Recently, Greg Geracie, the author of Take Charge Product Management and president of Actuation Consulting appeared on YoursProductly, a podcast hosted by Ravi Kumar. Greg discussed many points of take charge product management with Mr. Kumar. Mr. Geracie began the podcast by telling Mr. Kumar that he got his start in sales and was introduced to product management with Baxter Healthcare. He’s become an expert on the subject of take charge product management, even writing the book on the subject.
Like a majority of product managers, Mr. Geracie found his way into the field in a sort of round about way. Now, with his firm, Actuation Consulting, he works on an annual study that began in 2012 which has produced great insights into the field of product management and provides groundbreaking statistics and analysis for product managers, project managers, and product teams.
The Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge’s Development
Mr. Geracie discussed with Mr. Kumar what a Body of Knowledge is. It’s an attempt by an industry or profession to codify terminology and processes for that profession. Through the collaboration of PMI, Actuation Consulting, and Mr. Geracie in particular, the development of The Guide to Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge, aka ProdBOK has been completed. A Body of Knowledge (BOK) needs several things to work. It requires:
• Sponsorship by an industry association
• A consensus of professionals working in that industry
• An attempt to detail the industry’s best practices
The ProdBOK project took three years and had 60 different contributors. It was difficult to standardize the writing, but through the dedicated efforts of Mr. Geracie and Professor Steve Eppinger of MIT the task was accomplished with a very high degree of professionalism. They took a best in breed approach which was why they had some thought leaders in different areas of product management like Roman Pilcher and Greg Cohen discussing Agile development.
Mr. Geracie is not a stranger to successful book writing having written Take Charge Product Management over the course of six months. He says he sort of “sequestered” himself to write the book. The process with the ProdBOK was much different, but no less rewarding. The ProdBOK attempts to cross all industries although there are certain areas that are more applicable to some industries than others.
Ongoing Study of High Performance Product Teams
The study that Mr. Geracie and his colleagues have pioneered began in 2012 and researches the factors that differentiate high producing product teams from the rest of the pack. The results were given to statisticians to do regression analysis. Each year the findings bring further insight and clarity to what makes a product team a high producing product team. In 2016, it will be the fifth year that they undertake this study. Surveys have already gone out to selected product teams. They were distributed in late January. The study, in essence, takes a look at statistically valid factors related to product team performance. The authors of the study, including Mr. Geracie, work with a wide variety of industries, associations and sponsors to distribute the study. The study’s aim remains the same ‑ to find out what, statistically, differentiates high producing teams from the rest. It’s the only study of its kind and it is often used as source material in books and industry‑related articles.In 2012, the survey was distributed to about 1,100 companies. In 2015, it was distributed to 1,500. It grows by about 100 companies a year. This year, 2016, they’re on track for 1,600 companies.
Product managers need product teams. They can’t go it alone even with take charge product management. They need data to make effective decisions. Data trumps opinions. It’s not subjective. To be effective with take charge product management, they need accurate information to make better decisions and better products as a result.
In general, the 2015 study showed that there are four factors of high performing product teams. First, high performance teams practice strategic decision making. About 1/3 of organizations are good at making and sticking with decisions. These organizations’ product teams perform better and so do their products. Take charge product management doesn’t end with the product team’s work. It encompasses sales and marketing as well. It’s a cross‑organizational concept.
Second, Mr. Geracie and his team found that stand up frequency matters. Stand ups are effective when conducted at regular intervals. If a product team conducts regular stand ups, they will outperform their peers. Third, these take charge product teams practice quick problem recovery. If the organization can rally past unforeseen issues when they arise and nimbly move past those problems, they will have higher performance rates. Fourth, taking into account the user experience helps product teams create better products. Most organizations do take user experience into account and utilize it during various parts of the product development cycle.
A Look Back at Previous Studies
Mr. Geracie was then asked about findings from the 2013 and 2014 studies. In 2013, the take charge product development study results showcased the importance of an aligned strategy, business‑unit leader engagement, product manager role definition, an expressed importance in the product launch by having a single point of contact and specific onboarding practices for team members. In 2014, product team culture was important as was an understanding of the sales cycle and optimizing the product team relationships with the sales organization.
Regarding take charge product management, the data showed that teams are more likely to perform at a higher level if these five factors exist:
1) A common goal which unites the team. The team passionately pursues the goal as a team. This solidifies the team.
2) Effective line management. The effective line manager can remove obstacles, provide resources, and facilitate communication. This helps the team get to their goal faster.
3) Strong engineers whose importance is openly recognized helps teams succeed. Sometimes, engineers feel underappreciated in their role. Organizations that consistently recognize an engineer’s contribution have product teams that work better together.
4) Inclusion of user‑experience professionals in the product team is critical. Teams with user experience professionals perform better and have a higher overall success rate.
Take Charge Product Management
Take charge product management also requires that the product team communicate with marketing and sales. It works best when each of these teams’ goals are aligned. Competing priorities can poison the well and make the team less effective. Another trend that Mr. Geracie noticed was that Agile is not being adopted nearly as fast as experts had hypothesized. He notes that currently many organizations do not fully support Agile product development. Many organizations are in a hybrid sort of state.
Many product teams see their failures as the result of the product manager. A take charge product manager can’t please everyone at every time. They have to accept that. However, communication is important. Product managers have to work to ease dissatisfaction. Time is always short, but meetings with the product team to address these issues often help. It’s better to find out about problems quickly and not let them fester. Not addressing problems quickly can create bigger problems later and more hard feelings among the group. An effective, take charge product manager will attend stand up meetings and do walk arounds. However, the product manager should realize that not everyone will be on board all the time, and accept that as a given.
Product managers have difficulties when their organizations don’t empower them. It is difficult to implement a take charge product management style without feeling empowered to do so. Mr. Geracie’s book, Take Charge Product Management, can help bridge some of that gap. Mr. Geracie expressed a concern that customer satisfaction is the only metric that most product managers are held accountable to. There isn’t a second metric that has found wide use. However, organizations and product managers should find other ways to measure success so that they can be held accountable in a more comprehensive way.
For more information on take charge product management and Greg Geracie, visit Actuation Consulting’s blog.