From Marketing to Product Management

Ivan Chalif is author of th eblog The Productologist. He is also a founding member of the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA). In addition to creating the original logo, and managing the website and forums, Ivan was instrumental in organizing early SVPMA events and establishing the organization’s charter.

1.What’s your academic background/training?
Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in Psychology and Counseling. While getting my undergraduate degree, my focus was on working with individuals with severe psychological disorders like Multiple Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia (which by the way, is not the same as MPD, even though they are commonly used interchangeably by the media), Bi-Polar disorder, and Depression. My graduate school work centered on working with young gifted students with behavioral problems. Learning to communicate effectively with both of these populations has gone a long way in contributing to my success as a Product Manager.

2.What did you do before you where a product manager?
Before I settled into Product Management, I worked in a variety of Marketing roles, including competitive intelligence, marketing generalist, webmaster, and application prototyper.

3.Where did you work before you worked for StrongMail Systems?The past few years, I have worked at Email Service Providers like Acxiom Digital and ValueClick. Before that, I was Director of Marketing at a small online agency and before that I worked in the library automation industry.

4.What inspired you to become a product manager?To be honest, I fell into Product Management. It combines many of the business functions that I enjoy (and some I don’t) and it was only through trying out other Marketing roles that I found out what Product Management actually was and started to get more interested in moving into that type of position. I am passionate about the user experience and in many organizations that starts with Product Management.

5.How did you make the move from being in Marketing to becoming a product manager?
I moved into Product Management through a hybrid role that combined Web Producer and Product Management functions.

6. What do you like best about your job?
The part of Product Management that I like the most is solving problems. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not working on solving a problem for a customer, prospect or internal user. It may be as simple as addressing a customer question or as complex as creating a brand new workflow for users, but it’s the challenge of overcoming the constant onslaught of problems that I find most stimulating.

7.What do you least like about your job?Meetings.

8.How do you keep up with the latest technologies?
I typically let my Engineers bring new technologies to me, but I keep my eye open for new UI features and capabilities in other products that I think might be useful for my users. I also subscribe to a number of usability- and technology-oriented RSS feeds.

9.Describe your Product Management job in one sentence.
Balancing spinning plates on a drinking straw while walking a tightrope as fast as you can with an itch on your nose.

10.What’s your dream product to manage?
In an ideal world, I would love to be the Product Manager of a motorcycle. I’ve been a fan of motorbikes since my youth and with “standard” bikes in particular. My two favorite bikes are the 1984-86 Honda CB700s and the 1986-87 Yamaha Fazer.

11.How would you describe managing product development before you/your company adopted agile?
Most of the companies that I have worked at have used a traditional or modified waterfall development process. There was one company where we used an iterative development process, but that was more a function of lack of development planning versus actually following an agile method. I am not convinced that an agile development process is ideal for every type of product, so I am not driving a change to that from our current process, but I would be interested in working with a development team that uses the agile methodology to see how it works first hand.

12. What would be the top three attributes you need to do your job?
a. The ability to make decisions quickly and effectively.
b. Being able to communicate with both internal and external stakeholders.
c. Comfort with a rapidly changing environment.

13. What’s the key attribute you need in order to work with the development team?The patience to see your plan through to the end. There is a constant tug-of-war between Product Management and Engineering. Product Managers want more features in less time; Engineers want fewer features in more time. There are compromises along the way on both sides, but don’t sacrifice key elements of the product plan because they are difficult or haven’t been done before. Stand up for your ideas, your product and your users. That’s what it means to be a Product Manager.

14. What do you do when you’re not managing products (outside interests)?
Besides spending as much time with my family as possible, I try to fit in a variety of physical and mental activities including, soccer (futbol for the rest of the world ), running, snowboarding, reading hard science fiction and political satire, and occasionally blogging.

16. What advice would you give some one who wants to become a product manager.
Product Management is a broad practice that is, at best, loosely defined. If you are thinking about becoming a Product Manager, try some adjunct roles first. Sales, Corporate Marketing, Support, and Professional Services (or Engineering, if you are technically-inclined) will all give you a good background and the skills necessary to be a successful Product Manager. If you are a new Product Manager, it’s easy to get sucked into doing things that aren’t really product-related. Stay focused on addressing the needs of your users and understanding your market. The rest will fall into place.

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