Posted by: Ivan lybbert | January 15, 2010

The Power of Advanced Research for Product Management

I’m thrilled to have Brett Jarvis be my guest blogger this week.  During a recent visit to California, Brett Jarvis and I unexpectedly met each other, discovered professional similarities, and traded business cards.  To our amazement, we discovered that we were already following each other on Twitter.  What a small digital world!

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of additional discussions with Brett and found him to be an extraordinary resource in the world of Product Management.  I’m sure you will enjoy his post as much as I did.  Thanks Brett!


As a product manager, you know the value of conducting market research at various points of the product lifecycle.  For example, you might do a segmentation study to determine a winning target market or you might get input from your channels or conduct focus groups to identify ideas for potential new products.

But, are you making the most of some of the advanced research techniques that have become more accessible over the last decade?  Do you understand your market’s preferences for specific features or messaging?  Do you know how various segments will react to price changes?  Can you conduct robust competitive what-if analysis?

To help you identify how you can benefit from some of these techniques, we’ll give an overview of three of them and how they’ll help you as a product manager.  The three that we will focus on here are: Conjoint analysis / discrete choice analysis, maximum difference scaling (“MaxDiff”) and perceptual mapping.  These techniques are equally valid for products and services, though we refer simply to “products” in the descriptions below.

Conjoint / Discrete Choice Analysis

Conjoint or Discrete Choice Analysis elicits your market’s preferences for the components that make up your product, including product features, service levels, brands, prices, etc.  Although there are differences among the various conjoint and discrete choice techniques, for our purposes here we will consider them as a group and refer to them as conjoint.  As a product manager, you can leverage conjoint to:

  • Understand your market’s requirements
  • Determine your business case and the market feasibility of your product
  • Scope and define your product offering
  • Create a differentiated product
  • Price your product
  • Plan your product and extensions to optimize your objectives
  • Assess possible responses  to competitive actions

Anytime you need to make tradeoffs among different aspects of an offering, you should consider using conjoint analysis.  A conjoint study forces respondents to make tradeoffs and, therefore, uncovers their hot buttons.  With conjoint you can understand which features, services, and brands are most important to your target market, the level of price elasticity, how likely your market is to purchase your product, how preferred your product is versus the competition, whether there are attractive preference-based segments for your product, how you can drive an increase in preference for your product, whether you should consider product line extensions and the extent to which multiple product offerings might cannibalize one another.

In short, conjoint helps you uncover a wealth of information.  You will be better equipped to make the tradeoffs you need to as a product manager by getting respondents to make the tradeoffs for you.

Maximum Difference Scaling

MaxDiff elicits your market’s priorities when considering a single list of items.  Whereas you use conjoint to evaluate and trade off a complete product or service offering based on product features, you use MaxDiff to evaluate the value of a list of items.  So, for example, you can use MaxDiff to narrow a large set of features and then conjoint to determine the actual “best” product combination. The list MaxDiff helps you evaluate could be a list of possible features, but it could also be of anything else, such as messaging options or logos or slogans or names or anything that you would like your market to help you prioritize.  As a product manager, you can leverage MaxDiff to:

  • Gather market requirements
  • Prioritize your market’s needs
  • Prioritize product plans
  • Determine which features to include in your product
  • Determine the most effective product messaging

Any time you are looking to prioritize a list of items, especially once that list is approaching or exceeds double digits, you should consider using MaxDiff.  And anytime you are looking to evaluate a similar list of items using ratings, rankings or constant sums, you should consider using MaxDiff instead.  Whereas with ratings scales, respondents often indicate that everything’s important, and with rankings, they can’t indicate how much they prefer one item over another, MaxDiff uncovers both the order and the level of differentiation between the items.  And although it uses complex math behind the scenes, MaxDiff is straightforward for both the respondent and the researcher.

MaxDiff is a powerful technique that is relevant for a wide variety of decisions you face as a product manager.

Perceptual Mapping

Perceptual mapping uncovers how the market perceives your product in relation to your competition.  It gives you a visual representation of the market, helps you determine what is most important to your market, and helps to uncover opportunities for your brand by seeing gaps along those important factors.  As a product manager, you can leverage perceptual mapping to help you:

  • Differentiate your product offering
  • Position your product or brand

Anytime you’re trying to understand how the market perceives your position in the market place, you should consider perceptual mapping.  To position your product effectively, you need to know what’s important to your market, how your customers perceive your performance in those areas and how they perceive your competition’s performance.  Perceptual mapping helps you uncover those perceptions so that your product’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats become evident through the proverbial picture that’s worth a thousand words.  The end result is a winning, sustainable positioning for your brand.

Making Your Product a Success

As a product manager, you have a complex job that requires sophisticated decisions at every step of the product lifecycle.  You need to be ready to apply the right technique at the right time to ensure your product’s success.  Understanding and accessing advanced research techniques such as conjoint analysis, MaxDiff and perceptual mapping can help you at each stage of the lifecycle, from developing your product portfolio, to successfully launching new products, to product positioning, to responding effectively to competitive threats.  As you use them, you will make more informed and effective decisions that will increase the likelihood of achieving your market objectives.

Brett Jarvis provides marketing strategy consulting services with Sawtooth Technologies Consulting Group, whose expertise in conjoint analysis, MaxDiff and other market research techniques leads to insights that strengthen clients’ market positions. You can follow Sawtooth Technologies Consulting on Twitter at or you can reach Brett at

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | January 8, 2010

ABC News Killed Their Cash Cow

I’m not usually one given to expressing opinions outside my realm of expertise (some of you may wonder why I have a blog about Product Management then!), but I watched something unfold a few weeks ago that still has me scratching my head.

Everyone has their own way of digesting the news each day.  Some read the newspaper every morning, others digitally digest it on phones or computers, and there are still a few of us who like to watch it on TV.  Sure, when I want the facts as fast as my A.D.D. mind can take them, I’ll use my iphone and drink from that informational fire hose.  But on most days I’ll watch ABC News’ most successful news program, Good Morning America, while getting ready for work.  Somehow between Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Sam Champion and others, they had a certain chemistry that always made me come back for more.

But then they changed it.

You know what happened.  Charles Gibson stepped down from the Evening News position, which caused ABC News to tap their best anchor candidate, Diane Sawyer, to the coveted seat, which caused George Stephanopoulos to get promoted.  I suspect they wanted to take Diane’s “secret sauce” to the ailing Evening News.   But with that single move, they lost two birds with one stone.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch each of these individuals and think they are very successful in their own right, but their combined chemistry was riveting.   Now we have Diane Sawyer conveying news in a way that doesn’t show her personal strength, and Robin Roberts doesn’t have a playful bantering companion.   Now they have two shows to fix, instead of one.

In my opinion, ABC News committed a rookie product management mistake:  they messed with their cash cow only to find it on the sacrificial altar.

If you’ve ever been a product manager over a product labeled a cash cow, you’ll understand the temptation to mess with it in the hopes making it “better”.  This happens when the product manager takes their eyes off the customer.  The insatiable desire to selfishly focus on “What can I fix next?” overpowers the company-minded “How can we give greater value to the customer?”

The trick with managing a cash cow is to maintain the same market share and revenue for as long as possible while keeping its operational costs down.  It’s a delicate balance that requires great understanding of the product.  The last thing a cash cow needs is a cowboy product manager to come in and start changing things without the knowledge of what makes their product successful, or unsuccessful.

Lastly, a product manager needs to know when to intentionally kill the cash cow.  This isn’t simply a balance sheet decision.  While most only think of the costs of keeping the product alive, one should also consider the opportunity losses of NOT creating a newer, better product with the same resources.  But before you kill the cash cow, make sure your new idea is actually a good one (D’oh!).

Who knows, maybe ABC News should kill the Evening News (does anyone really watch it anymore?), create Good Evening America, then make the news as interesting to watch as a sitcom.  Now that’s a product with legs!

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | November 20, 2009

Rubbing shoulders with your peers

Having just come from the AIPMM’s PMEC Conference in San Jose, I am reminded of the educational power of being around other people who share the same passions.  It was Mighty Morphin Power Ranger time!

Yes, I had a blast meeting new friends, laughing out loud, participating in awkward exercises, meeting someone else named Ivan, and participating in the first (hopefully not the last) blogger competition.  But the real value came from associating with other product managers!

If you are a product manager, and if you have never attended a product management conference, or a local product management meeting, or a Product Camp, I can honestly say that you’re not as good a product manager as you could be.  Frankly, there’s a certain type of education that only comes from trading war stories.  Asking simple questions such as, “How do you handle politics?” can launch into deep discussions where gems of knowledge await.  Or when explaining your product launch tactics, and an audience member asks “Why not try it this way?” Someone in that room has had the same experience, and might have found a better way.  No matter whether it came from a company president, a consultant, a product manger, a product marketer, an author, a blogger or even an anthropologist, gaining knowledge like that is simply priceless.

Before I close, I must thank the other blogging contestants for 1) not flogging me for my antics with their photos, 2) being so much fun and 3) being great bloggers.  And a very special thanks goes out to Therese Padilla and AIPMM for creating such a memorable educational conference.

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | November 13, 2009

What’s your personality type?

2494_030509For those of you who have followed me over my short time as a blogger, you may have noticed that I enjoy blogging about the personality traits of a product manager.  There are several blogs that cover the science of product management in great depth, and with superb expertise.  But I firmly believe that if a product manager doesn’t possess (or gain) the right personality traits, it won’t matter “how” they do a task, it won’t be as effective.

This week I attended a Product Management TAG event (Technology Association of Georgia) in Atlanta where a group of four panelists discussed the differences between Product Management and Product Marketing.  It was a good event, and I thought the panelists did a fine job.  However, one comment from an audience member gave me pause.

I asked the panel “What are the different personality traits held by a product marketer vs. a product manager.”  After a brief discussion, an audience member said (and I’m paraphrasing) “they basically posses the same personality traits, but they chose a different direction based on what they like.”

What do you think?

What are the personality types of a Product Manager vs. a Product Marketer?

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | November 6, 2009

Part 3: A Product Manager is a Scientist

bill-nye-the-science-guy-bobblehead-dollThis week’s blog entry wraps up my series about the three primary characteristics of a Product Manager.  From the beginning I’ve maintained that we are a unique group of people; an amalgamation of several varying personality types.  In week 1 I said “We Are Entrepreneurs”  In week 2, I said “We Are Leaders“, and this week I say…

We are Scientists!

I’m not sure about you, but when Bill Nye “the science guy” first ran across my television set, I was hooked.  Maybe it was because of the fun my kids and I had watching it, or perhaps it was that catchy theme (“Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!”), but by the end of the episode I wanted to grab my lab coat!  Okay, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but I do believe great Product Managers have elements of a scientist inside them.

We are Inquisitive –While this is similar to week 1’s “We see problems” statement, this characteristic points to our desire to ask questions.  How often have you been in a store and thought, “how did they determine that price?” or “why are they positioning it like that?”  When our sales reps relay a customer story, how often do we say “Why is that important to the customer?”  Frankly, we can’t help it.  We want to understand WHY, WHAT and HOW.

We are Explorers – I’m sure you feel the same way, but I love exploring.  Because when I’m exploring, that means I’m learning something new (unless I’m driving, then it means I’m lost).  What are the ways we explore?  Researching our competition, performing buy, build or partner exercises, or simply when we ask penetrating questions during a customer interview.  We are always covering new ground, and it’s on purpose!

We are Patient – Our ability to be patient shines the greatest when we’re working on the “next big thing” and are smart enough to keep it under wraps until we’re within striking distance.  Nothing against my great friends in sales (you put food on my table!), but it’s easy for them to sell “futures” when they want to get chummy with a customer.  Unfortunately, doing so can bring customer dissatisfaction, delays in your sales, and can even affect how you recognize revenue.

We are Analytical – While there are many ways that we are analytical when it comes to being a great product manager, but I want to focus on two of them.  First, I liked Steve Johnson’s comment in my first post of this series when he stated “great product managers see patterns” and continues on to explain that we look for grouping of trends, not just individual occurrences.  I agree.  Secondly, we have to be honest in our collection of data.  We can’t have “happy ears” and only look for data that supports our opinions.  Unfortunately, poor product managers let their ego get in the way and forget to regard the data objectively.

So that’s it.  We are entrepreneurs, leaders and scientists.

Lastly, I wrote this series because I believe The Product Manager’s Psyche (future book?) is just as important as the techniques and tools we use to accomplish our critical tasks.  Knowing what to do is only helpful IF we can get it done, and great product managers who embody these characteristics certainly will.

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | October 30, 2009

Part 2: A Product Manager is a Leader

leadershipLast week I wrote the first of a three part series defining product managers.  I wrote that product managers are entrepreneurs (and thanks for all of the lively comments!). This week I say…

We are Leaders!

I’m not sure if this is a proven fact, but I’ve heard it stated that product managers eventually gravitate toward owning their own company.  I believe it!  Many product managers have felt like the Pied Piper (minus the part where we take the town’s kids!) as they demonstrated the following characteristics shared with “true” leaders:

We are visionaries – When my kids were younger and would ask me what I did for a living, I would tell them, “Daddy predicts the future, and when he’s wrong, he gets fired.”   My daughter now says that we are like the weathermen of software, except we can’t be wrong!  The truth is that we aren’t fortune tellers, but we seek to reach a destination before our competition does.   Once we’ve collected the pertinent data points, and have laid out the direction, we continually communicate it to everyone, ad nauseam.  In every presentation, with every customer, in every scrum meeting, we describe the destination with clarity, passion and enthusiasm.

We are influential –A significant reason for our success or failure as product managers lies in our ability to influence those around us.  We can be eloquent communicators, logically irrefutable, or amazingly good looking (I’m not familiar with that one either), but unless others whole-heartedly agree, we’ll just be an “Army of One” (and despite the US Army’s slogan, that’s not a very big army).   Don’t overlook the absolute requirement to show solid evidence in support of our vision, but great product managers know how to help others understand and internalize that painted vision, and then toe the line with as much vigor as you.  How?  Because…

We have people skills – I think the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”(Carnegie, 1936) should be required reading for any product manager.   Product managers need more than themselves to direct, make, promote and sell software.  Relationships with those who direct, make, promote and sell software is everything to us!  Taking the time to understand what motivates people helps us understand how we can best interact with them and help them succeed.  If you do that without any self-promoting reasons, you’ll find them doing the same for you.

We are trustworthy – People who are trustworthy have people who will fight for them.  This doesn’t mean you’ll always win (I’ll reference this in future blogs), but you’ll sleep better at night knowing you did the right thing.  How? Don’t say anything about anyone that you don’t feel comfortable repeating to their face (that goes for email too).  When you say you’re going to do something, do it.  When someone tells you something in confidence, keep it.  Basically, be the person your Mom raised you to be.

As always, I’m very interested in your thoughts.  What other leadership characteristics do you believe are shared with product managers?

Next week – Part III:  A Product Manager is a Scientist

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | October 23, 2009

Part 1: A Product Manager is an Entrepreneur

I’ve decided to take a bold step, and add my small voice to the others who have taken the task of defining the character traits of great product managers.  I hope you’ll join me in this three part series and add your voice of consent or dissent as both are equally valued!


What in tarnation is a product manager?  I know what we do.  I know what we solve.  But WHO are we? WHAT are we?  I suspect if you ask ten product managers this question, you’ll get ten different answers.  If you ask me, you’ll get three!  Today, I’ll talk about one of them.

We are Entrepreneurs!

If you take an entrepreneur and a product manager, boil them down in a crucible (ok, that might hurt), you’ll end up with four shared characteristics that drive both of these individuals.  These are deep rooted characteristics that are visible in these people all of the time.

We see problems – Great product managers see problems everywhere!  Not that our glass is always half empty, but rather we see opportunities to solve problems.  No matter where we are, whether we’re talking to customers, reviewing software, or just shopping at the store, we always look for problems waiting to be solved.  We try to create a better mouse trap because we’re always looking.  We look for ways to add value!

We are creative – We don’t want to catch up to the competition, we want to pass the competition!  Why?  Because we don’t want to paint another Mona Lisa by numbers!  We want to create something new that can stand on its own.  Granted, there are plenty of people that make a lot of money copying other company’s brilliant ideas, but I call them good business owners, not entrepreneurs.  Great product managers, like entrepreneurs, have a creative muscle in their genetic make-up that is always flexing.

We are passionate – Once we’ve found a problem, and have a solid way of solving it, and can prove that people want it (don’t overlook that last one), we’re in!  Hook, line and sinker!   Great product managers strongly believe in the cause.  It’s the kind of passion that makes us work smarter and harder.  The kind of passion that has us keep a notepad next to the bed to write down our “Eureka!” moment from the middle of the night.  The kind of passion that causes us to overshoot our exit on the highway because we’re deep in thought.

We are courageous – This is the defining moment of every great product manager (and entrepreneur).  This is the moment when we decide to DO something, to put ourselves out on a limb and risk falling off.  It takes courage to tell everyone “this way is the right way”.  You know why?  Because we might be wrong!  We might get half way there and discover problems that potentially change everything.  And for reasons that (should) have nothing to do with ego, we figure out ways around those problems to keep the fight alive.  We have such a clear picture of the future, we can paint it with absolute clarity to those around us.

What other entrepreneur character traits are shared with product managers?  Comment welcome!

Next week – Part II: A Product Manager is a Leader

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | October 16, 2009

Growing New Product Managers

make_blog_growIn late 2008, I needed to hire two product managers.  In this economy, I felt confident I would have the “pick of the litter” and find them with ease.  We posted the two jobs on all the regular job boards and waited for the flood.  And the flood came!  But it wasn’t what I expected.

Everyone wanted to become a product manager, but only a few people actually had been a product manager.  Come to find out, qualified product managers are hard to find!  Eventually, after sifting through hundreds of resumes, we finally hired one and grew another.

If you’re reading this blog, you were probably grown into a product manager.

Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting another product manager?  When I have, I always ask them “How did you become a product manager?”  Because it’s not a degree you get in college, and it’s not really something that people aspire to (“Mommy, when I grow up I want to write Personas!”)   Although every product manager I’ve met got bit by the bug and never wanted to do anything else (except start their own company).

I encourage companies having trouble finding good product managers to grow them internally.  It will provide a wonderful career to the right person, and challenge them for the rest of their lives.  Plus, you’ll likely get the perfect product manager for your company.

If you do, this is what I recommend:

  • Look for the right skill set – Yes, you’ll want someone who knows the product very well, but that’s not the most important skill!  Look for someone who has people skills, organizational skills, good business acumen and tenacity.  I could spend hours on this topic alone, but I’ll come back to it in another blog one day.  Basically, look for someone who is passionate about the right ideas (not just their ideas).
  • Be honest with them – If you know what product management is like, sit down and convey your passion for it.  But don’t dupe them by talking about unicorns and rainbows.  Being a product manager is hard, challenging and rewarding!  If you don’t know what it’s like, let them read a few blogs by product managers.
  • Get them trained – Once I was trained in Pragmatic Marketing (how’s that for free advertising!), I felt like I was equipped with the tools to do it right.  I needed that confidence to stand my ground and be an advocate of the “science” of correct product management.  I know there are other great programs out there, just do your homework first.
  • Kick them out of the office – Make them visit 10 customers and talk to 50 customers before they do anything.  This shapes their opinions correctly from the beginning, and gives them clout when selling ideas internally.
  • Get them connected – This may sound counter intuitive, but get them on Twitter and have them follow the #prodmgmt group.  There are great discussions that take place daily and plenty of kind people willing to help.
  • Have them build relationships – It’s important to have friends in Sales, Marketing and Development.  They can’t do their job effectively without understanding the needs and goals of these three groups.
  • Teach them true leadership – This may be the toughest of all, but differentiates the good product managers and the great ones.  Management is not leadership!  Product managers are in the perfect position to learn the correct principles of leadership through studying, mentoring and discipline.

If you have someone in your organization that is passionate about doing the right thing, loves a challenge that never ends, and has the ability to be a leader amongst their peers, then show them the world of product management!  Then one day you’ll thank them for growing your company.

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | October 9, 2009

7 Deadly Sins of Product Management

dont_try_it_at_home_tshirt-p235784536727667352qmr8_400Whilst thou art doing thy business as a Product Manager, behold, there are certain paths thou shalt not traverse.  These sins are incongruent with righteousness, and shall bring the greatest judgments against thee!  Read these proverbs, and heed the warnings issued herein.

Or, in other words, don’t try these at home…

Gluttony – You have three customers: development, marketing and sales.  We all have one group we’re most comfortable with, but if you ignore the others, your product and release will be out of balance.  If you’re all about development, then sales and marketing won’t have confidence in you.  If you spend too much time in sales, then the development team will build whatever they want and marketing won’t have the right positioning.  You get the point.  Balance, Daniel-son!

Greed – Glory hound?  Want all the credit?  Give yourself a public high-five, and suddenly the people that actually did most of the work will leave you hanging.  When successes come in, spread the joy to everyone around you.  It will come back better than you thought.

Sloth – If you make a commitment, keep it!  If you’re not able to keep your commitment, let the person know that you’re going to be late.  Never go incommunicado (yeah, it’s a word) or else people will just think you’re lazy.

Pride – So you’re smart, huh?  You’ve been in the industry a while, huh?  Don’t get a fat head!  Get out there and talk to your customers.  Be willing to listen to those who aren’t analysts and you might see a need before everyone else does.

Wrath – Don’t get mad at people who play politics.  One day I’ll write a whole series about how politics ruin an organization, but for now, just avoid them.  Play nice with everyone and your blood pressure won’t pop your head off.  If someone is trying to play the blame game on you, get your facts straight and go to bat for yourself.

Envy – So you have great competition?  Do you find yourself adding the same features they put in their last release?  Got “me-too” disease?  Don’t you want the Blue Ocean?  Come up with something new and leave your competition behind.  It’s easier than you think; take your focus off your competition and onto your customer and I bet you’ll find the Golden Ticket.

Lust – If you find yourself “pining for the fjords”, you’re in trouble.  We all love future releases, because that’s when our product will ROCK!  Right?  But don’t oversell the future and freeze your current market.  If your customers see a tear of joy in your eyes of tomorrow, they’ll just wait until that release comes out and delay their purchase (btw, sales reps don’t dig that).

I would love to hear your versions of any of these 7 deadly sins!

Posted by: Ivan lybbert | October 2, 2009

Sales Driven Product Management? Watch out!

Super-SalesmanI have to thank the Cranky Product Manager for spawning the idea for today’s blog.  In her blog entry “10 things the Cranky Product Manager has learned about product management”, she (btw, are you a “she”?) lists several things that she’s learned about Product Management over the years.  It’s a great read.  In fact, it got me thinking so much, I commented with my own fabricated #11. “If the company you work for is a Sales driven company (as opposed to Market driven), watch out! You’ll find that your market research is disregarded for “what can be sold next quarter”. This is very similar to number 5 above – same hot dog, just different mustard.” (number 5 talked about how the CEO’s of startups are typically the real product managers).

With exception to the mustard comment, I probably don’t need to explain this at all.  Any Product Manager who’s earned their stripes has run into a company or a period in their career where Sales started making Product Management decisions.  But just in case, I wanted to explain myself a little better.

Don’t get me wrong folks, I love a good sales force!  In fact, I make it a point to always thank them for what they do, and frequently remind them that their efforts put food on my table.  I will go WAY out of my way to assist in the sales process, and I’ll go even further to suck their minds dry of every bit of customer information they can give me (insert Vulcan mind-meld here!).  Those relationships are critical to my success, and the information they have is vital to create the next generation of successful products.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.

When should you watch out? When you find that marketing research is only performed to support the desires of the sales force, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.  Before you read on, read that last sentence again.  Can you truthfully say that your marketing research is done to seek out truth?  Or was it done to support an executive’s desire?  Or maybe the market research was done correctly, but you quietly are being coerced as a Product Manager to make decisions based on next quarter’s expectations.  Do yourself a favor, and answer this question truthfully.

It’s hard to explain this subject with such a wide paint brush, which obviously isn’t fair, or even helpful.  But here’s my suggestion:  If you find yourself in this downhill struggle, make sure your marketing research is correct, collect data that cannot be argued, then defend it.  If necessary, go back and do more research (until you release the product, it’s never too late!).  Without it, you have no argument and you might as well go along for the (bumpy) ride.

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