How Fundamental Business Principles Drive Modern Product Management
There is a lot of buzz about product management. So many people want to get in the field. It is a fun, exciting profession and is getting the limelight like never before. But product management has been around for a long time. It has evolved over the years, thankfully. But much of modern product management is rooted in fundamental business principles. We sometimes overcomplicate product management and it can help to look back at the areas we can focus on to be successful.
In this episode, Anneliese Olson, former SVP & Global GM for HP’s Print Category joins to discuss how we can leverage some foundational concepts to drive modern product management.
Defining “fundamental business practices”
Discussing “modern” product management
How lifecycle management influences what we do
What product managers can do to ensure these principles are being used to drive work and decisions
how product leaders can create an environment conducive to success
Advise for product folks can build their business acuity
Connect with Anneliese:
product, people, product managers, lifecycle, customer, management, business, question, create, environment, fundamental, leader, career, data, piece, resources, kinds, geoffrey moore, understand, important
Intro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 00:03
Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all it product voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.
Hello, Welcome to Product Voices. So there is a lot of buzz about product management these days, so many people want to get into the field. It's certainly a fun, exciting profession. And it's getting the limelight like never before. But the truth is product management has been around for a long time. It's evolved over the years thankfully, but much of modern product management is rooted in fundamental business principles. And frankly, I'm one who believes that we sometimes overcomplicate product management. I think if we take a step back and really look at the areas we can focus on to be successful, I think that that tends to bode well for us. So today's conversation is all about modern product management. But how we can lean on some fundamental business principles to drive that. My guest today is Anneliese Olsen. Anneliese is formerly the Senior Vice President and global GM for HPs print category owning a $17 billion p&l. She had a distinguished 25 year career at the company. She's currently on a personal sabbatical or gap year as she calls it. I may ask you about that, because I want to learn about that sabbatical. Anneliese, thank you so much for joining me.
Oh, thank you, JJ, happy to be here.
I'm looking forward to the conversation. So first, let's jump in. Let's define some things just to kind of set the stage. What do you think of when I say fundamental business practices? What does that mean to you?
Yeah, you know, it really is about Foundation. And I think as you said, while there's evolutions of what product management is, it does come down to those foundational elements that are consistent and somewhat tried and true. If you think about how somebody creates products, develops products, launches products, there's really, you know, the lifecycle of what that means for how you plan it and bring it to market. It's focused on knowing your target customer and creating a value proposition that resonates for them. It's budgeting, strategic planning, creating roadmaps, setting priorities, and ultimately, also creating the right kind of environment with teams of talent to deliver outcomes on time and on budget.
Yeah, absolutely. So so when we kind of second definition that I want to just set the stage, I hear the term and I've literally just use the term modern product management, tell me what that means to you, maybe in the context of how you've seen product management change over the years?
Sure. You know, it's, it is funny when you think about the lifecycle of, you know, of products of, you know, what's hot and cool trends, all of those kinds of things. And so, sometimes when I think about, you know, when you look at what's modern, now, some of it's just that it's become modern again. So you'll, you'll hear a little bit of that, but a couple of things. One is, you know, the, to me modern product management, it has has changed over the years, in that the product management function, or let's say a product manager, really is the CEO of that business, the best product managers, I see the ones that understand it's not just about the product, it's about, you know, it's about the customer. It's Is there a sustainable business model? It's is there longevity in thinking about all of the touch points that this product or service delivers, because ultimately moving to an outcome based focus for the business is, is really I think, in this modern day, what many business models and senior leaders are looking for, but also it's a it's a more modern way to talk to customers as being outcome based.
I think you know, the reason I say the CEO of the product, it has to be multifaceted. You are as a product manager or as a product leader. You are the one making sure that you know what the company delivers is serving customers. Have you thought about You know, the the marketing perspectives that you've done all the four P planning, but also nowadays there's accountability of Do you know how to talk to senior management and sell your ideas? Do you know if you know, the are you advocating for the customer and the direction and creating the right TAM, of how big an opportunity could be. So to me, it just is the modern view means you can be the CEO of your product or your team or your business. But but, you know, really make sure you're looking at that entire lifecycle. And then the last piece, I would say, one of the pieces that makes things much more modern, and some of this is the shift from, let's say, more traditional hardware to software and services all although good goodness hardware is at the center of many of the things still that we do even services and subscriptions is that there's a you know, the notion of Agile is not just about software development, but agile and experimentation, you know, what is a minimum viable product? What can be shipped? And then do you have as a product manager, the skills to think more about experimentation and agile? How can you deliver with less money and get something out the door, so that customers, you know, you develop in public, right, you hear that theme coming a lot now of, you know, get something out to market and then test and go as a as sometimes a much better strategy than, you know, perfecting and cooking in a lab for years, before something, you know, kind of comes to market. So I could there's definitely a couple of other themes, but I think those those three are big ones.
Yeah, I agree with all of that. And I think, I think, to me, the most impactful if you will change over product management over the last decade or so is that, that experimentation, and regardless of the type of product, obviously, software product, it just lends itself, you know, purely digital products, you really shouldn't be doing anything else. But even hardware products and physical products, etc. You know, hopefully, companies are getting more to where they're, you know, experimenting, they're getting upfront, you know, validation. And, like you said, I mean, there, there was a time in my career Early, where you really did work in a quote unquote, lab for, you know, a year or so and then throw something out to market. And it sounds so ridiculous now, and it's not that we, you know, we're intentionally doing the wrong things, we thought we were doing the right things, we were talking to customers, we're doing it all, we just we've learned, right. And so I think that I think that's the most important change, if you will, is that, you know, product management is the the expert on the problem, and to really understand that and then and then tie it into the solution, we've got to, you know, constantly validate, experiment, etc. And that's, again, not always how it was done. Now, with that being said, the fundamental or foundational business practices, you know, they're still there, it's to me, it's, it's about, we do it differently, not that we necessarily do a lot of different things, we just do the things that that drive businesses and have for years, we do them differently, the mechanisms that we use to, to learn and to put something out in market are a little bit different.
And, you know, it's interesting that you bring up the CEO of the product, you know, idea, I know, a lot of people kind of shy away from that, that idea, or that saying, CEO, or the product for whatever reason, it's, there's, there's folks, you know, it's like we invent these things to, you know, argue about. But what's interesting to me is that I don't care what you call it, your points are the right way. Like to be a really great product manager, yes, you've got to understand the problem and the solution, but you've got to understand the quote unquote, business around it, right? You don't have to be the CFO, you don't have to be the CMO, you don't have to be, you know, the the CTO, but you do have to understand how it all kind of fits together. Because products are in many ways, a microcosm of the business. And so, I agree that it's yeah, you know, it's a, that's what's fun about product management to me is that, you know, we get to dip our toes in all of these areas, but it's also the thing that's can be a little bit, you know, make it complex, if you will, so
So you've mentioned earlier about lifecycle management and kind of managing the lifecycle of a product and how we kind of use foundational practices, if you will, across that tell me a little bit more about what that means to you what what's Lifecycle Management how's it play here? Tell me more about that.
Yeah, well, I you know, the lifecycle I think can come in a in a number of different ways, but I mean, for for business for product managers for careers, you know, whatever. And I think that when, you know, a lifecycle also can be a different timeline, right, depending on what kind of business, you know, people are in a lifecycle of a, of a service, a lifecycle of a piece of hardware in the healthcare industry could be very different than something in the IT or computer industry, right. So, so the time base isn't so important is lifecycle as much as really thinking about even things like, you know, Geoffrey Moore, and the framework of a category where, you know, you, and this is kind of how I was trained in fundamentals kind of coming up through my career of, you know, you look at, you know, what are the early, you know, what's an early market stage, you know, what is the chasm that's going to be a catalyst for growth and, and, you know, going into bowling alley tornado, things like that. There's different business considerations that product teams need to be thinking about, and business questions that need to be addressed in each of those places, when you know, something is growing like crazy. You, you have to really make sure what are the processes that are repeatable? Yeah, what kinds of things you outsource versus INSOURCE in terms of the IP and you know, what is really the magic sauce for what you know, somebody might be delivering for a customer? You know, how do you manage on once a product is on Main Street, right? People get freaked out about cutting costs, and how to make things more efficient. But that is an amazing set of skills that product managers could have as well, when you think about, you know, are you shipping a million of something a month. And if you could actually free up some money, or some resources, and reinvest that in another stage of the lifecycle upfront, or an adjacent product or a new category. You know, those also are great skills that you know, product managers think about. So depending where a product is, in its lifecycle, there's different questions and skills that come up.
There's different types of innovation that come up at those times. And even when a when a market is, you know, starting to decline. You know, one of the other things that I love about life cycles is you can think about, what is it that you're Are you staying up to date with your customer? Are you managing your customer lifecycle, not just the lifecycle of the product? If customers do different things, through stages of their business, their life, their family, whatever, you know, your category or market you're playing in, you can also use that same frame of reference, you know, what is it? A great one example right now is around sustainability. So people have products and technology that are used, how long can they be used? Can they be repaired? Can they be fully recycled? If you're using 100%, recycled plastic or recycled, you know, paper and cardboard and the what and what not? Even those are lifecycle questions that can can really invigorate how you tell a story to a customer, how you talk to your employees and your team about innovation, and how you stay relevant as a product or as a company.
Yeah, such such great perspective there. I want to ask you a question about how, like, let's get tactical here. So you and I both know that in, especially in large organizations like HP and other very successful global organizations, there, it's huge, right? And lots and lots of employees and people focused on certain areas. So yes, product managers need to understand the business impact, they need to understand a little bit about supply chain and marketing and finance, etc, etc. But there are supply chain groups, and there are finance groups, and there are engineering groups, and they're the ones who are technically responsible for everything. Well, that's where it gets into, we've got to, you know, influence, you know, and all of that kind of stuff, right? Because we don't we don't control all of these things as product managers. What have you found that product managers can do or maybe even product leaders can do to set the right environment but, you know, product managers can do to ensure that even if they're trying to be these well rounded business people that they can influence those other parts of the organization to align with their vision for their particular product.
Yeah, absolutely. I there's two, there's two key pieces to to this and one is product managers are the storytellers.There is no question and people can do this at any stage of their career, you know, there are amazing resources about out in the marketplace, about how to tell good stories, there's master classes about it. And there can be stories that are, you know, three minutes, or the seven points storytelling, you know, there's frameworks everywhere. And, you know, storytelling is what motivates people to be either interested, it motivates towards alignment, it creates a motive at times, right, there's people are motivated in their jobs, buy different things. And so, storytelling, to me is a skill that is, is crucial for product managers to help work across silos and motivate different kinds of people inside and outside their company, particularly if you, you know, partner, you know, in across industries and different things as well. The second one is the use of data, and how being the steward of the customer means you also need to be, you know, leading and sharing around customer insights. You know, what, what is it, you know, if you're talking to somebody in the supply chain, and it's about, you know, needing to improve cycle time, or, you know, something in a manufacturing line isn't happening fast enough, or with the right quality, replicated or something like that, you know, what data? Can you as a product leader, as a product manager bring to the table, not just always about arguing your point, and that we all know, a lot of that fundamental, I think that yes, data is good. But it's in support of thinking, you know, again, as that steward, you know, why why does quality need to be improved? In this instance? Or, hey, we hit a quality metric that's good enough, well, what if something isn't working the way a customer expects to? And they use it in a different way? And then there's a quality issue? Well, let's think about what are customers doing with our products? And how can that data then, you know, come into the table in a supply chain conversation, or a finance conversation, or whatever. And so I think storytelling, and then, you know, the customer insights and data sets that can be used, that those two things are the top what I've seen, and what I've experienced over the top ways to influence, you know, our cross functional partners, you know, around around the company, or sometimes also, in the partnerships that you have to find, and partner with externally as well, to get people rallied around a particular, you know, action or proposal.
Yeah, I too, have seen those two things work wonders when it comes to getting people on board, especially the story telling, and especially if you can combine the two, right? If you can use the data, right, the story behind the data and the and, you know, not just throw out numbers, while that is sometimes very important, and certainly better than kind of subjective platitudes. But I love that storytelling, and data is definitely one of those things that product managers should, should use to influence. So so same, maybe a little different spin on the question or a different way that product managers can think about this.
So that last question was kind of assuming they already have the business acumen, if you will, too. And then they just need to influence others. But let's take a step back and say, Okay, how would you advise product folks to kind of start with a mindset I think is the way it starts is kind of a mindset perspective of this is who I need to be, I need to understand all of this, I don't have to be an expert in all of these, but I need to understand the overall business impact. And, you know, the customer and the business impact the experience. And again, those fundamental business practices, how would you advise product folks, or how have you seen product folks really start to build that, that that toolbox, that skill set in themselves?
Oh, wow. Yeah. You know, it's interesting, because a lot of like you said, there'll be people who kind of come in and say, Well, I know, being a product manager is one of the ultimate jobs, you know that. So therefore, I'm going to be one, which is great, but a lot of it comes through doing and when I say doing, it may be that someone doesn't yet have their dream, you know, I don't know product management job, or they want to be Product Manager for something in particular, but they may have to start with a subset of a product. You know, maybe somebody's working on the product team, and they're responsible for digital documentation, not the entire product, right or something like that. And I think I think that at, you know, being it, you kind of have to create both things are two things side by side. One is, you know, the environment where you are, you know, contributing. And I always was talking about, I always talked about managing the scenes as a key skill set for somebody who, you know, wants to be in product management. But But I don't know, for me personally, and others I've seen for a longevity of a career in other, you know, senior leadership functions over time, but managing the seams, figuring out what's, you know, what am I observing? What's what's missing? What relationships do I need to build early on in my career, even if I'm not yet at my dream job, or whatever. But, you know, thinking about product management in that way, where are the seams, where are the gaps, the gaps in data, the gaps in the team, what work is getting dropped, that is, I think, is really important. All of that kind of theme, it will teach you a lot about prioritization, it'll teach you about working and collaborating with different kinds of people, it will help you, I think, look at data in new ways and kind of practice and stretch your muscles. So I always kind of call it you know, managing the seams, because it's such a great skill set, irrespective just the product management, but where somebody can start without yet being in their ultimate job. Or if somebody's trying to pivot from one, you know, one type of function or job into product management. That's kind of one of them.
The other, I think, is starting to understand the, you know, in addition to all the fundamentals, we talked about, you know, target customer value proposition, you know, those kinds of things you pick up and come practice and learn along the way, is some of the other frameworks around product management. There's, there's multiple ones kind of out there. I mentioned Geoffrey Moore, with the chasm. There's the the lifecycle management pieces that I talked about. But but it's also understanding things, you know, McKinsey has a great framework around now, new and next write thinking about how, you know, what, what is everyone working day to day now on the roadmap on the product on the vintage chart, versus what kinds of things are coming next, that are new, that are coming down the pike? And then what's next about what could be disrupted to the business model and things like that? And while sometimes people think, Well, those are, you know, really big questions, and that's what senior leaders do.
You can do that no matter where you sit in a company earlier in early in your career in a function that's not yet in, you know, you're not in product management yet. But you can think about those business types of questions, those customer types of questions. And we've done even in your day to day work, you know, before you're officially a product manager, or officially a product leader. And so there's kind of the, the the practical, you know, hands on piece with, with frameworks and skills and all of that. But then there's, as I said, tying it back to kind of managing at the seams, you know, almost you could create your own adjacency, or career path towards product management, when you're known for being a collaborator, and you're known for looking around the corners, and you're known for, you know, paying attention to what's missing.
I love that, that advice, those resources, by the way, that the last question I usually ask every guest is, what resources have you found very valuable. So you just mentioned a lot. And so we're going to, we're going to link to those in the show notes. So that's amazing and awesome. And quick shout out to you mentioned McKenzie, having kind of this new roadmap, quick shout out to Jen Abasto, who has been on the kind of the vanguard of the now next later roadmap and getting away from some of the kind of stringent, you know, hurdles, if you will, of roadmapping and really looking at it from a strategic perspective. So I love that.
So, so last question. On this kind of particular theme is from a leader perspective, right? Because you've you've led huge organizations, you've you've led, you know, lots and lots of p&l and lots and lots of people. How do leaders set up an environment where product managers embrace the mindsets and the skill sets and not only know that it's important for their role, but also are in an environment where it's, it's safe, it's, it's the you know, the culture, the mechanisms, everything is set up for them to succeed in that in that area. Any specific things you could advise leaders on?
Yeah. I mean, culture, what's the famous quote, right? Cultural is eats strategy for breakfast? Right? It's, it's, it is absolutely fundamental of what what can you do to create the right kind of environment to, you know, foster innovation and, you know, have have, you know, get the best out of all these people in diverse teams, to serve customers, I think is really what we should be getting up out of bed every day to do I think, you know, a couple couple of ideas. I mean, one is, you do have to create that kind of, you know, I call it, some people call it psychological safety, but it's also just the environment of we tell the truth, right? We how, you know, we can't, we need to have the data, we need to address the problems, we need to get things out on the table, and how do you create that environment where, you know, I hated surprises, you know, one of the things I always talked to people about is, it's going to always be better if we bring up bad news, or, you know, how are we going to work through this? Or it's okay, that we, you know, we don't agree, we can debate here we can, you know, we're inside the locker room we're doing, you know, this is what we need to do to hash things out. And, and, you know, so that was a big part of what I spent time on is, you know, where is all the information coming in? How can we get this open in a way, so people's voices are heard, or just, you know, various opinions are heard? I think the other one is very much around kind of this growth mindset.
You know, Carol Dweck is another, you know, a lot of work, I think, you know, that has evolved for for good cultures there, which is, I can't do that yet. Not not, you know, it's not I can't do it, it's, I can't do it yet. Oh, we can't figure this out. Yet. We can't hit that quality standard yet. And even that setting that tone, as a leader, you know, asking asking questions, being able to figure out, you know, what, what can and can't be done running a lot of kind of what if scenarios, and really, it comes down to, you know, being both curious and being comfortable, you know, being comfortable in the uncomfortable, right. And so, how how, you know, I foster that as a leader with a lot of behavior, and you have to, you know, walk the talk and do all of that, but also giving, you know, tools for other leaders in your teams to set that kind of environment. We've done a lot of crowdsourcing of ideas, using these great tools in teams and other things now, where, when people see that, oh, so and so's working on this, and what if we could solve it this way, you don't have to have 17 meetings, somebody's like, Hey, can we fix this file that now we can pull sensor data that, you know, can come faster, once a week and do like this, and you'd be amazing, you'd be amazed at what you can unlock. And people, when you have that kind of, you know, growth, mindset, creativity, there's never a bad question. And, you know, build that camaraderie across people. And I've had to do it around the world, you know, you can do it with tools, you can do it across different cultures, you know, it doesn't always have to be because somebody's all sitting in the same room. But, but culture really is at the heart of what people can do every day, and how you can unlock their best work is really, you know, kind of providing, you know, providing the right environment to be able to do that.
Great advice, I love that and spot on, it's so important. And it's, you know, if the environment isn't conducive, it's, it's almost impossible to, to, you know, be as successful as we would like. So, I've got to go back to the sabbatical year, this is just so awesome. And I want to learn more about it. So tell me, tell me about it. You know, how, what led you there? You know, what you've been doing? And because even if, you know, folks out there listening, though, you know, are unable to take a year off any time of reflection is really important for us, especially in the roles that we have. So just tell me about it, what you've learned along the way and kind of what your plans are.
Yeah, sure. Yeah, it's some people think I'm crazy, but you know, I, I had a great career at HP loves the people, the values, the technology, I mean, it's why I did stay there so long. But, you know, I, I, I've hit some things life stages wise for me, my kids are in college. So you know, out of the house, in what we talked about, and by US standards anyway, right? We kind of send them on their way. Um, You know, I moved back from Singapore to the US. And so that was kind of a catalyst for me. And then, you know, I really said, How do I keep growing and learning? Well, I want to try a new industry. But to be able to do that, you know, in a big, heavy busy job, you don't have that time for reflection. And I didn't feel like I had quite as much time for learning. So, you know, I planned ahead, I planned about a year in advance, you know, and then, you know, said, Okay, now I'm going to, I'm going to stop and pivot.
After I did refocus on physical health, and some hobbies, and a lot of those kinds of things, too, but purposely looked at, at some of the industries I'm interested in, and therefore went to go learn and take courses on blockchain. I have been working as a faculty member for a program called World 50, where they're, we're working with the next, you know, directors and vice presidents and things. And so I've been a faculty member there. And that's been great fun to do those leadership weeks. And, you know, I'm learning French, I'm doing a little a few other things. But mostly, it's given me the reflection time to kind of come back to what, you know, what am I really good at? How can I use these things and pivot to new industries? Because one of the things I think you really start to learn over your career is, there's things you're great at, and there's things you're not as great at? And so how, how do you just keep learning and amplifying what you're good at? It's amazing, people will say, Oh, I'm only a, you know, I only work in this industry, or I only work in this one. Well, all companies need product managers, you know, all companies are facing transformation in their business models, all companies are going through some kind of digital transformation right now.
Everybody always needs to figure out how to grow right, or how to maybe move money and resources to a different place. And so I think when you do that inventory of skills, I'm just looking at all the different ways that I can apply them going forward. I am next year, I do plan to get a new role. And we'll be very energized and reinvigorated for it. But I think this lifelong learning theme really is at the core for it for me, because it does, you know, give you constant energy, because there's always more stuff to be curious about. And that keeps me on my toes as well.
I love that. I love that insight. And thank you for sharing that part of your story. I think it's again, it's fascinating, but it's it's also regardless of what what amount of time you anyone has to reflect on, on who they are, where they want to go. I think it's really, really important. So thank you for for sharing that part of your story and the learnings that you've had there. Anneliese Olsen, this has been just an amazing conversation. I've loved the discussion. And thank you so much for sharing your insights. I appreciate you joining me today.
You bet. Thanks, JJ.
And thank you all for joining us on Product Voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.
Outro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 33:13
Thank you for listening to Product Voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website productvoices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.