

  • Drive customer acquisition and adoption, which means bring new customers and try to make sure they don’t leave
    We are not responsible for selling the product, but we give support to the field teams. De facto, it can mean working on a customer’s POC, assisting with the onboarding of a new customer, handling legal aspects, and more.
    A lot of our daily work to increase customer and partner satisfaction overlaps with the work we do to drive adoption. Keeping in contact with the customers and making sure they are satisfied with the product they purchased is a key aspect in customer adoption. Furthermore, and quite surprisingly, to ensure adoption we lead the customer to the best solution for their scenario, even if it means not recommending our own product.

 

  • Influence product strategy and definition – being the “voice of the customer”
    The knowledge we gain from our market research and our direct connection with customers and partners, leads us to important insights to our product and will enable us to influence the product strategy and definition. For example, if the customer is using the product in a wrong way, then something is most likely wrong with the product, and if the market is obsessed with blockchain, we might need to check if it’s related to our business and if we have a product gap. To do this, we stand in our customers’ shoes and represent their interests. The customers’ interests go hand in hand with ours, since there’s no point in building a top of the line and innovative product that no one will ever use. Is there?
    We also align our partner and eco-system strategy to obtain this goal, which means, for example, recommending who to partner with, and working with the partner and other teams in SAP to make a potential partnership become a reality.

 

  • Some of the things we do, don’t fall into one goal or category, but rather relate to a few, and a couple of them must be mentioned:
    • Usage Analytics, a.k.a. software intelligence
      Although speaking with users (customers) can teach us a lot about the usage of our product, it is not enough and may be misleading. Users sometimes create an unrealistic picture of their usage of the product, from different reasons such as being polite or embarrassed.  Therefore, we need to validate what we think we know about the product usage, and this is done by analyzing different kinds of usage data. Usage data can be anything we can collect, like how many times a specific button was pressed, number of logins, usage flow, etc. Usage data analyzed correctly and frequently can lead to valuable conclusions that will affect our strategy and help us increase customer satisfaction.
    • Monetization, which means “convert into or express in the form of currency” (yes, I had to look it up…), and that means in simple human language – pricing
      Pricing is part of the product’s strategy, but it also directly affects customer satisfaction and adoption. Deciding on the product’s pricing is a multifaceted mission. The product’s offering, support models, and the company’s general pricing guidelines, are just a few of the aspects that a product manager should consider when setting a product’s price and pricing model.

Well that’s about sums it up!

You probably noticed that everything I listed is related to the external interfaces of the team and product, but there’s a lot more to product management though, that involves inbound work – like defining what to develop and working with the development teams. In many companies, and even in other organizations within SAP, product managers do both inbound and outbound product management, but lucky for you, since it’s been quite a long reading, in my organization we don’t. 🙂

Summary

Now that I figured out what it is I need to do, I’m only left with figuring out the how. I know it involves a real change of perspective and focus that doesn’t happen in one day, but as I said before, I’m up for a new challenge, and it looks like it’s a challenge I’m going to love!

 

 

 

 

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