Tag Archives: Product Management

Product Management – Solution versus Product. What is the difference?

What is a solution and what is a product? Like everyone else I have struggled with this question for a long time.  How differentiate between the two? Solutions are mixture of various components where the sum of the components are greater than their parts. A product is a singular component that solves a singular purpose. This explanation sounds very easy conceptually but when you try to implement it practically, it is very hard. But it need not be.  Solution and product depend on the problem that is being solved. Now let me assure you all I am not an expert at this and what I am writing is strictly based on my experience, so feel free to disagree with me and provide your feedback to me on this topic so that I can improve my understanding.  When I am not able distinguish between the two i.e. solution or a product. I take a look at something that we all take for granted each day, when we are thirsty we need a drink. Let us a take take a closer look at this.

Problem:  I am thirsty
If I am thirsty, I usually have a few options. I can go the cheap route and grab myself a glass of water or  the expensive route get bottled water (funny same water packaged in a bottle is more expensive, but we will get to that part later). I can even get a  bottle of juice if I feel that I need something with a little more taste. Now water, juice, and energy drinks they are products if my perspective was to quench my thirst, then any of them would be a suitable product to quench my thirst. But suppose my intent is in the context of an  athlete and as part of my athletic regimen, I did not want to dehydrate or get a cramp while I am training or physically exerting myself.
Problem: I sweat a lot and hence dehydrate and cramp up, I need something to replenish my energy
Whoa ! what just happened here? We just went from me being thirsty to me not wanting to dehydrate and wanting to replenish my energy, and there lies the subtle difference between product and solution. In order to make sure that my energy and dehydration problem is solved I do not need just a product, I need a solution to my problem.  Now that solution could be a product or a group of products but the sum of all capabilities of a product (products) solves my problem of not dehydrating and still being able to enjoy peak performance. 
So when a product or a set of product tends to focus on the bigger  problem that a person is having, the propensity to do what it takes to solve the problem is greater. Because the cost of not fixing the issue has serious consequences (based on the context). Now even if I was thirsty and I decided to forgo my drink of water for a few more hours it generally does not hamper my overall performance and I can always make up for not having water later anyways (through drinking coffee, tea or something else). 
Oh! I almost forgot about the bottled water reference earlier, is the filtered bottled water a product or a solution ? I say it is all a matter of perspective. Please feel share your thoughts on this one.
You can contact me @ kkanakas on twitter with your comments

Strategy – What is Strategy ?

Every time I hear or read the word “Strategy”, I have to pause and think, what is the person actually saying. Based on my assessment in most cases the term tactic passes as Strategy. But why is that ? You might say. Because Strategy sounds better, take a look at the following exchange that I overheard while I was shopping at a stationary store:
Person 1: We provide coupons help bring customers to our stores 
Person 2: Oh yeah, how has that strategy worked so far ?
Person 1: Well it paid off big time on black friday 
                                 What is wrong with this exchange. I was tempted to interject, but I stopped because it was a conversation between 2 people and they did not ask me for my opinion and secondly even if I was asked for my opinion I would have not been able to articulate it well. Why? Because their exchange had irritated me so much and along with the fact that my brain was flooded with so many ideas to correct these guys that my mouth would have not been able to keep up. I would have ended up sounding a like fool instead. 
                          But that exchange between the two people highlighted something that I deal with everyday. There are so many people that use the term strategy to make their idea (i.e. tactic) sound important. I am not saying that strategy is something that cannot change, it can and it should, what I am going to share in this blog post is the way I classify the term strategy. Strategy is all about capturing value i.e. you try to find a section of the market that is underserved or not being utilized and you build a product or service that generates value to the customer in an efficient, cost effective and profitable manner.  Strategy is ultimate simple word that hides a lot of complexity. Since humans are simple beings we tend to confuse a tactic as strategy (BTW just of the record that store providing coupons  to it’s customers was actually a tactic not strategy, the strategy of the store might be  to increase the sales per sq. foot or something) .
                       Strategy has its roots in  Economics, Organization Design, Finance, Accounting (yes Accounting), Marketing, Statistics, Supply Chain, and Sales.  So Strategy cannot work in isolation even when someone says “I am developing a Sales strategy”, it is assumed that the other elements have been optimized enough to support a particular sales strategy (a sales play is not strategy it is a tactic).

So what is a tactic ?  Tactic could either product, promotion, or service  it is the execution arm of strategy and tactic (product/service) can continue to change at a greater pace than strategy.  Strategy is turn is built upon a vision and hence strategy can change because it all about capturing value but maybe not at the same rate as a product (strategy is not about increasing sales. If you provide value the sales will follow). Vision of a company usually takes longer to change.
                                  Most of my friends know that  I am an Apple fanboy and it is not just because I am addicted to their products but Apple is one of the few companies that illustrates these points well (BTW I am not being paid by Apple to write this blog, I just love what they do).
Apple’s Vision: Enrich peoples lives with their products
Apple’s Strategy: The best integrated experience of software, hardware, and services
Apple’s Products: I think we all know these really well

Other companies that exhibit these traits are  Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, Brembo,  Lincoln Electric, P&G  etc. There are a lot a good companies that understand such distinction.

Maybe next time when I hear someone talk about coupons as a strategy, I might be able to collect my thoughts better and explain the difference.

(BTW I am not claiming that I am in expert in strategy or that  I know enough about strategy. Like the blog says these are just my musings. If you find something else that has better explanation of strategy please let me know)

You can contact me @ kkanakas on twitter with your comments


Product Management – How to say No!

It is very hard to say NO but sometimes you have too, in order to focus, You have to say No!

If you are like me there are several things both at work and life that demand your attention but understand that you cannot satisfy all the demands. When you go down the route of satisfying every demand you invariably end up cutting corners. Cutting Corners = Nobody is happy.

                             But saying No does not come easy, in order to get started down this route  it requires some homework to be done. Here are some of the rules that have worked for me :
  • Set your goals 

                 I know this sounds corny, but trust me having a set of goals helps you understand what you want to accomplish and if there are demands being made that are orthogonal to your goal. Well put them to the side or just don’t take on those demands (i.e. say NO). I was initially doubtful that this technique worked, but in my past experience as a product manager, I applied it and to my surprise it worked

  • Look at what you have on your plate and really assess if you can add value by doing everything or the additional demands that are being put on you

              I am not a “multitasker” and I am not ashamed to say it.  In order for me to get the job done well I need to concentrate on the work at hand. Whenever I sign up for key projects I look what I have on my plate and assess the level of effort required that is my liking. Like every other type A personality I don’t like “good enough”. If I cannot justify that I will be able to do a good job on a project then my involvement in the project is not meant to be. I apply the same logic to my meetings. There are some folks who believe being in more meetings apparently adds value to the work people are doing. I believe that meetings to have a clear outcome (i.e. inform or call to action) otherwise having a meeting to have a meeting is just a useless waste of time. BTW it did take me a long time to get this place and I am still learning at this skill.

  • You can say NO politely 

          You really don’t have to be a d**k  about saying No. You can do it politely and make sure you don’t burn any bridges.  Burning bridges can haunt you later in your career or future business relationships. The other day some one wanted me to review a document and told them politely “I would love to, but I am tied up with another key deliverable and I won’t be able give the document the proper attention it deserves”. It took me several years to perfect that line, I think I have finally cracked it. 

Just being busy for busy-ness sake does not make you productive or useful to anybody you are working for or with. There is no substitute for listening well, although my wife would argue that I still don’t listen well. To me that just means there is room to get better.  Just like everything in life, transformation happens in increments and learning to say No will happen that way as well.      
You can contact me @ kkanakas on twitter with your comments