Latent Hero Series: #277 the Product Manager
A little while ago I blogged the praises of the librarian and their role in underpinning the success of EDA design, and specifically their unsung role in electrical interconnect and harness design. This time around I extol the professionalism and virtues of Product Managers – employees of Mentor Graphics whose contribution is not acknowledged enough to the success of the CHS application, the popularity and leading position it has in Automotive and Aerospace Electrical systems design.
A product manager does things which make for better software. What s/he brings to work first is an understanding the marketplace for automation and software in a domain. So your product managers who have worked on CHS generally came from a distinguished engineering career with a blue-chip company. Once lured by the dimly flickering lights of a career in software product management Product Managers get involved in making Mentor Graphics customers happy in ways I shall relate.
Occasionally the “management” part of the job title involves people, but more often than not it involves things and relationships between people rather than the traditional supervisory connotation of the word. And like most managers in a technology-rich discipline a major input is the making of changes in a planned or systematic fashion. CHS product releases are generally programmed to occurr twice per year. Each major release comes with a large number of new features. These new features are devised, specified, nurtured, championed and then delivered by product managers.
This is a global marketplace, and a geographically dispersed team is used to develop and deliver CHS. Visiting the co-workers and very importantly getting out and visiting customers is an important part of the monthly routine. Product management is by no means a desk-bound job. You can be in Japan one week, India the next, China the next month then touring the USA the month after, and squeeze in a trip or two around Europe in the hairline crevices of that schedule.
Product Managers for CHS are immersed in the software development process. They integrate plans to deliver new features with other product enhancement plans and pre-determined maintenance activity: the programming schedules are set and negotiated largely with their input. Resources are finite - and demand for coding and testing time invariably exceeds capacity. The close knowledge the intricacies of the code writing and quality assurance methodology which Product Managers possess is leveraged to meet customers’ requirements for new and strengthened features – support for new operating system revisions and perhaps new needs for regulatory compliance to name just two. And through the continual reviews of progress through the development life-cycle of CHS it is Product Managers who take on the responsibility to bring to you what you and your market segment wants. These are not people who are hidden in some back room somewhere – Product Managers have frequent interactions with customers continuing their visibility as practitioners in the world outside the software development cocoon. Even in these days when travel budgets are eroded by using web-based meeting technologies these are people who are likely to cross continents to talk with you about your business needs. They don’t just go the extra mile, they go the extra time zone.
Also product managers must find some time to amass a body of knowledge without equal in the CHS user base of how the product works and what it does from the inside to outside, from center to periphery. This is especially true as they are often given an area of the product they are specifically charged with being “architect” for.
Takes dedication and an appetite for hard work and a fair old size brain.
Product Managers’ knowledge is vital to interpret the mass of feedback coming from customer support events, community forum postings, interactions with sales prospects and the account management teams who service new business, and from the broader marketplace:- trade events and technology advances, or commercial realignments etc. CHS often has a broad scope when adopted as a large cross-department “game changing” deployment for a company, and Product Managers have to have the experience, the command of their product and industry to be able to have the insight of a client project manager motivated to get fast return on investment. So their perspective has to be both inside Mentor Graphics an outside Mentor Graphics one. A Product Manager’s personality, reputation and capabilities have to sum up to be equal to the trust they have as experts within Mentor plus Mentor’s customers trust in them too.
So you dunk a product manager in customer needs, and then you dunk them in the software development process and then you dunk them in successfully deploying new software in new business processes like dunking biscuits in your coffee. However product managers do not get all sloppy, weak and relaxed and fall to bits when they get into hot water.
Hurrah for the product managers of CHS!
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