Just what is product management?

Dilbert and friendsNow may be a good time to talk about software product management.

You can read the Wikipedia answer to the title question “Just what is product management?” here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_management

Or I can take a stab at it.

Product management is the discipline primarily responsible for the defining and managing the roadmap of a product. Product managers marry the vision of the product to the needs of the end users in a practical, usable and profitable way. That means they have to balance end user feedback and requests with engineering realities, marketing budgets, sales demands and so on.

It’s the ultimate crossfire job…

Linux hackers often make poor product managers. That is, of course, unless their product is meant for other Linux hackers. In small start-ups the founders often provide a good dose of the vision and I suspect that is the case with Zonbu.

Product managers have an immense challenge with products that are just coming to market as they lack firm user feedback. As the product itself develops a user base and the feedback starts flowing, it starts to get easier to refine the product to better suit the people who use it. A big part of good product management in the hardware and software space is simply watching and listening to the people using the product.

Watching is even better than listening because, as someone once told me, “buyers are liars” and people are often poor at articulating their true needs.

I would say now is a good time for Zonbu to hire a bunch of non-technical university students who are used to XP/Vista/MacOSX and sit them in front of a Zonbu, and ask them to bring along their favorite gadgets. Their digital cameras, their cell phones, their iPods or other MP3 players. And observe them going about the tasks they would expect of a PC.

Give them a low end $380 Acer laptop with XP and watch that. Maybe an Asus EEE PC too.

Or maybe get a focus group of housewives together. Or seniors.

Film it. Watch their reactions. Watch it over and over. Listen to their comments.

The answers to where the ZonbuOS needs to go from here will be found in those observations.

And its clear that while the beauty of the ZonbuOS is more than skin deep, its not nearly as deep as it needs to be yet.

-Mr. Zonbu

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