Software product management
is the process of managing software
that is built and served as a product
as opposed to a service
A software product is typically a single application or suite of applications built by a software company to be used by *many* customers, businesses or consumers. The mass-market notion differs from custom software built for the use of a single customer by consulting firms like IBM Global Services
Examples of business software products include the Oracle 10g database by Oracle Corporation, SAP R/3 ERP software by SAP AG, QuickBooks by Intuit, etc.
Examples of consumer software products include Microsoft Office by Microsoft, TurboTax by Intuit. Since the late 1990s, many software products have been offered as a service, so that the customers - businesses or end consumers - run the same application without installing the software on their computers. Examples include Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software by Salesforce.com, consumer shopping comparison software by Shopping.com, various web search tools offered by Google, Yahoo!, and the auction marketplace by eBay. Even though these applications are not packaged in media that can be touched and felt, they are software products nonetheless, and require the same product management rigor as packaged software do. In fact, they do require more rigor since the product manager's planning must now include operational concerns such as service availability.
The need for software product management
To develop, sell and support a successful software product a business needs to understand its market, identify the opportunity, develop and market an appropriate piece of software. Hence the need for product management
as a core business function in software companies.
Hardware companies also have a need for software product management, since frequently operating system software needs to be installed on computer hardware before the hardware can be functional, and operating system software can be sold as a product separately. For example, Sun Microsystems is a hardware company, and is in the business of manufacturing and distributing Sun workstations (hardware) and the Solaris Operating System (software). Building and delivering Solaris as a product in the marketplace requires software product management.
Management of aspects of software development
Software product management deals with the following aspects of software development within a software and/or hardware firm:
- Idea generation on whiteboards for a new software product, or for the next version of an existing product.
- Gathering of business and/or market requirements from prospects, customers of earlier versions of the product, domain experts, technology visionaries, market experts, products / solutions from competing vendors, etc.
- Crafting of Marketing Requirements Documents, or MRDs, which synthesize the requirements / needs of various stakeholders as outlined above.
- Using the MRD as a basis, come up with a product requirements document or PRD, as an input to the engineering team to build out the product. A PRD is also known as a functional specification. Frequently, a PRD can be a collection of UML Use Cases, UML Activity Diagrams, HTML mockups, etc. It can have other details such as the software development environment, and the software deployment environment. For example, where as the development environment can be J2EE / Java IDEs, the deployment environment can be the WWW (worldwide web) or the Internet.
- Deliver the PRD to the software engineering team, and manage conflicts between the business units, the sales teams, and the engineering teams, as it applies to the software products to be built out.
- Once the software development gets into build / release cycle, conduct acceptance tests, if required by the firm / software manufacturer.
- Deal with the packaging of the product. This can vary from demonstrating the product to customers using web-based conferencing tools, to building a flash/captivate demo and deploying it on the company website, to other placement and promotion tactics. Frequently, in Silicon Valley, these two aspects of marketing, and sometimes also pricing, are dealt with by Product Marketing Managers, as opposed to Product Managers.
- Once the product is deployed at a customer site, solicit customer feedback, report software bugs, and pass these on back to engineering for subsequent build / release cycles, as the product stabilizes, and then matures.
- Perform competitive analysis as to how this product is behaving in the market, vis-a-vis other products catering to the same / similar customer segments. In the software space, this might require the product manager to take the opinion of analysts, who can come from name brand market research firms like IDC, Forrester Research, and Gartner Group.
- Solicit more features and benefits from the users of the software product, users of competitive products, and from analysts and craft / synthesize these requirements for subsequent product build / release cycles, and pass them on to the software engineering team.
The above tasks are not sequential, but can co-exist. For a product manager to be efficient in the above tasks, he has to have both engineering and marketing skills. Hence, frequently, Silicon Valley firms prefer engineers who are also MBAs to do software product management.
- Conde, Dan Software Product Management: Managing Software Development from Idea to Product to Marketing to Sales (Execenablers). Aspatore Books.
- Dver, Alyssa S. Software Product Management Essentials. Anclote Press.