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Product Manager Interviews: David Hudson

Today, we have another great conversation in our continuing series of one-on-one interviews with product management professionals. This time, we’re talking with David Hudson, Senior Director of Product Management/Product Strategy at CrownPeak Technology.

In this role, David develops and drives the product vision by unifying product strategy and execution with input and insight from the market, clients, and industry.

Prior to CrownPeak, David worked as a leader in the Information Architecture and User Experience disciplines, first at the pioneering web firm W3-design, later with USWeb/CKS, and finally at marchFIRST. David continues to guest lecture on IA, usability, and content management as part of the information science curriculum at UCLA.

What inspired David to jump from IA to product management? And if he won the lottery tomorrow, how would he spend his millions? Let’s find out…

David, tell us a little about your background. How did you enter product management?

I morphed into product management several years ago, following the overall “pattern” (where’s the sarcasm mark?) of my career path thus far.

A degree in communications focused on film & TV led to working at an Internet startup in the early 90′s writing tons of code… flowing into an associate partner role in heading up information architecture… and then to helping start one of the first SaaS companies, where our focus was content management. 

So, you’re comfortable wearing multiple hats, then?

Definitely — my colleagues and I wore a ton of different hats in those early days, but with growth, we knew formalizing our product management efforts were key to maintaining momentum. 

Having worked extensively in our services group while keeping an eye on the product, the switch made sense in that I’ve been able to transition deep customer understanding into tangible product strategy and development.

How has your IA experience helped you as a product manager?

My IA experience really gave me a sharp focus on how users interacted with information and products.  Combine this with the work in services to understand real-world customer issues, and a strong grip on the technical to know what’s possible/what isn’t, and it all made product management into the next exciting challenge.

In hindsight, it almost feels like I planned it!

What do you like most — and least — about being a Product Manager?

I have a love/hate relationship with my favorite part of product management, which is the whole cross-discipline aspect

How great is it to be able to work with development, with marketing, with clients, and with sales?  As product managers, we touch on so much and I relish being able to pull from all these sources to help deliver products that solve a multitude of problems. 

But it demands an incredible amount of organization and a focused process to keep everything balanced. 

Every so often, there are those days where things just aren’t in sync — the result is a lot of thrash with little output.  Those are the frustrating times.  That’s when a good methodology helps. You don’t need to follow it dogmatically, but it does help keep you grounded and get you re-focused.

What’s the biggest mistake you see PMs making — and how can that mistake be avoided?

The biggest mistake I see product managers making is assuming that they have all the answers — or all the “right” answers anyway. 

Product strategy and development are collaborative — being the “CEO of the product” does not mean you should be the “fascist dictator of the product“. 

I attended a lecture a year or two ago that featured several animation film directors. One of the directors was Andrew Stanton of Pixar and he was discussing the production process on Wall-E and what he said about working with his team really stuck with me for product management (paraphrasing): “It doesn’t matter who’s idea gets on the board — it matters that the best idea gets on the board“. 

As a Product Manager, that’s something I strive to do when working with my team.  I’ve got plenty of data to back up my conclusions and I’ll be fighting for them for sure, but I won’t be blinded by them either.

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

I think product management is in a bit of a thrash period at the moment — but in a good way. 

The explosion in types of companies being created to serve different audiences (mobile, hyperlocal, gaming etc.) combined with the ever growing ways for product managers to collect data and connect with customers (the whole social ecosystem) means that product managers need to be more flexible than ever in their approach to their job. 

So over the next 5 years, I think you’ll see many going to the established methodologies/frameworks in an attempt to wring some order from the chaos — but that for these newer companies, they will also “remix” those methodologies a bit to find what fits their model. 

Some will flourish, some will crash-and-burn, and I think there will be a lot of organic adjusting between the keepers of the methodologies and the practitioners as they find the right mix to fit the evolving business climate. 

The fundamentals of the process will stay the same, but the product managers that can apply their own nuances correctly to those fundamentals — and separate the signal from the noise inherent in social collaboration — those will have the best chance at success.

“Remixing” is an interesting word choice. Can you give us an example of how traditional product management methodologies might get remixed?

I think remixing is a fairly apt term for what’s going on out there, especially in light of things like the whole “lean startup” movement.

When I read through the general overview of that concept/methodology/manifesto/you-get-the-idea, it certainly has some of the high points of commonly accepted product management best practices: get out of the office, develop to the customer’s needs, agile development practices.

But I can’t help feeling they’ve tried to ratchet the speedometer up quite a bit in terms of speed of delivery, getting out of a standard software “release” mentality, and eschewing more of the organizational trappings of larger companies.

It’s certainly not a repudiation of “classic” product management, but a remix for what works in these smaller, more nimble environments.

Will this remixing only take place at lean startups?

Not by a long shot! In terms of companies using it: IMVU would be one (since Eric Ries, who really championed the concept is there) and Hitpost is another that seems to have embraced this.

These companies “get real” quickly… sure, they’ve got stealth time, but by and large, they’re iterating at an amazing pace, prior to your standard huge marketing/sales push.

In terms of companies that could make use of it… they’re an easy target, but Microsoft has to stand out. They’re starting to get better on things — thinking Project Natal here — but they could still use a massive kick in the product management pants.

How so?

I’ve been taken to task for this on Twitter, but the length of time it’s taking them to get Windows Mobile 7 out is borderline criminal. They’ve got the resources to dig deep and push it through, but one can’t help but think they should be giving Apple and Google more of a run for their money – and they’re not.

Although, perhaps just as it’s unfair to expect startups to function like large companies, perhaps we shouldn’t expect large companies to function like startups?

And now, the literal million dollar question: If you won the lottery tomorrow, how would you spend your millions?

Ah, the lottery question… after a rational-but-not-obscene-amount of “get comfortable” spending (pay off bills) — and this might sound incredibly corny — but I would donate to and actively participate in organizations helping the blind and visually impaired

My wife went blind a number of years ago and while it’s been challenging to say the least, she’s persevered thanks to an amazing spirit and great help from organizations like the Braille Institute and Guide Dogs for the Blind

Her guide dog “Anya” in particular has made a huge difference in her independence — so much so that I’ve volunteered as a puppy raiser for the organization for the past 4 years, raising 3 puppies in that time.  My first puppy made it to become a guide dog, and it’s easily one of the best accomplishments of my life.

Follow Up

Thanks, David! If you want to connect with David, please follow him on Twitter @TheDavidBase or visit his website, thedavidbase.com.

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