Week 1: Product Management for IoT

Back to school again. Being a teacher’s daughter, I think I love being a student whenever an exciting opportunity arises. After Product School, I have been trying hard to apply those learnings into my day-to-day as a PM at Expedia. Try as I may, it has been near impossible, between work and kids, to attend PM meet-ups and learn from seasoned leaders in this fascinating world of product management. Last week I was fortunate to listen to George Zeng from Facebook talk about How to be an unusual PM. One of the key take aways for me was how he organizes his day and makes full use of it. It got me thinking about what I do with my 24 hours and came up with a sorry excuse of a list. His tips on how to organize your day, manage the many meetings and feel like you’ve had a fruitful day, were eye opening. So thankful for Product School, for continuing to be a place of learning.

At Expedia, I work on customers itineraries, over the last year learned so much and realized that my transition from software development to software product management has barely begun. This realization came slowly and gradually and with it came the itch to learn more and be better. I looked at PM conferences to attend in the Bay Area and I’m yet to recover from the sticker shock. They are so expensive and I cannot afford it. Then I found this!

Product Management for the Internet of Things

It is an 8 week course at Stanford taught by Daniel Elizalde. I read his blog quite often and seeing this opportunity to learn from him, I signed up. I have to share how much I enjoyed the experience of stepping into this prestigious campus for the first time. Many times in the past I have toyed with the idea of going back to school for experiencing life as a student in a university here. This longing is based on hearing the various experiences from my friends who did their Masters here in the US. Yesterday I got a glimpse of what their experiences may have been like. In a lecture room with projectors and gallery style seating, working with others in the class.

Here is a recap of what I learned in the first class. The objective of this course being to learn a structured framework for product teams to create and manage IoT products.

We started by learning what constitutes “Internet of Things”. What are the types of IoT companies? Do they all work on products for end-users? What about companies that provide services? Companies that may not have the capability of the entire IoT stack can leverage the help of other companies that focus on a specific part of the stack. For example — Company A may have an idea to make this really cool Product A. Product A needs some components. Company A has the option to make those components in house or rely on Company B which specializes in making these components. So what do these companies build?

What is an IoT product?

  • The technology stack has 5 layers (device hardware, device software, communication/Wi-Fi, cloud platform, cloud applications
  • sensors that measure the world around it
  • adds value to the customer

An IoT company that makes end-to-end IoT products, provides all these 5 layers. As a Product Manager for such the product, one has to focus on providing value to the customers and not on the technology. That is to say, use IoT as a tool to add value. Customers want a solution to a problem, so it is essential to stick to the Why and the What. So thankful that I learned this from Hamid at Product School.

When should the PM wield this tool? As a PM you start with the company’s vision and mission and drill down to the goal of the company. Build A for customers. Do user research and go through the Ideation process. Why should we build A? Define the problem statement and value proposition and list the objectives that will line up to the goal. Next comes breaking down the above strategy into actionable pieces and put that on the roadmap. In this planning phase, the PM has a lot of heavy lifting to do in terms of prioritization, metrics to track, define the MVP. The development phase is focused on implementation and then the product or feature is ready for launch.

Product Management Life Cycle:

Ideation/Research -> Product Strategy -> Product Planning/Roadmap -> Development -> Release

As a PM, the meat of the work is during product strategy and product planning, while keeping in mind the IoT technology stack. A very daunting task indeed. How can I remember all of this, ask the right questions, seek the answers, iterate through the layers and ensure that the “What” and “Why” don’t get lost.

This is where a tool such as the IoT Decision Framework becomes essential. It helps the PM frame the questions to ask when collaborating with other teams (UX, stakeholders, engineers, etc) to make the best decisions for the product.

We closed week 1 by forming a team and coming up with an idea for a IoT product. Our group discussed and agreed upon an IoT device that can detect when a customer’s car is low on fuel, send a notification to a mobile fuel provider, the fuel provider should then be able to get to the customer’s car and fill it up for her and bill her for the fuel and services provided. We defined the problem statement and our value proposition for our product idea.

Problem statement (What problem are we looking to solve?) — Car owners forget to fill gas in their cars and when they realize it, it is not at the most convenient of times. It becomes a source of stress, time management and frustration when they are in a hurry or having a busy day.

Value proposition (How will our product solve their problem?) — A device fitted to the car that notifies customer when she’s about to run low on fuel and adds a task to her preferred mobile gas supplier to go to her car and fill it up for her. This helps her continue with her day without stressing about the empty tank and have the peace of mind that she can go wherever she plans to, knowing that her gas tank is full. Every time she uses the device for having gas filled for her, she is charged for the gas and a nominal amount for the service rendered. Gas suppliers who sign up for providing this service to device users also pay a certain percentage every month based on the number of cars their service. More cars/more devices, lesser percentage.