Dan's Blog

July 21, 2010

Transferrable skills and attitudes

Filed under: Customer Service,general,job search,Product Management — ddswanson01 @ 12:29 pm

I am interested in two different types of positions, Manager of Customer/Product/Software/Technical Support and Product Manager for Software Products and Services.  I keep running into people who don’t quite see how closely related the two positions are, and how the attributes of a good Support Manager transfer to Product Management. I am looking for a position as either type of Manager; I’m hoping this post will highlight some of my skills and show how they transfer…

I am a very good Manager of Support (actually, I’m outstanding, but I’m too modest to say that – oops, no I’m not!, I have references to prove it, too) and I am certain I would be a very good Product Manager. At my last job I actually received an award for filling in for a Product Manager in the development of 2 software products, so I have potential!

Here are a few attributes that I believe make a good Manager of Support, related to attributes of a Product Manager.

  • Ownership of the Product. Support is a product. It is mostly a ‘service product’ as opposed to a physical product, but it is one of your company’s products and everyone who contacts your support organization will add their impression of your support to their evaluation of your company. The Manager of Support is responsible for the quality of the support content, the quality of the delivery of the content, the infrastructure required to deliver the content, the relationship between support and other stakeholders and insuring that the overall Support product suite is current and meets customer needs and the company’s business objectives.  As well, the Manager of Support needs to work with the business office to develop a sustainable long term support strategy that aligns with the goals of the company.Product Ownership is an attitude. It means ‘I am interested in everything that relates to my product, and I want everything that is related to be the best.’ Successful Support Managers have to have it; successful Product Managers as well.
  • Uncovering and documenting stakeholder needs.  As Manager of Support, I dealt with customers and internal stakeholders, all of whom needed something from my support group, on a daily basis. Determining their actual needs, rather than what they originally expressed, is extremely important, as working on the wrong issues is very unproductive.Documenting the needs and making them into action items is even more important. The people or groups who will take action are usually less familiar with the operation of the software than a support agent (or the Product Manager) and the universal response to a poorly-documented action item is ‘I can’t figure out/replicate the issue; I need more details and a better explanation – and I’m not going to do anything until you give me a better description.

    Product Managers work with the same product stakeholders as those who support their products. The issues are the same – uncovering the real issues and documenting them concisely and accurately.

  • Developing Product Strategy. A good Support organization requires a long term strategy, which acknowledges and integrates with the company’s business strategy and the product strategies of the various Product Managers. It is important to offer valuable support products, adding new products and perhaps sunsetting older products, as time goes on. The strategy should be reviewed every year (or more) and adjusted as required to accommodate new technology (for example, how is social networking going to be integrated into support?), changes in the user base, and changes in the vision and/or mission of the company.The Manager of Support is responsible for the development, implementation and maintenance of Support strategy, just as the Product Manager is responsible for the Product Strategies.

In addition, both types of managers are intimately familiar with the software development process, often having worked as a developer or closely with developers in a prior position.

There are a lot more similarities, but I try to stress these ones.  Nobody goes to school to learn to be a Product Manager or a Manager of Support (this is changing, so it might not be ‘nobody’ now, but the number is very few); everyone who does these jobs learns on the job. It seems to me that the skills learned in either one of these positions is a very solid background for the other.

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