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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February 9, 2010

A simple view of networking

Filed under: job search,Networking — ddswanson01 @ 10:06 am

When you are looking for work, one of the most often heard pieces of advice is ‘network, network, network and network some more’. Networking may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and even after almost a year of trying, I’m still not getting the hang of it, particularly the ‘cold contact’. Unless it’s been part of my job in the past, I’ve never been good at meeting new people. There are exceptions; playing volleyball or softball, for example, situations in which I am comfortable and know I have something valuable to contribute. The problem is self-confidence. I know why I want to talk to the Director of Product Development, for example, but why would s/he want to talk to an unemployed job seeker like me? How can I add value to that conversation and make it worth both our time? I have a good friend from college who has always been better at talking to people that he doesn’t know than I am, and who has gained a lot of influence over the years, started, bought, and sold companies, even a measure of fame. He told me a lot of interesting things about networking. I have a networking phone call today, so I’m going to use this opportunity to remind myself what I am bringing to the table.

First, a lot of folks network because they like it. They like meeting new and interesting people, talking about things that interest them, learning new things, and yes, they like helping people. I am always pleased when I am able to help someone else in a networking situation; why shouldn’t other people feel that way? On the other hand, there are people who don’t like networking. These people usually don’t participate, but hey, all that can happen is that they say ‘no’, right? Of course, being turned down is tough – one of my problems is that I take it personally. Instead, what you have to do is think ‘That person actually did me a favor; now I won’t waste my time there.’ It’s ironic: part of networking is an exchange of favors, so if someone turns you down for a networking opportunity, in a way, you have just networked successfully.

Second, the exchange of favors. Good will is the ‘currency’ (or ‘chips’) in the game of networking. But what makes it so interesting is that it is not a zero-sum game. To make things easy to talk about, let’s call the person from whom I am requesting an interview the ‘mentor’. It’s not always the case, but I need an easy name.

When someone networks with me, it is pretty clear that I have just benefited, and my supply of chips has grown. But how did I contribute to the growth of good will for my mentor? At the absolute minimum, my mentor may refer me to someone else in the network who might be able to help me. This does two things, at least:
· It tells me that my mentor thinks that referring me to someone else will not be a waste of the third person’s time. It affirms that my mentor feels that I have some intrinsic value to add to the network – and if you understand this, it will make it easier to initiate a networking opportunity, and make it easier to talk to that third person as well.
· It gives my mentor more good will, increases his/her supply of chips. Why? A very basic reason is that if I get referred to someone who hires me, that person has probably saved an agency fee, maybe a third or half my salary. When someone saves you that much money, generally your good will towards that person increases. That’s not the only benefit, but if you can’t think of _any_ other reasons your mentor might benefit from your interview, there is at least this one.

Most people don’t count their chips, i.e., keep a list of who owes a favor or how many favors are owed. There are people who do this, of course, but most networkers are happy to simply increase the supply of good will in the network. It is easier to work together with someone when there is good will between you, and someday you might benefit from the good will you added to the network, even years in the past.

Two other things:

If you are networking and someone makes an offer to you, to refer you, for example… even if you are uncomfortable accepting favors, don’t turn it down. What you are doing is in effect saying “No thanks, I don’t want to play. I’m not really interested in networking, which is mutually beneficial, I’m looking out for myself.’ I’m not sure the message you are sending is quite that strong, but you are being ungrateful, and NOT building good will. Because it IS a favor to your mentor when you follow up; it builds goodwill between your mentor and the third person. And this doesn’t just apply to people you approach for networking; if anyone you know offers you a favor, do that person a favor in return and accept it. It will make your friend fell good, and increase good will between you. And both of your networks have just benefited.

Make sure your mentor knows that you are willing to do something in return. Your mentor may not have a job for you, but might be looking for someone else. Ask. Maybe you can refer someone, and save an agency fee. Let your mentor know that there is now good will going both ways between you, and you are willing to continue to build that good will in the future.

Networking is way more complex than this. There are probably hundreds of thousands of books on networking. But to me, the most important thing I have to remember is that even though I am the one looking for a job and approaching someone who might be busy and who probably doesn’t have a job for me, just by accepting a networking invitation from me, that someone’s own supply of good will has just grown; therefore I am adding value to the network.

Now all I need to do is keep this in mind later!

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