IoT product management is constantly evolving as we utilize technology to make our lives easier. But building and managing an IoT product takes a different kind of experience and skill. IoT expert Daniel Elizalde shared his knowledge with our community, including the challenges, how to be successful, the top five important elements and more.
Daniel is IoT Product Leader with over 17 years of experience managing the complete lifecycle of connected products. The founder of TechProductManagement. The creator of the IoT Decision Framework taught at Stanford, Oxford, and Cornell and used by top Silicon Valley IoT companies. Previously, he worked as head of products for Stem, Inc. He’s a frequent speaker at IoT and Product Management events.
What is your background and how did you start in Product Management for the IoT?
I have about 18 years of experience managing connected products. I started as an Engineer and then moved to Product. I’ve managed hardware, firmware, cloud, and apps. I’ve worked as an individual contributor and head of products.
Today, I focus full-time on training companies and product teams on product strategy for the Internet of Things. I teach my IoT Product Manager certificate program online, and I teach at Stanford University and consult with companies.
What’s your most effective daily habit?
Every day I emphasize understanding how the IoT ecosystem (from a Product Management) perspective is changing. Keeping up to date with what companies are doing, what works and what doesn’t is very important. It gives you a window into the industry, but also helps you understand the pains your customers are facing.
How is product management for IoT products different from other hardware products?
IoT is very complex because it combines hardware and software. IoT Product Managers need to understand these relationships and make sure they are conversant across the technology stack. I wrote an article that can help. Check it here.
What are the top 5 things you focus on as a Product Manager for IoT?
I focus on six key areas so you can have a holistic and strategic perspective of how your IoT product impacts your customer and your company. These areas are (in order): user experience, data, business, technology, security, and standards & regulations. Check out this article where I elaborate on these important topics.
What are the current challenges for IoT reaching mass adoption?
I believe the challenge is about providing value and not a technology solution. Many companies think that just by adding sensors and collecting data from the real-world creates a successful product. This is not the case. Just like anything else, you need to understand your customer and provide value. That’s why I feel so strongly that Product Managers will play a huge role in the adoption of IoT. It’s a Product/Business problem, not a technology problem.
Are there currently any challenges that you constantly think about or that you’re trying to get better at addressing?
Absolutely! In Product Management, you are never done. You are always looking for areas to improve. I like to break these challenges into four main categories that I call the four pillars of product leadership. You can read more about it here.
How did you transition from engineering to Product Management?
I started as a software developer and then moved into a role as a Systems Engineer. In this role, I had the opportunity to travel the world designing systems for big companies. I was close to the customer and got to hear their challenges first hand. I was also close to Sales. This exposure to business, sales, and technology, blend very well to a transition into Product Management.
My key advice is to find opportunities to be close to the customers. Listen to their needs. Try to move into the “problem space” (Product Manager role) and away from the “solution space” (engineering role).
Do you ever burn out? How do you keep up your energy and stamina in such an ever-transforming field?
You have to find the right balance. Find a field that you love, and then you’ll be able to put a lot of energy into it, and it doesn’t feel like a chore. In general, I focus on the Product Manager role, which is strategy and adding value to the customer. That field is evergreen. If you focus on chasing the latest tech trend, then you’ll burn out. That’s never-ending and by itself provides no value.
As someone new to a Product Manager role from an engineering role, what are some things I should do in my first month?
The first thing to do is understand how your company works. What is their value proposition? What is the problem they are looking to solve? What are your company’s core competencies? What is their vision, and product strategy? Who are their customers? How does the company make money? Those kinds of things.
That’ll give you a holistic perspective and then you can start figuring out how you can help. Otherwise, you’ll be flying blind.
What Myers Briggs personality type are you?
I forget. I like the DISC model better. In that model, I’m a “DI,” meaning very direct, but people focused. BTW, you bring a great point. I believe all Product Managers should do one of these tests to understand themselves and their stakeholders. Communication is one of the top priorities for any Product Manager. So if you can adapt your communication style to your audience, you’ll get your message across 100 times better.
What’s your favorite IoT product?
I have many favorites. I think the Tesla S car is a great example. It’s just a great car that adds a lot of value to their customers, and they don’t even realize it is an IoT product. In the background, Tesla gets a ton of information about the car’s performance and driving habits, so they can improve their product or launch new products based on what they are learning.
What background and skills do you need to be successful in a Product Manager role?
Product Managers come from all backgrounds. Whatever background you have will be very useful in your Product Manager career. Whether it is business, marketing, design, engineering, legal, sales, etc. You just need to understand the other areas that are needed.
But in general, I think the most important skill you can have (and often the most overlooked skill) is having great soft skills. Check out this article for my philosophy on this.
What are key challenges you see in the internationalization of IoT hardware products?
Internationalization of hardware has a lot of challenges. From supply chain to distribution, installation, localization, etc. I believe the biggest challenge is around regulations. Understanding the local laws and making sure your product can be very complicated. I strongly advocate working with your legal/policy teams before launching into an international market.
You mention Product Management is “never done.” What’s the next process, or approach change you see coming?
I believe that 5-7 years from now, most products will be “connected products.” It’ll become the new normal, just like today Cloud and Mobile are just the state of the art of how we build products. That opens up great opportunities but big challenges for Product Managers because managing IoT products are way more complex than any “traditional product.”
To stay relevant, Product Managers will need to learn a “systems approach” to managing products including software and hardware. This trend is going on right now, so if we, as a profession, don’t focus on catching up, we are going to be struggling to provide value or even find Product Manager jobs in the future.
Have any advice for a Canadian student with PM/developer experience to find a Product Manager Internship in Silicon Valley?
It’s tough; I’m not going to lie. I moved here from Austin, TX. I was able to get traction by being here and being able to network and talk to people directly. Doing it remotely didn’t work.
To improve User Experience for the users, what techniques do you use?
My favorite technique is to do contextual research. This means going out to see the customer’s in their environment and experience “a day in the life.” You’ll quickly realize that their day doesn’t revolve around your product and you’ll be able to understand better how you fit into the customer’s priority. That way you can provide the best experience that fits them, not you!
I see many companies designing products that aim at being the center of their customer’s world. That’s never going to happen. We have to have empathy towards what your customer wants from you and how you can realistically help them.
You agree with where Gartner puts IoT on the 2017 Hype Cycle?
I do agree. And I believe it is our responsibility as Product Managers to deliver on the promise of IoT and get past the hype. The hype is usually around a new technology being a silver bullet. A solution to all of our problems. But as Product Managers we know that’s not true.
Let’s not get carried away. I do believe IoT is one of the most important revolutions of our time, but on the other hand, IoT is just a tool. It’s just something we now have available as Product Managers to provide value to our customers and solve their problems on a better, faster, cheaper way. That’s the only way we can break the hype. I wrote an article about that. Read it here.
What do you like and dislike about pursuing product from a more consultative/educational role?
My mission is to help companies capitalize on the IoT revolution. I’ve designed a framework to do so, and now I teach my approach online, at Stanford and companies. I realized that by being head of products, I could only influence my company. I wanted to have a bigger reach and help many companies. My consultative/educational role helps me do just that.
Now I have Product Managers all over the world taking my courses, and I’m able to impact products in many industries and verticals. Very exciting times.
Is it difficult to hire International people for US jobs in the current political climate for the Product Manager position?
I think it is. I grew up in Mexico, and I came to the US through an H1B visa and then became a citizen. I understand what it is like. I think the challenge is there regardless of the political climate. It is always hard to showcase your Product Management skills because Product Manager is still a young profession. I believe getting a Product Manager job is a lot about networking and getting to know people. But that’s hard to do abroad.
Any final words of advice for aspiring product managers?
My advice is to focus on solving customer problems. That is the main focus of a Product Manager. Understand who your customer is, and what are their pains. Lead with the understanding of what they want to achieve and how you can help. Technology, Business models, etc. come later. Customer value first, everything second.