Product Manager Interview: David Locke

In our continuing series of one-on-one interviews with product management professionals, we’re talking with David Locke.

A veteran PM and consultant, David will be attending the next meeting of the Orange Country Product Managers group on February 10 as well as the Orange County Product Camp on February 27.

How does he see product management evolving over the next five years? What are the pros and cons of the growth in product management? Answers to these questions, and more, after the jump…

David, you express a definite point of view on product management. How would you define a successful Product Manager?

A successful product manager leads. Leadership begins with influence, and influence is the outcome of communications and a proactive time stance.

The successful product manager knows everyone that contributes to the current offer, and everyone that will contribute to the offer in the near future.

You know more than their names; you know their motivators, the way they define the work, the way they interpret the requirements, their definition of success, and those of their functional managers or business unit executives. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of communications.

What are the benefits of a “proactive time stance”?

Given that questions almost never happen proactively, and tend to happen in a reactive, work stoppage timeframe, any delay in answering causes a succession of problems and further delays.

A proactive time stance frees up time for the product manager, those bringing the product to market, and the executives of the company, and enables the product manager to answer questions that set policy and enable work, without incurring delays, or testing the boundaries of permission and forgiveness.

Answering the question on demand means knowing the boundaries of the answer ahead of time, and the exploration of those boundaries has to happen proactively.

What’s the single biggest mistake Product Managers make on the job?

Reactive work by Product Managers is a core problem.

For example, one Product Manager I know wasn’t getting what he wanted from development. The spec lacked details. The bug list was long.

He focused on the bug list, and didn’t make time for other issues within his scope. As a result, the gaps in the spec never got closed and the bug list kept growing.

Diving into the bug list forced him into a reactive time stance consuming the time he could have spent closing gaps in the spec, directing and answering the questions around those other issues.

Many of us have probably been in that boat. How do you effectively address that kind of situation?

Treat it like a bug. Solve the bug. Then, step back and do a manufacturing process type QA assessment.

Determine how you came to be in a reactive time stance, and create the means to keep you from falling out of the proactive time stance into a reactive one.

If there is too much on your plate, delegate some of it to someone you can trust. Check your assumptions: Where are the specs failing to communicate fully and clearly? When you discover information driving a change in the specs, how quickly do you get the word out?

Ask your audit questions, and find a solution to that reactivity. Don’t wait until everything has crept closer and is suddenly in your face, demanding attention, demanding more reactivity.

You’ve mentioned in your tweets the difference between getting a product adopted and getting it sold. Please explain.

Technologies are adopted. Products and services are sold.

Products and services are instances of the technology, and are intended to get the technology adopted.

Selling products and services provides us with cash and financial market glory. Your technologies (or those of other vendors that you use in your products or to provide your services) determines your place on the technology adoption lifecycle.

How do you see product management evolving over the next 5 years?

I’ve worked with product managers for a long time — as in, before Agile.

Product management has a past. And, it has a future. There seem to be more product managers than ever before. This growth has its upside, and unfortunately a downside.

The upside is that more people have a chance at the job. This drives certification and degree programs. The goal of these programs is to get more qualified people on the market, to increase the supply so the demand can be met.

However, as the demand gets met, you see pay drop and you see positions like junior product manager. You see the commoditization of product management. Yes, it has been happening for a while, and it will continue.

Last week, I came across a blog post about customer managers. Some of a customer manager’s responsibilities crossed over into the product manager arena, as well as that of the CTO or VP of R&D. Customer management won’t be showing up in startups in the near term, but it will show up in the big firms, particularly those with sales cultures.

Last question: What’s your favorite month of the year, and why?

As a person, I love the Christmas season. As a product manager, my favorite time is at the quarterly closes and the close of the fiscal year. The bonuses come out. The stock splits. Everyone gets rewarded and shares in the harvest.

Follow Up

Thanks, David! If you want to connect with David, follow him on Twitter @DavidWLocke. He often tweets around the metaphor, “Strategy as Tires,” which eventually end up at his blog at Strategy As Tires. He also blogs about product strategy issues and ideas at Product Strategist.

In addition to the Orange County PM events, David also attends the ExecTec Meetup near UCLA on Tuesday nights.

New Around Here?

Subscribe to the feed to receive future updates; follow me on Twitter or contact me through the blog to keep the conversation going.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: