Featured Product Management Consultant Interview: Phil Burton

Featured Product Management Consultant

Every few months or so, we will bring you a new interview with a featured 280 Group Consultant/Trainer who discusses a number of Product Management issues.

Our first featured Product Management Consultant is Phil Burton, a seasoned PM veteran who talks about the most difficult parts of Product Management, his favorite training exercise and more.

“Too few product managers actually get out in front of customers and discuss their needs, yet this process can lead to market and financial success.”

1. What is your background?

My undergrad degree is in Civil Engineering. I also have a Master’s and a “Civil Engineer” (“practical Ph. D”) in Transportation Planning.

My first job after graduation was straight civil engineering doing highway design, but I soon gravitated to planning transportation systems. I didn’t realize it at that time, but I was clearly motivated by the same opportunities and challenges as product managers in private industry. After a few years, I had an opportunity to switch into high tech product management, and I’ve never looked back.

2. What general advice would you have for a Product Management organization?

Empower product management and product marketing within the organization. Give the product managers and product marketing managers both the responsibility and the skills as well as the management support so they can deliver the kind of business results that “move the needle.”

Look for people with passion, with drive. A successful product manager must have both, so they can truly believe that they can make their products successful in the face of all the challenges and obstacles within and without.

3. What do you find to be the most difficult/frustrating part of Product Management?

There is no one most difficult/frustrating part of product management. Nor is there one single way to fix the situation. I wish it were that easy to slay this dragon.

From my own direct experience and what I hear all the time from clients and students are a cluster of problems. These problems are common across many different industries, companies of different sizes, and even countries:

  • Doing the “urgent” instead of the “strategic.”
  • Too much to do in too little time.
  • Being the “dumping ground” for all the problems and issues no one else wants to deal with.
  • Companies that are so engineering-centric that they ignore market signals.
  • Poor internal communications or strategic direction.

4. What is your favorite exercise to conduct in PM training?

If I had to make a hard choice, it would be the “Voice of the Customer” role play exercise that we do as part of the Market Research skill module.

Too few product managers actually get out in front of customers and discuss their needs, yet this process can lead to market and financial success. In some cases, this process can lead to breakthrough products.

At the same time, with a modest investment in practice interviews to develop interview skills, most any product manager can become very good at this process. It’s not rocket science.

5. What do you think is the #1 area where the average PM could improve?

I think the real issue here is the area(s) where the average PM management and organization could improve their organization. They need to change expectations about product management in the rest of the organization and the job role and responsibilities within the PM organization.

For example, organizations need to do more market research and competitive analysis as tasks and also explore how they can become more agile in how they formulate and execute product strategies.

PM organizations also need to lose the, “We are different because …” viewpoint and realize that there are many best practices outside of their own industry that they should consider.

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