I have just returned from the Product Management conference provided by the Association for International Product Marketing and Management. The 2006 west coast conference, called the PMEC, or Product Management Educational Conference, was held in Indian Wells, California (near Palm Springs) for two days on April 20 and 21, with an optional day of pre-conference workshops.
The conference theme was "The Way of the Product Manager" and the conference was organized around four tracks: Plan, Build, Launch, and Sustain. It was as inspirational, forward-looking, all-encompassing, and fluid as the profession of Product Management itself.
I was nominated for the 2006 Product Management Excellence Award for Thought Leadership. The award went to Linda Gorchels, author of The Product Manager's Handbook, and I am honored and humbled to have found myself in such company through my work on this newsletter.
Read on for more information about what it was like to be at the conference and for a list of great resources for Product Managers.
Like everyone else, I am busy with my job. I have a full-time job in addition to my labor of love, which is this newsletter. To be honest, I sat up and took notice of the conference after learning that I was a nominee for an award.
The conference came at a busy time in my yearly schedule, in between the two big trade shows I am responsible for and just four weeks before our product's customer conference, which I am in charge of organizing. So I was plenty busy.
But I also knew that the inspiration and energy from the conference would help me when I returned to my workaday schedule, and so I told myself that this was an opportunity that I did not want to pass up. I went to the conference, and I recommend that you attend the Boston conference in late October or next year's one on the West Coast. Start planning now and you'll be glad you went.
The Story of AIPMM's Founding
Therese Padilla is the Executive Director of AIPMM. Her story in the field of Product Management is an interesting one. She was Product Manager for a product at a crucial moment in its life, when a respected analyst group had declared the product and all its kind as good as dead. Therese focused on the fundamentals, on input from the market and sales numbers, to defend her product in the face of management hostility, going to bat for the product and declaring that it had great potential, with facts to back up her opinion.
Therese prevailed in championing the product and it went on to become a market superstar. That product is Norton Antivirus, a success by any standard.
Not long after that, Therese, realizing how little support there is for Product Managers, decided with a group of fellow professionals to start the AIPMM in 1997. The AIPMM served as a resource providing help and support during the boom and bust times of recent years.
It's funny to hear Therese describe the AIPMM as a kind of Lonely Hearts Club for Product Managers, because the first thing I noticed about the conference was how it had an effect similar to attending a support group.
The Support Group: You Are Not Alone
One of the most immediate benefits of a support group, where people gather together in person or online to deal with a common problem, is the feeling of not being alone with one's struggles. It creates a tremendous sense of relief, and you realize that the problems you have are not necessarily personal.
I have always felt that one of the immediate benefits of attending a conference of professionals in your industry is that same realization that you are not alone. You meet others who face the same challenges you do. You realize that these challenges aren't personal, and just as importantly, that you are not experiencing them because of some failing of your own.
Problems such as lack of cooperation from Research and Development engineers, lack of direct authority over others whom you depend upon for results, and poor teamwork between technical and non-technical colleagues are part of the fabric of Product Management. This becomes very clear when you attend a conference such as the PMEC.
It is liberating to depersonalize these problems, and you return with renewed energy to face down these challenges and overcome them to the extent you realistically can.
Standards and Recognition
The AIPMM grants two certifications: The Certified Product Manager(tm) and the Certified Product Marketing Manager(tm). A pre-conference session offered a certification workshop and exam.
Certification is an important way for a specialty to establish professional standards, and for individuals to advance their career. The Product Management profession still seems very much like a wild frontier, and any individual who pursues certification at this point is bound to see a benefit from embracing a standard that will grow in popularity as the industry matures.
Sessions I Attended
I attended the following sessions at the conference:
- Finance for Product Managers by Gudrun Granholm of Box One, Inc. www.BoxOneLeader.com. This double session helped me understand that a Product Manager's ideal focus is on creating a healthy gross margin via increasing sales and reducing the cost of making a product.
- Removing the Complexity from Your Product Message by Noel Adams and Karie Starrett presented the ideas and method propounded by Phase Forward (www.phaseforward.net) about how to simplify your product messaging and focus it on what your prospects value most.
- Maximizing the Strategic Impact of Product Management by Bob Schmonsees of RJS Associates www.web2one.com. The session described how Product Managers can apply their abilities to help bridge the gap between Sales and Marketing in order to sell more of their product at a lower cost of sale.
- Strategic Planning for Organizations – Techniques for Success by David Gould of the University of Phoenix presented basic concepts of strategic planning and explained how to apply them to deliver value. This included a version of a SWOT analysis that extended the analysis to include a list of strategies and tactics to pursue in order to take action using the insight from the SWOT analysis.
- Requirements That Maximize Value to Customers by Joachim Karlsson and Par Carlshamre of Telelogic www.telelogic.com. This included a demonstration of Telelogic FOCAL POINT(tm), which helps you determine the relative importance of specific requirements to your market.
- Non-Customers – How to Find Out Why They Don't Buy by Nina Rook of Nina Rook, Inc. Through the presentation and workshop, I learned how to obtain better information from customers and prospects about why they bought or didn't buy your product.
Inspiration, Strategy, and Forward Thinking
The conference also included three keynote speakers whose messages provided inspiration and got me thinking ahead about how to work smarter and better.
- Steve Rankel's opening keynote, Mastering the Way of the Turnaround, provided a rousing story about turning around a product in the face of hostile developers and other colorful teammates.
- Brian Lawley of the 280 Group www.280group.com presented The Way of the Product Manager Warrior, revealing how the martial arts concepts of Shaolin Kung Fu have been applied by great Product Managers.
- Wendy Capland of VisionQuest www.visionquestconsulting.com presented Shaping Your Destiny Before Someone Else Does, discussing how to put both your analytical and instinctive thinking to work to focus on what you are best at and pursue it effectively.
I found that even though I write a newsletter that has me frequently pondering the bigger picture and discussing strategy and tactics, the conference inspired some great thinking about where to focus my efforts over the next quarter and the next year in order to be a more effective Product Manager.
Product Management Software and Products
Without endorsements or details, here's a list of companies and products for Product Management exhibited at the conference:
- Arel Anyware(tm)www.arelanywhere.com
- Enthiosys www.enthiosys.com
- FeaturePlan(tm) www.featureplan.com
- Orasi IdeaScope(tm) www.ideascope.com
- Phase Forward www.phaseforward.net
- Pivotal Product Management
- Sequent Learning Networks www.sequentlearning.com
- Telelogic FOCAL POINT(tm) www.telelogic.com
- Vistaar www.vistaar.com
Some Cool Ideas
Enthiosys led a lunchtime session of one of their Innovation Games(tm) called Pruning the Tree. It's a great way to get a better understanding of how your customers view your product and how they would like to shape it and see it grow. This games concept seems like a much more fun way to engage customers and prospects and to get their best, most creative thinking about how to improve your product to better meet their needs. www.enthiosys.com
2006 East Coast Conference In Boston
Hot off the press: the East Coast conference will be held November 8th to 10th in Boston. This will be a great opportunity to benefit from the value of learning from experts in the field and talking with your peers. A conference like this helps improve both your job and your career.
— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges