Dog Whistles and the Myth of R&D Slack

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There’s a dog whistle problem with critical phrases that Engineering VPs (and product managers) repeatedly speak but which can’t be heard by sales people or executives: “There is no slack in our development schedule. We’re fully booked.” …and… “If we make this new customer commitment, we will have to pull technical staff away from projects we have already committed to customers. That means slipping project ABC.”

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Notes from the Unicorn Hiring Front

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When opening up a new product management position (or any job), it’s easy to over-specify what candidates must have. We risk finding no candidates at all, or missing those with unique skills and backgrounds, so it helps to clearly prioritize our requirements.

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Managing the Unmanageable

I’ve had the great pleasure of reading an early copy of “Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams.”  Co-author Ron Lichty is a veteran Silicon Valley VP of Engineering, having done important work at Apple, Berkeley Systems, Schwab and Razorfish. I know Ron from his SVForum leadership and his “VPE of Fix-It” consulting. The book starts with the sociology and psychology of programmers, and why they are fundamentally hard to manage. Rather than caricature, it sorts programmers along many dimensions (client/server/database/web; architects/systems programmers/app builders; cowboys/farmers/heroes/introverts/cynics/jerks) to uncover team dynamics and motivational principles. Ron (and co-author Mickey Mantle) go to some length to separate programming from more manageable engineering disciplines: Programming as a serious profession…

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Asking for input: PM Directors and VPs

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I’ve been thinking for a long time about challenges in running a product management group – that is, managing product managers rather than products. And blogging some about it. It’s time for me to tackle this in a more coherent way, through a linked series of organizational problem/solution sets that may turn into a full-on book. First step (true to our training) is to interview Directors/VPs of Product Management and dig into current issues, trends, solutions and organizational workarounds. If you manage tech product managers, I’m looking for 45-60 minutes of open-ended discussion and honest appraisals. Anonymized. In person if you’re in the Bay Area. The usual thank-yous apply: my deep gratitude, a book or two, a few free hours…

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Painters, Portraits, Software Architects

I’ve been tuning an analogy about painters for the last few months, which has become my litmus test for which companies see software strategically – and the kind of talent they attract.  First the analogy, in three parts: If you want someone to paint your house, you get a few quotes from house painters. Bids focus on size of house, cost of paint, prep time and ladder time. Good references help, but your decision is mostly about price and availability. If you want someone to paint a portrait of your loving spouse, however, you might prefer a modern-day Renoir to a Cassius Coolidge, even at substantially higher cost and less convenient scheduling. The quality of the work product really matters,…

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Moving Up To Director

In the second of three posts about the product management hierarchy, we’ll focus on technology product managers (PMs) who’ve been in their jobs long enough to consider what comes next.  (User story: “As a Senior Product Manager, I want to be promoted to Director so that I get more money and respect and glory.”) Let’s break this problem into a few parts: likely candidates for promotion; how the Director job differs from line Product Management; and ways to show that you’re ready for a bigger role. Persona You’re a promotional candidate if you’re already a seasoned PM, with 4+ years on a few different products, and are the “go to” person for competitive and technical info. You make time for…

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Getting Your First Product Management Job

Looking over dozens of discussions, presentations and Quora threads from the last few months, a frequent question has been “How do I get a job in technical product management?”  Here is the first of three posts split along job levels: How do I move into tech product management, especially if I’m currently a developer? How do I move up from an individual PM role to Director?  I’m a Director of Product Management, and want to be a VP. 

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Leadership, Trust and Pronouns

I’m struck by the words people choose, and by how their pronouns reflect their management style. In particular, I’m working with a team that’s been hungry for leadership and trust – and is now blossoming. This provides me with an excuse to recap what we all (should) know about leadership, trust, and how the words we use shape the behavior of our organizations. A thoughtful choice between “I” and “we” and “you” is a reflection of the workplace emotional temperature: are managers and executives motivating line employees to do their best, or “throwing them under the bus?” Are we rewarding cross-functional cooperation and market impact, or angling for promotion and impressing our peers?

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A great SVPMA talk: "How To Get That Next PM Job"

On March 5th, Shreyas Doshi had the SVPMA podium for a talk on “How To Get That Next PM Job” This was an astonishingly wonderful talk: crisp, funny, and relentlessly on-point.  When I wasn’t applauding and smacking my forehead, I was jealous.

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Defensive Processes

As a company grows, processes accumulate. You’ll want to thoughtfully sort the useful from the soul-deadening to keep your company running happily.

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