Interview: How our Product Management team drives growth through customer value
By Isaak Tsalicoglou, February 15, 2019,10:00 am CEST
At Proceq, Product Management plays a significant role in driving company growth by shaping the product portfolio. We sat down with Ralph Mennicke, CEO, and Isaak Tsalicoglou, Head of Product Management, to discuss how the Product Management team is growing in size and skills to enable Proceq’s role of a digital disruptor in the non-destructive testing (NDT) industry.
Gentlemen, tell us, what has changed over the years, and how does it impact the role of Product Management at Proceq?
Ralph Mennicke (RM): Proceq has been a market and technology leader in the non-destructive testing industry for a long time. For decades, thousands of customers have trusted product brands such as Equotip, Profometer and Original Schmidt to get their work done reliably and accurately. While Proceq has always been a pioneer of building NDT systems that combine mechanics, electronics and software, the most recent years have seen a boom in possibilities and optionality thanks to new digital technologies. For example, wireless sensors, high-performance mobile computing, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. At the same time, more flexible solutions are now enabled in the form of digital-enabled business models—most notably for Proceq, Hardware-as-a-Service. The result of such changes in Proceq’s Product Management is that it is becoming more holistic and entrepreneurial, both as a function and as a team.
Isaak Tsalicoglou (IT): The pace of all industries is constantly increasing; responsiveness to changes and the need to deliver growth regardless of uncertainty and ambiguity are paramount, and so is also the ability to take a systems-thinking approach. Markets, customers, products and platforms are more interconnected than ever before, leading to very fast feedback loops. Those trends impose new requirements on how a modern Product Management team must play its role in creating value for customers and stakeholders.
Companies interpret the role of a product manager very differently. How do you define this role at Proceq?
IT: At Proceq, a Product Manager shall act as the “CEO of the product”. In other words, she or he exercises ownership of a business endeavor end-to-end, while operating in a network of external and internal stakeholders. In order to create, develop, launch and maintain new value streams, a Product Manager at Proceq must understand and manage business opportunities in close collaboration with Management and other departments. All of our endeavors are ambitious pursuits of technology-based and business-model innovation, and so it is necessary for a Product Manager at Proceq to treat each such endeavor as a “business within a business”.
RM: Commitment and ownership to create success are fundamental to be successful in this role. You need to drive the solution portfolio to financial success through disruption, rather than by copying outdated products. In addition, in our industry the combination of a business sense and a technological angle is crucial to driving our portfolios.
The journey from a solid market understanding, to an idea, to the development of the business case, through the shaping and execution of go-to-market and growth initiatives and strategies, and finally to the extension, phase-out or renewal of a product is extremely wide. This journey continuously stretches the individual product manager’s and the team’s skillsets. Together with the Management team and other stakeholders, however, we are striving to tune interfaces right to get all this lined up to move faster than other players. Collaboration, responsiveness, pragmatism and unassumingness shall be combined in a strong character— this is truly a challenge to the individuals who take up this role!
Is a Product Manager at Proceq more of a businessperson or a technical person?
RM: The Product Manager is the person who needs to integrate all product and solution aspects in a coherent whole: a business that is embedded within the broader business of Proceq. The Product Manager here must be capable of discovering, understanding, and dealing with requirements and trade-offs of all kinds that affect the business success—including those that impact the technical system and its performance, be it mechanics, electronics, software and any combinations thereof in the product system…
IT: …and only this makes it possible for our Product Managers to focus on value propositions, continuously investigate and monitor the relationships between requirements and specifications, and discuss the evolving economics of a business case. A testament to this entrepreneurial mindset is the mix of experience of our Product Management team members; everyone in the team has a technical or scientific background, combined with prior experience in product development, product management, or business development. Such a profile is sometimes also complemented by a business education.
Does this mean that Product Managers at Proceq are mostly working on product development?
IT: Product Managers at Proceq work on development, in general. They develop all kinds of things; business models, customers, markets, market sizing models, portfolio visions, concepts, value propositions, growth strategies, user experience, marketing plans, knowledge and pitches for our Sales, marketing content of all kinds, business proposals, phase-out plans... In a company that is growing as dynamically as Proceq, development skills are incredibly important.
Which development approaches does Product Management at Proceq follow?
RM: Until a few years ago, Proceq used to develop products like many other companies, with a project-management process and more waterfall work that involved long phases of technical work, the strict “freezing” of technical specifications, and product views that looked into current product understandings rather than business cases based on market potential, value creation and complete solutions. Hence, the role of a Product Manager was quite different to the one of today, and mainly included the preparation of a set of key deliverables, such as the competitor product overview, specifications, a marketing plan, product documentation etc. We changed all that around four years ago with an overarching philosophy that change and adaptation require a fresh and dynamic perspective and continuous tuning of the definition of the problem, its solutions, and how these must be integrated.
What does that mean for your daily work, Isaak?
IT: The philosophy Ralph described means that we apply an iterative and incremental approach on most things we develop, from business models to marketing plans to growth strategies. In choosing what to work on next, we aim to thing in 80/20 terms—of the vital few things that will create disproportionate value. If you are asking about processes, methods and tools... We don’t “implement” a specific buzzword, but instead take inspiration from whatever works—for example, we follow principles of Agile, we take some ideas from Lean Product Development and Design Thinking, we use methods like Kanban and Quality Function Development... The motto is always: what are we trying to achieve, and how can we orchestrate work around this goal so that we are both effective and efficient?
Given our very rich and ambitious product pipeline, it’s very important for a Product Manager at Proceq to apply the same entrepreneurial mindset in understanding the size and state of the markets and the competitors, the requirements that users, standards and regulations pose, and especially the needs customers don’t openly express. After all, innovation means making old accepted trade-offs obsolete. Our Product Managers need to figure out how to do exactly that in order to create solutions that create more value for the end-customer than ever thought possible, whether with technological or business-model innovation—ideally, with both! For this, we also engage application experts, both inside and outside of the company, to achieve the timely development of validated, desirable, feasible, differentiated value propositions, together.
You mentioned requirements. What must a great Product Manager at Proceq demonstrate?
IT: A great Product Manager at Proceq must be entrepreneurial and result-oriented. She or he must be relentless in understanding what drives customer value and in figuring out ways to make it happen timely and with a benefit to customers, stakeholders, and Proceq itself: i.e., a win-win-win. To do this, our team members also need to be naturally curious, to prefer to take initiative to “get out of the building”, as we like to say.
At the same time, the ability to collaborate is very important, and so is knowing when to act autonomously versus when to integrate work with others. Intellectual brilliance is one thing—but we also search for intellectual curiosity and learning ability, which includes the openness to say “I don’t know” or “I am wrong” and follow it up with “I’ll figure it out”. So, everyone in our Product Management team must be willing to admit their knowledge gaps, sketch and provide recommendations on how to bridge them, and then act with an innate sense of urgency. Finally, affinity for digital technologies is important, as it helps to look at current and future requirements with new eyes, and create value in new ways.
Especially the latest generation of Proceq products have come up with a previously unknown simplicity and smoothness of their user interfaces. How do you know that you have achieved a great user experience?
RM: We empower users through radical simplicity and intuitiveness. Our user experience needs to make total sense to the human mind, without the need for the outdated 100-page manuals that have been commonplace for technical products. We want a user to pick up the product and intuitively start working within seconds. To achieve this, the Proceq Management team regularly plays the role of challenging the teams to go beyond what initially seems possible. We know that we are achieving this, when we see our products in the hands of customers on social media on a daily basis, when people who have no prior exposure to NDT find the product cool, and when our kids start playing with the scanners and our iPad and iPhone app as if they just got hold of the latest gaming app. And, we are very pleased to see that also long-standing industry experts understand that they can best scale their business if products become more accessible. This way, they can turn their focus to creating value for their own customers through the easier and better interpretation of measurements in difficult application cases.
And what role does Product Management in shaping the digital user experience?
IT: The Product Management team at Proceq combines Product Managers, Application Experts, and User eXperience (UX) designers. The Product Manager and the Application Experts observe customers in the field and map the core applications and workflows. Typically then, the Product Manager and the UX designer take apart this “current state”, questioning every single element and looking at how the customers’ jobs can be done faster, better, and more easily. We are also fond of developing numerous UX concepts and prototypes. The team will typically go through many iterations with and without customers and stakeholders, in order to achieve an ambitious “target state”—one that uses new and digital technologies to make our customers’ work a breeze. As part of this process, Management is constantly engaged, contributing ideas and insights, helping to fine-tune and to converge.
How closely related to product success are Product Managers at Proceq?
IT: Very closely! A Product Manager here serves as the “face of their products”. As a PM, you need to identify with the product, to empathize with its customers, and with their daily struggles of having had to deal with competitors’ inferior solutions for years—sometimes for decades. As a Product Manager at Proceq, you need to see the product as your own business, and do whatever it takes to make it succeed. This also means acting as an evangelist on the marketing channels that make sense—a Proceq Product Manager needs to be pervasive, relentless, and set the tone about the offering at all times, with colleagues, with distribution channels, with customers and stakeholders.
Wow, that sounds like a super-versatile, challenging and exciting job profile! Are you hiring?
IT: Indeed we are! Our Product Management team keeps growing in size, skills, experience and diversity of backgrounds and thinking patterns, and we welcome new team members on a regular basis to support us. Check out our Careers page to find out the roles we have open. And also, beyond these vacancies, do not hesitate to follow and contact us on LinkedIn.
RM: Proceq continues growing. For this, we need talents and specialists whom we offer not only great professional challenges and perspectives, but also pretty unique working places within and beyond the NDT space. Make sure you are known to us, as we are keeping track of a talent pool that is growing beyond the current job profiles. Join the Proceq network!