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Coffee With Jake Levirne – Product Manager, IBM Enterprise Content Management Group

14 July 2008 One Comment

Hi All,

Its time for one more interview on Product Management in IT Industry and this time, CWS is hosting a product manager from IBM’s Enterprise Content Management Group.
Its my pleasure to welcome Jake Levirne from IBM.


Coffee With Jake Levirne – Understanding Product Management in IT

Me: Sundar Rajan G S
JL: Jake Levirne

Me: Hi Jake, Can you please give a brief introduction about yourself.. You can talk about your education, your work experience, the roles u have played etc..
JL: Hi Sundar. I’m currently a product manager in IBM’s Enterprise Content Management group. I’m responsible for our search and content discovery products.
I’ve been doing enterprise software product management for about eight years now. Before that, I worked in engineering and technical sales. Most of my career has been with small startups, but the last two years or so, I’ve been at IBM.

Me: In handling products, you would have come across a number of situation.. where the client would make a demand (may be in terms of features, or in terms of time, in terms of cost etc), which you might not be able to agree or deliver.. How do you handle such situations..
JL: Sometimes you know you cannot commit to a feature, in which case, the best approach is to be upfront about it as quickly as possible. A client needs to have enough information to make the best decision for his/her organization. Often times, there are alternatives or work-arounds that you can support, and it’s important to make the client aware of those. Really, it’s usually a matter of getting to the root of why a particular demand or feature is important to the client and working with them to solve their problem (whether or not your product is the best solution). Sometimes, you are at a point in your planning cycle where you do not yet know whether you can commit to a given feature. In those cases, it’s important to give the client visibility into your process and timeline so they can again make the right trade-offs for themselves. It’s always important to keep an open mind about customer requests. Even if your first thought is that it’s not a key requirement for your product, you may be missing something big… an entire market trend. At my previous company, iPhrase, we might have missed an opportunity to move into commerce catalog search if we hadn’t listened to our prospects.

Me: I am sure you would have come across a product, which succeeded more that what you expected.. And ofcourse.. there are always the ones which dont match your expectations.. As a product manager, how do you handle this success or failures… What will be your next course of action once you know the result of a product?
JL: Success and failure are a part of software and of business. The best thing you can do is to learn from your failures and not let your successes go to your head. In both cases, luck and timing often play as much of a role as skill and strategy.

Me: Being a product manager can, at times, be a very stressful experience.. How do first and fore most, identify the symptoms of stress?? Then, how do u handle it..
JL: My family usually gives me the first clue that I’m stressed. If things get bumpy at home, it’s usually because work is getting to me. Often, to handle the stress, I refocus on first priorities (family, friends, and the aspects of work that are truly important to me), and let the secondary things go. A small example – emails. I can easily receive 200-300 emails in a day. The best way for me to de-stress if they’re building up (especially after a business trip, for example), is to just archive them all and clear them out of my inbox (without reading them). The important topics come up again (as you’ve demonstrated) 🙂

Me: For most of the work in Product Development, there is some process or the other.. Starting from design & code reviews, product reviews, alpha testing etc etc.. etc.. There is no end to process at all.. Do you think it is ok to skip this *process* at times.. When would you skip, if at all you do? What are the factors that u would consider when u take a decision to skip a process and go ahead with launches
JL: I’ve never been a big fan of process. But I realize now that I’m just not a big fan of bad process. There are good processes for product development (in my opinion, agile/iterative processes are a good way to approach the development cycle). Given this, my plan these days is not to skip parts of a broken process, but to try to work with a good process. Of course, we never hit upon the perfect process. And sometimes, especially at a large company, there are processes you have no control over. In scenarios where parts of a process feel broken, I try to understand what the business value is of a given step. If I understand the business value, then I can make a clear trade-off between the cost of the process step and it’s return. If no one can see the business value, then you have to work to eliminate that step in the process – it’s probably left over for a legacy business circumstance that no longer exists.

Me: As a product manager, it is important to be updated with technology.. for a lot of reasons.. One of them certainly is for the *respect* from engineers.. What are your views on this? how do you keep track of technology and recent trends
JL: I agree. I read a lot (Slashdot, product documentation, books on new languages/tools/products). And I still code for fun.


Thanks a lot Jake for such insightful replies. It was indeed very helpful.

Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts. For previous episodes, click here.

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