Product management bug is spreading

It might sound dull, but it’s the best way to avoid pet projects and blind alleys

Each week, I typically pick out some piece of research from an analyst firm, rake it over the coals, add a couple of wisecracks, and move on. This week I went looking for research on a subject I thought was really important to the future of IT, and I found nothing.

Memo to analyst firms: Take a gander at how product management culture is creeping into IT organizations. Product management -- you know, what they do in software companies where they have people who work with the engineers to figure out what customers want, who prioritize the most broadly beneficial features into a road map, and who fight scope creep and one-offs so they can ship the product on time.

I recently interviewed Susan Certoma, CIO of Wachovia’s corporate and investment banking division, and she’s all about product management. She’s gone out and hired dozens of people with product management experience. She’s set up a central product management group to essentially own the product road map for her 900-person team. Why? Because it’s the only way she can deliver a multiple-hundred million dollar, enterprisewide SOA development platform with a suite of business and infrastructure components in Wall Street Time -- months, not years. It’s about discipline.

Here’s how I see it. Enterprise IT is making a transition from build-to-order (“order taker”) and mass manufacturer (“any color you want as long as it’s black”) to being a service provider responsible for delivering flexible, configurable platforms and applications. The only way to do that is with a product management culture driven by people who are compulsive about customer-needs data, adamant about optimizing the cost/quality/speed tradeoffs in the product road map, paranoid about competitors, and of course, entrepreneurial.

Product management may sound dull, but it’s the best leverage of IT time and dollars, and the best way to avoid pet projects and blind alleys. IT’s getting closer to the product side of most businesses every day -- most products and services require much more technology enablement today than they used to. So product management is an incredibly relevant skill to IT managers. Yet the research companies are still writing about alignment and project portfolio management (blah, blah, blah). Come on guys!

Weird IT News Department: Laptops have been in the news a lot lately for disappearing loaded with employee and customer personal information. And now they stand accused of spontaneous combustion and jeopardizing air travel, in an item straight out of Monty Python or The Onion. The Info-Tech Research Group is reporting increased incidents of laptop batteries erupting in smoke, fire, and even explosions.

The report said that exploding laptops pose a potential threat of an in-flight incident -- those Solitaire games must really heat them up -- and that manufacturers should do a better job of testing batteries for defects rather than relying on recalls.

It must be a slow news week -- it’s not as if EMC acquired RSA while we weren’t looking or something. It’ll be interesting to watch the spin on that one, after all the flak Symantec took for buying Veritas last year and trying to convince the world that security and storage go together like peanut butter and chocolate. But anyway, would you like some software tokens with those disk arrays?