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Guest BloggerProduct Management

Product management in the Cloud

by Paddy Barrett

How the shift to SaaS product offerings changes the role and activities of the product manager.

paddycloudA product manager who has learned the craft with on-premises products will have to adapt to the cloud by becoming more flexible and responsive – flexible in adapting to the speed of change with cloud products (think continuous delivery) and responsive to the greater interaction with customers that the cloud allows.

These were among the main findings of my dissertation for an MSc in Software Product Management in which I set out to determine the impact of the shift to the cloud on product managers. The existing academic literature revealed that little or no research into the subject had taken place, even while cloud computing was gaining more acceptance from business users, and as more enterprise software vendors were entering the cloud space.

Such a seismic shift in the industry was bound, I believed, to have a significant impact on the role and activities of the product manager, so I set out to research the subject by interviewing practising product managers who had experience with on-premises and cloud products.

To find suitable candidates for interview, I reached out to Scott Sehlhorst and Rich Mironov, who were guest lecturers during my first year of the Master’s program. Both were kind enough to introduce me to their contacts, and in the end I had to decline several offers to participate! The interviews covered the following core subjects:

  • cross-functional teamwork
  • decision-making processes
  • customer relationships
  • pricing
  • product life cycle management
  • continuous release
  • new product development
  • and key personal qualities and skills.

Over the course of ten in-depth interviews, my research confirmed that the aim of the study was valid – the shift to the cloud has a concrete impact on the product manager, and this impact is seen most clearly in the areas of cross-functional collaboration, customer relationships, and innovation.

My findings also met other research objectives, such as identifying the different product management activities required for cloud products compared to on-premises products, and an appreciation of why cloud products require a different product management approach.

The management of cloud products differs markedly from on-premises products in terms of the responsiveness and flexibility required of the product manager – the adaptability of the product manager becomes a critical factor in the success of cloud products. The shift to the cloud affects several activities of the product manager, who must anticipate new demands on both the role itself and on related functions within the organisation. From this conclusion, some key recommendations for practice are possible, including:

  • Understand how the cloud model works, with special regard to legal requirements for data protection.
  • Foster customer loyalty and interaction by managing customer expectations.
  • Master the use of metrics to analyse how customers use the product and also to develop product requirements.
  • Introduce design thinking practices to improve innovation, engage with users, and test prototypes.
  • To prevent the customer disruption that can be caused by continuous release, give customers some control over receiving upgrades to the product.
  • Help your cross-functional teams to adopt better collaboration processes, such as social networking tools, for faster communication and decision-making.
  • Stay focused on your long-term product strategy to safeguard against the tendency to focus on short-term customer requirements.

Some of these practices probably require further study, particularly the management of the continuous release process, the new opportunities for innovation – especially design thinking – that are made possible by the cloud. Other areas that could benefit from new research include lifecycle management of cloud products, the use of social networking tools for cross-functional collaboration, customer relationship management within the cloud paradigm, and the migration of on-premises products to the cloud. Given that the interviewees were all operating in B2B environments, it would also be interesting for other researchers to compare the experiences of B2B and B2C product managers.

In conclusion, this research offered a new understanding about the impact of the shift to the cloud on product management. Specifically, it found that traditional product management activities become more dynamic in the cloud context and that the product manager must adapt by becoming more flexible and responsive. It also found that managing customer expectations becomes a critical concern for the product manager.

Paddy

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About the Author
Paddy Barrett is a technical writer for IBM Connections and a budding product manager. He received his MSc (First Class Honors) in Product Management from the Dublin Institute of Technology last November.

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