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Product Manager: Strategist, Advocate, Keystone

Product Manager - Product Management

Product Manager - Product ManagementMovie stars, celebrities, and sportspeople have managers to take care of their business affairs. So, why shouldn’t a superstar product? And if every product can aim to be a superstar, then they will all need their own Product Manager.

And that’s what we’ll look at in this article; the role of a Product Manager:

  • Why we need them
  • What they do
  • The breadth of their role

So, let’s dive into the world of Product Management.

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The Cone of Uncertainty

The Cone of Uncertainty

The Cone of UncertaintyThe Cone of Uncertainty is a concept from the world of Project Management. But, as an idea, it is so compellingly simple and so widely applicable, that it deserves a place of its own in our Big Ideas series.

So, in this article, we’ll take a look at what the cone of uncertainty is, and how it makes a helpful mental model in many contexts.

Continue reading The Cone of Uncertainty

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Balance is everything

So much of western thinking divides the world into four.  You only have to look at management models to see this at its extremes: psychometric profiling, such as DISC®, personality types such as Merrill-Reid or Lifo®, and most common of all, the innumerable “four box models”.  These all have something valuable to tell us, but are all hampered by two features: they allow only four classes in an infinitely varying world and they have to go to great lengths to then assure users that  some admixture of classes is not only allowed, but encouraged.

This is South Korea’s national flag.  It too represents an ancient division of the world into four components; in this case, the four major tri-grams of the I Ching stand for (clockwise from top left): heaven, water, earth and fire.


One model stands out by putting the balance to the forefront and making its four categories the secondary feature of the model.  This is Robert Kaplan and David Norton’s Balanced Scorecard.

Balanced Business Scorecard

In one of Harvard Business Review’s most read articles (it appears in their compilation of ten must-read articles), Kaplan and Norton set out how a business can achieve success by focusing on four different areas; not just on financial performance.

The principles at stake here are simple: if you build a great business, financial success will follow, focus only on the financial metrics and you cannot build a great long-term business, and if you are going to focus more widely, you need to develop measures of success that are as rugged as the well-established financial measured.

It takes me back to my old favourite adage: “what gets measured gets managed” – see the earlier pocketblog: “Are targets a waste of time?

Kaplan and Norton’s four Perspectives

The original article (Harvard Business Review Sept-Oct 1993) looked at a case study of engineering company, Rockwater, whose four perspectives were: financial, internal processes, innovation & learning, and customer.  These have become crystallised to the extent that many businesses take these categories off the shelf.


However, whilst they are valuable for many businesses, the principle of selecting four perspectives that can dictate the future success of your enterprise is far more general than this.  Whether you run a business, a public service, a charity or a small group of people in any sphere of life, the fundamental methodology holds: find your key perspectives and develop the measures that you value most.

A Balanced Scorecard Methodology

Seven steps are all it takes… and a lot of careful thought and involvement of colleagues.  Skipping those tough parts, here it is in a nutshell.

  1. Make sure you have a clear vision and strategy
  2. Find the performance categories that best link your vision and strategy to success (Here are some different examples: service standards, thought leadership, marketing activity, performance management, internal morale)
  3. For each perspective, define a small number of objectives that support your vision and strategy
  4. Develop standards or ways to measure progress and build simple systems to monitor and communicate performance against each perspective
  5. Spread the word throughout your organisation that these measures will drive your reward and promotion mechanisms
  6. Monitor performance and compare it with your objectives
  7. Take action to bring performance in line with your objectives

Some Management Pocketbooks you might like

The balanced scorecard can be used at several levels from strategy to day-to-day operations.

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Time to Plan

Whatever business you are in, and whatever level you occupy, now is the time to be planning for your next financial year.

Start with a Strategy

Every business needs to know where it is heading, and if you don’t choose that direction, it will be chosen for you by circumstances: your market, your competitors, and events.  You can better generate sustainable profits when you choose your market.

On the 24th January 1848, while building a sawmill for wealthy landowner John Sutter, John Marshall bent down and picked up a shining object from the river. It was gold! Then he found another, and then another.

Stories of the gold soon got round but there was no gold rush. Nobody believed the stories. So an enterprising San Francisco merchant, Sam Brannan, decided to capitalise on the find by spreading the word.  Consequently, the Gold Rush made Sam Brannan the richest man in California.

What was Sam Brennan’s strategy for getting so rich?
He sold shovels and pick-axes!

1903776139The Strategy Pocketbook gives you a wealth of tools to understand your business and its marketplace.



Next, you need a plan

By this time of the year, most businesses with a 31 March year end are well into their business planning.  One aspect of the process many of us forget – or feel more comfortable putting to one side – is disaster planning.  Whether you are a sole trader, an SME, or a global player, two things are true:

  1. You are not immune to disaster
  2. You won’t know how well prepared you are until you test your plans.  Don’t wait for nature to set up the test!

The start of your disaster planning process is to identify the threats to your business.  The new edition of the Business Planning Pocketbook offers you three broad categories of disaster to consider, when identifying your risks:


  1. Manmade Disasters
  2. Technological Disasters
  3. Natural Disasters



If you are fortunate enough to own both Strategy and Business Planning Pocketbooks, you can find some nice overlaps.  For example, you could apply PESTLE analysis (in the Strategy Pocketbook) to your disaster identification, to give you not three, but six categories of disaster:

  1. Political
    Okay, so calling the outcome of the next election a ‘disaster’ may be a bit much, but it could have significant implications for your business.
  2. Economic
    Arguably, we are on the way out of this economic disaster, but who knows?  Double-dip anyone?
  3. Social/Cultural
    Demographic trends and changes in the way people buy can destroy businesses – just ask the folk at Readers’ Digest.
  4. Technological
    Thankfully, the new models of computers and software never go wron&.  Bu£ let”s 7u$t t@ke a lo0k a! Toyota.
  5. Legislative
    How can changes in regulation and legislation affect your business?  Large additional costs can be de-stabilising.
  6. Environmental
    Mother nature has a way of hitting us back when we least expect it – and it is frequently below the belt!

So here’s the deal

Start planning for disasters today.  If you have a plan then test it – tomorrow.  And set aside time at least twice a year to get a range of people from within and outside your organisation around a table, to peer round the next bend to spot more possible futures.

Other Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

Figuring your way through the planning process …

And when it comes to implementation …

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