Testing Product Proof of Concepts

Product managers are called upon to accomplish many tasks at different points in a product life cycle. One which can be important and potentially even a game changer is to develop a proof of concept for a product and then test the idea out.  I’ll provide an  example.

In one case, my division wanted us to explore a potential product concept for a hot business area — the Internet of Things (IoT).  The first challenge was to look at the market and see if there was’s a value proposition that made sense for the company.  My company was well known for being able to integrate hardware and software, so a product that built on that approach potentially offered both a technical and business fit.  Next came study of the market and examining the current players. In the IoT space, it’s somewhat crowded, but various companies like Intel offer starting points in the form of toolkits, white papers and architectures, and there are several industry organizations that also offer guidance to would-be participants. Based on those resources and other investigations, we developed a product “Proof of Concept” presentation.  It addressed the product concept, identified where our company added value and a contained a series of questions for potential partners / customers.

The next step was to test it out.  Our division put the word out to our sales team that we had a product concept we’d like to review with potential prospects.  When a couple of candidates were identified, we set up calls.  We shared the product concept in the form of a presentation and used it to discuss three main areas with the prospects:

1) What did they think of our concept?

2) What had their experiences been with similar products?

3) Could they share any pain points?

The results were interesting.  The prospects were intrigued by the concepts, but immediately began to compare them with existing products. That quickly led to the third phase, a discussion of pain points.  All of this discussion provided helpful clues on where the markets were being well served and where there might be openings for new products. By meeting with multiple prospects, we got diverse perspectives and also heard some common themes.  The testing confirmed the product concept had potential and could be the basis for further explorations and refinement if the company chose to take those next steps.

In summary, one way to test the viability of a product concept is to create a “proof of concept,” which may be as simple as a presentation or at the next level, a more complete working model. Then, it’s important to test the concept and how well it meets the needs of potential customers, before making the larger investments needed to bring a final version of the product to market.

Has your company seen similar challenges in considering new product offerings? What approaches were taken to test the new product concepts?  Please feel free to offer comments on your experiences. Or, reach out to me on LinkedIn at http://http://www.linkedin.com/in/james-rafferty-ma to discuss needs for similar projects.

 

 

 

 

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Refining the Product Vision

One advantage I gained when I went independent for over a year was to consider how to be an effective Product Management leader with a fresh perspective. As a Product Line Manager, it’s very easy to get caught up in the product, the enhancement of various features and dig deep into the technical aspects. All of this is fine, but may overlook opportunities to go beyond the product itself and work with a broader team to build more success in your target markets.

In this post, I’ll discuss an example from my own experiences of how Product Management can be transformed to go beyond the product and create new success stories. In particular, let’s consider an example of refining the product vision and then creating additional marketing tools to support that.

In my last product management role at Dialogic, we had a media gateway product which was doing well in the marketplace, but most of the sales were for the traditional use cases of translating between circuit-based networks based on Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) and the newer SIP-based Voice over IP networks. When I did Google lookups for related search words, the presence of our product was much less than I would have expected based on our market performance of being #2 in the market for low density trunking gateways sold to service providers and related customers for several years running.

To address this, I worked with marketing colleagues to build an updated marketing plan. A core element of the plan was to look at use cases and create content which would explain why the use case was important and how the right kind of media gateways could help provide a solution.

For example, SIP Trunking has been a major driver for growth in the Voice over IP market for several years running and is usually tied to the sales of Session Border Controllers (SBCs). With SIP trunking, enterprises communicate with the outside world by connecting from their enterprise campuses to a service provider. Traditionally, service providers made this connection using ISDN trunks, which needed a fair amount of advance setup time to establish. Since SIP trunks run over IP and don’t require dedicated circuits, the time to deployment can be much faster and the price to the enterprise customers are reduced. As a result, the payback time for moving to SIP trunks can be  very fast. But… Yes, it always seems there is a but.

But, in order to make this change, the enterprise needs to either change their existing phone systems so that they are fully IP-based or establish a transition plan. In the latter case, the transition plan needs to enable them to use their existing TDM phone system infrastructure within the enterprise, but still connect to SIP trunks and gain savings in operating expense. This was consistent with industry data which showed that 40% of enterprises still had investments in TDM-based infrastructure. And it turns out that a media gateway which can manage that transition from TDM to SIP could be a valuable part of that strategy.  As a result, we created a white paper which talked about SIP trunking and why Media Gateways were an effective solution for the related TDM to IP use cases. In addition, we updated our marketing collateral on the web and in our product presentations to make sure this SIP Trunking use case was highlighted.

Within weeks after the new content was posted, we started getting much more visibility in our search rankings on the web and many prospects were downloading the new white paper. In turn, we were also hearing about related business opportunities which aligned closely with this refined product vision. We also highlighted the revised strategies in a webinar.

This was just one example of how we expanded the product vision and re-focused the sales team on a broader set of opportunities for this product.

In summary, in this post we reviewed an example of expanding the product vision to highlight an important high growth use case and then implementing related marketing content and tactics to reinforce the vision.

If you’d like to continue the conversation, please leave a comment. If you’d like to explore how similar approaches might benefit your company’s product strategy, you can reach me on LinkedIn .

 

 

 

 

 

Going Independent — Again

After a challenging but rewarding three year stint in product management at Dialogic, I am now independent again early in 2018. Four years back, I ran my consulting business for a year and gained some additional training before re-joining Dialogic. In this post, I’ll talk about some new and different approaches I took in my role with the company during the past three years that produced positive results.

  1. Using Agile to Manage and Change Priorities – In 2014, I took a course in SCRUM at Quality and Productivity Solutions and got certified by SCRUMStudy as a SCRUM Product Owner.  At Dialogic, I wore many hats and had frequent changes in priorities. By creating SCRUM Epics and Stories, I updated my priorities weekly and was able to make fast changes when needed in reaction to market changes, new projects or other internal factors.
  2. Building and Managing Teams – In earlier Product Management roles, I mostly focused on the product in areas such as managing the roadmap, setting pricing and training Sales. During the past three years, I reached out to the other departments and convened cross functional meetings about once every two weeks. In other words, I managed the products as programs.  This way, our departments worked together to drive success for our products and the results were very positive for both startup products and more mature product lines. For example, we identified customer pain points and then the team created solutions to deal with them.
  3. Going Virtual – My products varied over the three years, but included a mix of hardware and software, or were purely software.  A trend which cut across several of the product lines was the need to run the software on Virtual Machines, notably in the VMware and Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) environments. For example, by running in a virtual environment, customers got to use their own choice of servers for routine management tasks. For our virtual load balancer product, Dialogic® Powerville™ LB, we took it a step further and could run all of the software on VMware or other virtual environments and included sophisticated features such as built-in redundancy.
  4. Marketing via Effective Content Management – In the past year, I worked with the Dialogic marketing team to devise a marketing plan for the Dialogic IMG 2020 Integrated Media Gateway and revise our content management to help drive more leads.  We wrote several new white papers on important use cases such as SIP Trunking, Transcoding and SS7 to SIP interworking.  We also promoted recent design wins and market leadership via press releases and conducted webinars which tied into all of these marketing themes. The net result was to bring more attention to these products, improve our SEO rankings for related product searches and reinforce our position as a market leader in the low density trunking media gateway market.

These four approaches are examples of ways we were able to innovate.  They enabled me to both be a product-focused individual contributor and lead broader team efforts that produced lasting results. If you’ve had similar needs or experiences, I’d love to hear your feedback.

I’ll write more about my recent experiences in Product Management, Marketing and Communications Technology, plus thoughts on the year ahead within upcoming posts.

 

 

 

Going Lean

In January, I was fortunate enough to attend two events which both focused on the concept of product / market fit.  Marc Andreessen, of NetScape fame and now a venture capitalist, coined the term.  But the story doesn’t really begin there.  There is a movement known as “Lean Startup,” whose chief advocate is an entrepreneur and consultant named Eric Ries.  My introduction to Ries was at the two events I mentioned.  At TIE Boston, a group which helps entrepreneurs and startups, venture capitalist Tom Huntington spoke eloquently on product / market fit based on his own startup experiences.  His key point was that companies should not scale up in their use of resources until they have found the right fit between the product and the market it is directed to.  He used several examples where companies had functional products, but didn’t have the right market fit, so growth wasn’t happening.  

The next week, I attended the keynote at the Boston Product Management Association (BPMA) on “The Magic Fit”, delivered by Jeff Bussgang of Harvard and Flybridge Ventures.  Bussgang’s presentation built nicely upon the messages I’d heard the week before, but he dug a bit deeper.  He touted Lean principles as an ongoing revolution for Product Management and strongly encouraged all of us to get on board.  LIke Tom Huntington, he emphasized the value of placing the MVP (Minimum Viable Prototype) in the hands of customers and then learning as quickly as possible from these customer experiences.   Bussgang was generous in his use of references and made it clear that author Eric Ries was a key inspiration for many of these Lean Startup concepts.   

A few weeks ago, I borrowed Ries’s book The Lean Startup, from our library and I just finished reading it.  Ries does a nice job of explaining the series of startup experiences which caused him to develop the “Lean Startup” methodology and then he explains the methodology in detail.  As alluded to by the two speakers I’d heard in January, a key concept is setting up an approach that allows startups to get their prototypes (MVPs) out to customers and conduct detailed experiments to see which product or business model approaches are most valuable to customers.  Like many contemporary management theorists, Ries is a strong advocate of creating effective metrics and then conducting measurements, but he also emphasizes the need to talk with customers to understand the meaning behind the statistics.  In the latter approaches, he draws directly from the experiences of companies like Toyota who have been innovators in the lean manufacturing space.  

Ries has written an excellent book which holds lessons both for startups and bigger companies that want to move faster in a turbulent marketplace.   My thanks to Jeff Bussgang for recommending the book.  I ran my own company for 7 years in the Nineties, so the concepts of creating new product ideas and then testing them with customers are familiar to me.  But Eric Ries has put his lessons learned into playbook form and I anticipate these concepts will be valuable in my future business roles.