The Zen of Product Management

Product management is becoming a hot topic in Silicon Valley. The UC Berkeley business school had me speak at a seminar on the subject last week, a lot of consultants are focusing on it, and it seems to be getting a lot more buzz than I remember seeing in the past.

A product manager is the person in a company who translates customer needs into product features. He or she is not necessarily an engineer, but tells the engineers what to build (assuming you work in a company where the engineers do what anyone else tells them to do). When product management works well, a company has a much better chance of producing a successful product.

Recently I ran across an almost year-old summary of a presentation given by Rob Haitani of Palm. He's the author of the original Zen of Palm, the presentation that codified Palm's early design philosophy. The Zen of Palm is widely misunderstood as a kind of dogmatic belief that handheld computers should have only a few simplistic features (which is about as accurate as saying that basketball is a game in which people throw a ball). Actually it was a pretty subtle strategy, and the presentation was a fantastic tool for indoctrinating new hires.

Although Haitani's title at Palm isn't product manager, that's what he does. The article gives a nice overview of some of his ideas. I think it's a good reference for product managers in any industry.