Interview with Prabhakar Gopalan

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Prabhakar Gopalan is Principal at Whole Mind Consulting, an Austin, TX based strategy and product consulting firm.

He will be speaking at the Product Management Festival on the topic of “The Whole Product Manager: a Craftmanship Approach”.

What skills does a successful product manager need to have?

Empathy for the user – The difference between building a product for yourself (a.k.a scratching your own itch) and building for other people is Empathy for the user.

Influence internal teams – Great product managers have a remarkable ability to influence internal teams – engineers, sales, business owners, marketers – to rally behind the product priorities and help deliver customer success.

Designing the user experience – When we say design, most people think of a pretty app or website. But designing user experience is much more than that. How the user experiences the product is for the product manager to design (not the ‘designer’s job’), and great product managers take the details to heart and design that experience.

What are the 3 most important activities a product manager should be responsible for – regardless of the market they work in?

Product Vision – Envisioning what the product can do now, and in the future is the product manager’s job. Product manager’s should be able to articulate the product vision constantly and coherently so there is no confusion about the product roadmap internally and externally. It is fine for the vision to evolve, change, but having no vision for a long period of time is not an option.
Product Requirements – Product Manager is responsible for what goes into the product. Prioritizing this aspect is both art and science. Heuristics can be helpful here to some extent. Empirical evidence helps when you are testing what works and what doesn’t. What is most important is the trust and acknowledgement of the product team that the product manager will deliver product success and is accountable for it.
Customer Success – Peter Drucker said “the purpose of business is to create a customer”. You can extend that idea here. The success of a customer is dependent on the product. And who else is more responsible for that than the product manager?

What are the biggest mistakes made in product management?

Not learning fast enough and applying the learning quickly
Not understanding the role of product management in running product management
Not measuring and managing Product Metrics

Where do you see improvements for the area of product management?

Product Managers need to think hard about experience design. It sounds cliched, but take a look at the products you use everyday and see which ones you love and which one takes the most time to do your job. The ones that delight you are the ones where a lot of thought was put into the details, in the experience design. Simply cutting and pasting Lean Startup, MVP, or ‘been there, done that’ are not strategies for success.

What advice would you give a senior product manager to be even more successful?

Don’t build a product for your product’s exit strategy. Build it for enduring success. Exits are escape routes for people that can’t scale excellence. To build enduring success senior product managers should imagine a bigger world. I have a very thick (it is really very thick) book that has pictures of Dieter Rams’ products while he was at Braun. Every single product in that book (some go back 40+ years) have been designed with such thought they are still the best way to design those products even today. That is the mindset we need when we build products. Are we throwing something on the wall for the sake of MVP or are we spending the time to deliberately design an experience.

Which 3 learning points attendees can take back to work?

Building a product is a deliberate process. It is an intentional process. Yes, the outcome is very emergent, out of the learning you will experience every day. But without a vision, without a constant pursuit of learning and excellence, it is hard to build something that your users will fall in love.

The pursuit of excellence, the ability to learn fast and a single minded focus on customer delight are the three characteristics we need to apply every day in our job to make it worthwhile for our customers to use our product and be delighted.

Prabhakar Gopalan

Whole Mind Consulting

Prabhakar is Principal at Whole Mind Consulting, an Austin, TX based strategy and product consulting firm. He has helped CEOs all the way from startups to Fortune 500 solve tough strategy and growth problems. His experience spans an 18-year career in roles including consulting, corporate strategy, architecture, development, product design, product management and marketing at firms such as IBM, Novell, Red Hat, CA, Dell and Rackspace. Prabhakar was most recently VP of Products at Khorus.com.

Prabhakar teaches The Whole Product model to Product CEOs through this Craftsman PM workshop.


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