I'm starting a series of blog posts from the Business of Software conference that I attended last week in Boston. If you are part of a small technology business (software, hardware, etc.), especially if you are an owner, I'd highly recommend that you attend this conference next year. It's small, 250 or so people, and everyone is interested in business. It's not a lot about technology, but it's inspiring and exciting to talk about business with lots of people looking to build their businesses.
I have never met Eric Sink or heard him speak, but I have read his blog and things about him in the past, so I was interested to see what he had to say.
He based his talk on the fact that it takes 10 years to build good software. Joel Spolsky wrote an article on this as well, and Eric mentioned it. The premise of his talk was that software is like your kids. There are early years, middle years, later years, and that you need to treat the software differently at each stage. His title: Product Parenting.
He focused on the product manager, the person that must help ensure the product lives and grows and becomes successful. He said that every product needs one, and if you don't designate someone to do this, various people will do it (perhaps unconsciously), and it won't be done well.
He had six stage for software that I'll summarize here, giving you the key idea for each one.
Prepare - The stage before the first release, you find an idea, you are dreaming, and the development team does most of the work, but that's a problem. The product manager needs to find ways to differenttiate this product and develop messaging.
Care -This is the 1.0 release and it's a newborn. You have to get the product out the door, but you can't ignore it. It needs attention from marketing to get the message and launch out there for people to see.
Listen - State 3 is between the 1.0 and 3.0 releases. At this state the product exhibits a bit of its own will, customers will want changes, the product isn't mainstream and you can tweak things, but you want to listen more to the market and customers than start jerking left and right to correct things.
Talk - Stage 4 is the 3.0 release. At this point your product should be mainstream if it's still viable. Most people can use the product and you can ignore the competition. You are either differentiated from them or you're never going to be. At this state the product manager needs to be sure that customers get information about the product. White papers, videos, comparisons, etc. are all needed to be sure that people can easily use the product. Eric mentioned that he didn't do enough of this with his software.
Balance - This is the post 3.0 release and the product may not need things, but customers will ask for them. A product managr needs to steer a bit less and let the product evolve. It's too late to make big changes, and the product will be what it is. Don't let it get ruined with a bad release at this stage (like Vista) and champion quality.
Let Go - The last stage is when the product is mature. Rational Rose is an example of this. It still needs developers and maintenance, but the product is basically done. Move on to the next product and let support handle this one.
Eric has a programmer style of talking, he talks with you and you feel that he's an average guy. He's a bit self-deprecating and talks about the things that he's done wrong with his companies and how things have done and he readily admits to mistakes.
I think it was a good talk, although not exciting or inspirational.