Featured Product Management Consultant: Ken Feehan

Product Management Consultant Interview Ken Feehan

Our third featured interview in this series is with Ken Feehan, who talks about how he broke into Product Management, what the most rewarding part of being a consultant is and how Product Managers can be more strategic.

I love jumping into a group of smart people and helping them unlock something that deep down, they already know to be true.

What is your background?

I studied computer science before switching over to a business degree — so I have a good technical background and an appreciation for engineers. My first job was in sales at a software/game company, and there I met Ed. He was the Product Manager and he seemed to know everything and everybody. He talked effortlessly with developers, marketeers and executives and he provided insight and context effortlessly. Ed had a profound impact on me.

How did you get in to Product Management?

Shortly thereafter, I scratched and clawed my way into Apple as an Associate Product Manager for MacOS. I learned the job from brilliant PMs and I made a difference by pushing features that reflected the brand promise (the computer for the rest of us – my focus was to simplify). I left Apple a decade later as a Product Line Manager overseeing a hardware business generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Since then I have done Product Management and Product Marketing at startups and iconic companies like Dolby and Intuit.

What general advice would you have for an individual Product Manager?

Get out of the office and sit next to customers as they do their job.

Don’t be the Product Owner at the scrum meeting who has no credibility as the voice of the customer. Make relationships with salespeople to further enhance your understanding of the customer and the competition. Your job is to support the very best ideas — welcome creativity from all directions.

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

As a manager of Product Managers you should build tools to ensure that the work done by your PMs actually reflects the needs of the target customers. Create basic customer segmentation models and profiles that can be the base of the requirements and product stories created by your team. And don’t forget to measure everything!

What do you find to be the most rewarding part of being a consultant?

I love jumping into a group of smart people and helping them unlock something that deep down, they already know to be true.

At the end of a gig, I frequently leave behind a new tool or process that helps the individual or group be more strategic. Sometimes it is a focus on roadmaps or a new gate-process. Other times it is a new way of thinking about the relationship between ‘features’ and ‘benefits’ And still other times it is about thinking about customers and the things they value. Unleashing the effectiveness of really smart people is even more fun than launching a wicked-good new product.

What is something that a PM can do today to be more strategic?

While a PM at Intuit, I kept getting pushback from the developers that I was spending too much time talking about the ‘what’ and not enough establishing the ‘why’? They were right — and when I embraced this concept, I immediately became a better PM. By ignoring the ‘why’, I had not done the research and strategic thinking that focused my input to the team — I was skipping my primary responsibility. 280 Group has done really great work in this area – check out Understanding Customer Needs: Problem vs. Solution Space. If you find yourself in a meeting where you are talking about ‘what should be on the screen’ or ‘how many clicks should it take to do something’, step back and consider if you are contributing to the team in a way that is strategic. The adoption of the thinking behind the ‘Problems vs. Solution Space’ will enhance your job/career and unleash the creativity of those around you.

Is there anything you would re-do in your career?

Wow, what a question. Looking back on some wild ups and downs, I would revisit a couple of moments when I sacrificed my own ‘true north’ for the ideas and metrics that I didn’t believe were actually ‘true north’. Most of those compromises never worked out well.

Oh yea. and I should have asked Ed to be my mentor.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you.

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