Modified Joke – Product Manager, the Lawyer and the doctor

A doctor, a lawyer and a product manager were discussing the relative merits
of having a wife or a mistress.

The lawyer says: “For sure a mistress is better. If you have a wife and
want a divorce, it causes all sorts of legal problems.”

The doctor says: “It’s better to have a wife because the sense of security
lowers your stress and is good for your health.”

The product manager says: ” You’re both wrong. It’s best to have both so that
when the wife thinks you’re with the mistress and the mistress thinks you’re
with your wife — you can do some product management.

Only three excuses from Engineering to change a Spec (requirement)

You are sitting in you cube, listening to some kick ass tunes in your headphones, and an engineer drops in. “I need you to change spec X”.

My response is to ask why, like all good product managers do.

Invariably there are three answers

  1. It is impossible to meet that spec without changing the fundamental physical laws of the universe, and here is why …
  2. It is very difficult and we don’t know how to do it.
  3. It is difficult.

Only one of those I will accept. Guess which it is…

Annual Sales Training/Meetings

Ah, I am procrastinating in the preparation of my decks for the sales meeting and/or training next week, I have come to reflect on the whole concept.

I have written in the past on “Sales Meeting Musings“, as have others, including a snark filled comment by The Cranky PM.

But this ritual is rife. Once a year (or every other year), you gather the sales people into a room, and you let them bask in the glory that is Sales, have them tell Paul Bunyon sized bullshit tales of their heroics (never once acknowledging the parachuting in of Product Management to salvage a HUGE deal), and to drink expensive booze and smoke cuban cigars.

Every time, I have to prepare a deck. I have to tailor it to the lowest common denominator, usually a greenhorn sales asociate, or a senior guy that “doesn’t know how to spell AFM let alone how it works” even though he has 10 years of experience in the company.

This is a hugely difficult task.  You have to cover the basics, and cater to the vast middle ground.

This invariably comes down to stroking egos, yielding up the best nuggets from my market and competitive analysis (that I don’t want to share, because the blabbermouths will email it to their friends at our competitors) to keep their interest.

One year, we had a product that was going gangbusters in photovoltaic research.  But our sales people couldn’t speak the language.  I put together a 4 hour bootcamp that started from the basics (semiconductor diode) through the principal technologies, and what we could do to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

And not even a week later, I was required to fly to the Philippines to talk with a customer, because our sales team was too weak to do it.

Weak sauce.

Why bother?

Presentations that are SO bad.

About 6 months ago, I started a new job.  The former product manager had left about 18 months prior to my arrival, and they “limped” along.

Now, I am going through sales presentations, sales training decks and curriculae and I am aghast at what I have to work with.

The previous occumant of my role was a PhD scientist.  He had the attitude of “I’m the smartest man in the room” and he was out to prove it to the audience.

However, that led him to build very wordy powerpoints. 10 bullet points each with two rows of text.  No illustrations of complex concepts (I mean, you are talking to sales, and they crave handholding). No thread or story.  

In short, while there is some good information, the vehicle destroys the message.

Sigh, it is going to be a long holiday weekend whipping some of these into shape.


If I hear this one more time I am going to lose it.

Those following the thread have seen my comments about a web project going poorly.

End root cause is that we went with a vendor which we were “comfortable” with, and didn’t figure out up front if he had the chops to deliver.

I want to pull back, complete a formal proposal (I had started this then I was told that the project was already 1/2 done), pick 3-4 local Web shops (I am in Phoenix, so there are lots here) to bid on it and then pick someone who has the chops and the skills to succeed at a price we can afford.

The answer to that was astonishing. 

We don’t want to do that. Getting a new vendor into our system is a painful process, and will take far longer than the whole project.

So, instead of using the right vendor, even if that requires getting them into our ERP system, we choose to use underqualified hacks, because it is too hard to find new? 


Just once in my career, I would like a project to be finished on time

and on budget.


There are always some extenuating circumstances:

  • A key component was more difficult to work through.
  • Some circuit design was wrong the first time around (and the second, and the third).
  • Regardless of how many times the design was reviewed, a connector was wired backwards on a circuit board.

Or commonly, software is delayed by not having hardware to test and develop against. And vice versus.

Or the software was a lot more difficult than anticipated.

The funny thing is, even with professional, certified project managers handling the threads, using the best practices for estimating time/effort/resources, projects are late/late/late.

As a product manager, I have my own “Kentucky Windage” that I use to “adjust” my personal expectations.  And it is invariably way off.

Can’t we do better?

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Stone age thinking in the internet age

I am a huge fan of accessibility, and convenience for my customers.  In my new role, we have a product that is a little long in tooth, and the software is a bit dated as well.  Working to fix that, but one hangup is our absolutely shitty help system.  

It is web based, and installed on the PC that the software is installed on.  It uses some POS ActiveX control, so it ONLY works with IE (and not IE9).  

Even when you get the right browser, and configuration, it is a lousy format, hard to navigate, and the search/index is terrible.

I want to go to a completely online, standards compliant interface, and always up to date.

But our marketing team, who controls the manuals and the help system generation/maintenance is paranoid that making the help information accessible to all would lead our competitors to find ways to attack us. Words fail me.

F’ me.  You can’t make this shit up.  How backwards is that.  

Swimming upstream here.

How come really smart people are so dumb sometimes?

Just had an ambush call.  (that is when Sales invites you on a call, but “forgets” to clue you in on what is to be discussed). Needless to say, some pretty deep hip waders were needed.

The whole premise was that we failed to accomplish some performance goals in a demo.  We make high end, scientific instruments.  Part of the analyses we do, required you to “find” a region of interest.  We, our competitors, and indeed all products on the market like ours uses a similar design. A video camera, a microscope objective/or telescope, and a real time window on the UI to see the sample/instrument.  

The problem is that they are looking at SRAM cells, that are 45nm in dimension.  And they kept harping on the “magnification”. If only we made the image look bigger, we would see the features.

Uh, no.  The classic difference between resolution and magnification.  A rule of thumb is that the limit of resolution is proportional to wavelength/(2 * NA).  There is a constant, but it really can be ignored or assumed to be 1.  If you have broad spectrum white light, your central wavelength is 540nm (a “green” color), and you use that to calculate resolution.

For a super high resolution system your NA can be as high as 0.95 in air (> 1 if you can do oil immersion).  But since we have lots of hardware in the way, we need a much longer working distance.  50 or so millimeters of WD.  The best commercially available optics at this range will give a NA of 0.15 or so.  Thus, we become diffraction limited at about 1.8um.  Since they want to find features that are 0.045um in dimension, the resolution limit is going to be equivalent to 40 cells.  That means that there is no hope to see the features they want.

Of course, they didn’t understand this, and kept repeating the “more magnification” mantra. FML.


*NA = Numerical Aperture – a measure of the light gathering capability of an optical system.

What I miss

About 5 months ago, I left my cushy job as Director of Product Management, for a gig as an ordinary old product marketing manager.  So far, I am exquisitely happy with the change.  Great products, great people, small org (in a huge company) so I can really make a difference.

But I did give up a few things.  My office.  Where I am at now there are only cubes.  VP’s of production? Cube. Director Marketing? Cube.  VP/GM?  Cube (or, actually on an airplane for how much he travels.  The only negative so far is that I have to use headphones for my music.  I guess I can cope.

I did give up direct reports.  I no longer manage people.  And I am super happy about that. I can do it, and my employees all are super satisfied with my management. But, truth be told, I am far happier as an individual contributor.  Hope that lasts.

I miss the MSDN account.  Being able to get your hands on all of Microsoft’s products was pretty bitchen.

I miss a non-managed laptop.  I had pretty much free reign on my laptop there. Here? Not quite as locked down as at a bank, but certainly more restrictive than anywhere I have ever been (PGP whole disk encryption is the devil). And for the love of god, don’t update Java until they tell you to, or you can no longer access Oracle.  


Some tasks really can’t be done Agile

Sunday morning here, and I am working on my backlog in preparation for iteration planning tomorrow.

One of the major tasks is that a recent architecture change (that was SUPER for performance) heinously breaks our old model of licensing.  By old, I mean from the early 1990’s.  Way before we had cool stuff like the Internet, and ubiquitous access.  We had bandaged this process along until now.  However, this new change turned it on its head.

We could create a limiting mechanism to replace it with identical functinality (keeping the licensing tied to the server, and emanating from said server), or we could rip this wide open.  Create a special licensing service (either running on the main server, or on its own instance).  This is attractive for many reasons.  As time goes on, the concept of a single server, and a set of components that communicate with it is becoming quaint.  Fast WAN’s, intranets, geographically diverse deployments are becoming standard.  People expect to drop components where their business needs sit.

Cool.  But even the most foundational sub component of this is way too large for a single developer in a single 3 week sprint to accomplish.  And there isn’t really a way for me, as a product owner, to break it down at a high level.  This is going to take our architect probably 6-8 weeks to get built, and with the minimal functional feature set done.

I think we will make this work, but it will make for interesting planning poker tomorrow.