You may be asking “Who is this guy to talk about software product management?”
I find your question quite relevant and appropriate; so here’s a little history.
I believe that my experience with software product management comes from the time of the first lines of code I wrote in the mid-1980s. Since those first computer programs, I was already worried about ease of use.
At that time, elements of interaction such as menus, windows and mouse were starting to get popular with early versions of Microsoft Windows and Mac OS. This showed me that software was not only composed of a set of instructions for the machine to execute. To make a good software, it was (and still is) needed to think about how this software will interact with its users, if it meets the objectives of those who built it, and so on.
At the end of 1992, when I was graduating in Computer Engineering at ITA, the best engineering school in Brazil, an uncle told me that he run into a very interesting computer business called BBS (Bulletin Board System). He knew nothing about computers but he understood that it had something to do with networks, and that if I found it interesting, we could start a business together. So my uncle and I, plus 2 other partners, created Dialdata BBS, which would later become one of the first internet access providers in Brazil in 1995.
During those years at Dialdata, I wrote many lines of code that turned into software, which were made available to the BBS users. I also wrote the billing system used by Dialdata employees to bill customers. Interaction with internal and external users taught me a lot about software development. It is not enough to have an idea in my head and a computer at hand to start coding the software. You have to understand what the user expects from the software, and what you and your business plan to get out of it.
In 1998, Dialdata was sold to an American company called VIA NET.WORKS, who was buying internet service providers in various parts of the world to create a global provider of Internet services and go for an IPO. At that time, I was invited to work with product management at VIA NET.WORKS.
It was the first time I had contact with the term and the product management role. My responsibility was to create a global portfolio of products from the product offerings of different companies that have been acquired by VIA NET.WORKS. It was then that I began to understand the importance of this role in technology companies in general and specifically in software development companies.
In 2005, Gilberto Mautner, who also studied at ITA, invited me to help him improve the product development process at his company, Locaweb, Brazil’s leader in web hosting and SaaS applications like email marketing and online store. Locaweb hosts approximately 25% of all Brazilian domains. Today, we have at Locaweb a portfolio of over 30 products and a team of more than 10 product managers. The full team of product development – including product managers, UX designers and software engineers – has more than 100 people. We learned a lot over the years, but the learning process is not over and I think it will never end; it is constant and continuous.
I recently read a book called How to Evaluate Your Life by Prof. Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor and creator of the concept of disruptive innovation, which I will comment later. In this book, he tells how he realized that over the years his classmates turned out to be people unhappy with their personal lives and professionals who end up far from what they’ve had planned in college. Some had their names linked to financial and tax scandals. Others married, separated and fought in court with former spouses. And there were others who could barely keep up with the growth of their children.
This realization made him reflect on how it would be possible to increase the chances of finding happiness and satisfaction throughout life. In the book, he proposes that a way to do this is by applying some of the tools from business management to help manage the personal and professional life.
One such tool is purpose. The business purpose is the reason to exist of a particular company. Many publish this reason clearly. Google wants to organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Nike wants to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, and remembers that if you have a body, you are also an athlete.
Prof. Christensen suggests that people also have a purpose that should guide their decisions throughout life, in the same way that companies should have a purpose that guides theirs. I found this concept a very interesting idea and caused me to think about my purpose. After analyzing how I invest my time and how I have pleasure and satisfaction at work, I ended up defining my purpose as:
My purpose is helping people create better software products.
So in this book I will share what I have learned throughout these almost 30 years of experience. I believe that what I’ll share will help people create better software that will achieve the goals of the software owner, at the same time meeting the needs of its users.
I know I still have a lot to learn and I want to keep learning until my last day on earth. Since learning comes from conversation and sharing experiences, I invite you to share your experiences here in the comments, or via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Paulo Caroli is translating my book on Software Product Management that I wrote in Portuguese and launched in Brazil last year. Our main objective with this translation is to increase the number of books on Software Product Management available for readers all over the world. The are not many books on the topic, even in English, and we believe the content of this book is useful for people in the software industry not only in Brazil but anywhere in the world.
We are working on the first chapters but as we progress we are already releasing the content. If you want to see the work in progress, please visit the book page at LeanPub. Still in beta but already with valuable content. Feedback is always welcome!