Crossing the Chasm Lessons for New and Experienced Software Product Managers

Crossing the ChasmProduct managers of software products have several potential tools to consider and some vital ones that must be in their toolbox. These include knowledge of product management processes, skills leading teams, creating product roadmaps, managing portfolios, applying Lean Startup, performing Customer Discovery, managing development with SCRUM, and much more. It becomes overwhelming but many navigate it well, including the Senior VP I interviewed to learn his insights for being successful in the role. Jeremy Dillingham not only has the skills listed previously and more in his toolbox, he is also a Techstars mentor, an accelerator for technology startups. See link for podcast interview below.

The Role of Software Product Manager

Becoming a software product manager doesn’t happen overnight. One popular path is moving from software developer to project manager to product manager. Project managers are common in many organizations. They are responsible for successfully managing a project, a temporary endeavor to create a product or service, such as creating a software module or release. Helpful skills include managing a team, creating plans, controlling the execution of plans, and creating accountability for results. Project managers primarily interact with the project team and a few key stakeholders, such as the person funding the project. They tend to have moderate responsibility and little authority. Their accountability extends only to the objectives of the temporary endeavor.

In contrast, product managers have a larger purview than project managers and requires working across the functions of the  organization – marketing, sales, distribution/fulfillment, support, etc. Product managers benefit from having business acumen and understanding business concepts, like the role of vision, strategy, business models, etc. They are more likely to have both responsibility and authority with accountability that extends beyond completing the product, including meeting revenue expectations.

Learning from Failure how to Cross the Chasm

Products don’t always perform as expected in the marketplace. An example of an unsuccessful product resulted from not focusing on a single coherent market. Instead, the product was sold to 10 different customers in different niches. Getting a foothold in 10 markets might sound like an early win, but a single customer, or even a few early adopters, is not a foothold that provides growth. Instead of focusing first on a single vertical/niche and building a successful sales process for that vertical, their efforts were diluted across markets. Trying to satisfy the needs of each resulted in a Frankenstein product that finally had to be retired. This situation is addressed well in Jeffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm.”

The next product launch was different. Learning from the previous situation, it focused on a single vertical (niche), validating a market need, using a Lean approach with MVPs, and quickly closing sales and building revenue. By first focusing on a single vertical, they learned the needs of that niche and built a product that specifically solves their problems. In short time they became the go-to resource because they knew the problems and solutions so well. By dominating one niche they were ready to springboard to another when the time was right.

Listen to the interview with Jeremy Dillingham on The Everyday Innovator Podcast.

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Chad McAllister, PhD is a product innovation guide, innovation management educator, and recovering engineer. He leads Product Innovation Educators, which trains product managers to create products customers love. He also hosts The Everyday Innovator weekly podcast, sharing knowledge from innovation thought leaders and practitioners. Follow him on Twitter.

Chad McAllister




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