What Flavor is Your Cupcake?

The Cake Model for Product Planning is a clever and simple product management methodology by Brandon Schauer.

The cake model helps launch desirable products as quickly as possible. Doing so helps customers gain positive, successful product experiences as quickly as possible as well.

The cake model urges product managers not to try making a big huge honking cake of a product. That requires baking a very a big cake (on its own, rather plain and dry), then adding some filling, and then some frosting. Hopefully your target markets are willing and able to wait for all that, and the finally-completed cake is the flavor, texture, etc. they were expecting.

Instead, product managers should first spec out a cupcake of a product that be made relatively quickly, with a small amount of cake complimented with enough filling and frosting to make people want it  – and get value from using it – right away, as is.

Users achieve success and a sense of competency with the product now, and eagerly look forward to enhancements. For more on the importance of getting your users past the newbie threshold with your product to passionate user, check out this classic post – one of my favorites from Karhy Sierra’s Creating Passionate Users blog (archive).

One cupcake product model example that comes to mind is the online to-do app TeuxDeux. Instead of trying to bake the entire cake of “everything” that belongs in a to-do app, TeuxDeux offered up a quick cupcake: a dead-simple online to-do application for people who might find the very wide and deep features of more comprehensive to-do apps like Remember the Milk a bit intimidating. Users raved about TeuxDeux’s highly intuitive “cupcake,” and have since provided tens of thousands of enhancement suggestions, culminating in new online features as well as an iPhone version.

Meanwhile, product marketing managers contribute to the success of the cake model through two primary roles:

  • Convince your target market segments that your cupcake not only tastes good, but also tastes far better than competitors’ big, plain, dry cake (or their attempts at cupcakes).
  • Have, or quickly gain, vertical (industry/field) and/or functional subject matter expertise (SME) to help render your cupcakes particularly flavorful to those market segments.

I think the Cake Model for product management, combined with the above-noted product marketing role, also aligns well with the market segment-driven product strategy of Proficientz, formerly ZigZag Marketing, as recently presented by John Mansour, Managing Partner at Proficientz, to members of the Boston Product Management Association.

Under such a market-driven strategy, product managers are across-the-board experts on the product, setting product priorities based on key market segment growth potential, and product marketers are influential in identifying those key market segments, leveraging SME, and developing effective messaging and marketing strategy for each segment.  (A market-driven strategy becomes even more vital when you have a number of products, now managed as a portfolio, in which each product plays a defined role as part of a complete solution for the key market segments).

In turn, such a market-driven (not product-driven) strategy lends itself to the quicker creation of cupcake products, as well as subsequent iterations, building off the initial cupcake to create a small layer cake, then a bigger sheet cake, and perhaps someday a gigantic wedding cake!

The Product Manager as CEO-Heir Apparent

Ursula-Burns-XeroxIn May 2009, Xerox President Ursula Burns succeeded the retiring Anne Mulcahy as CEO. The fact that Ursula Burns then became the first African-American female CEO of a Fortune 500 company is vitally important in and of itself. And yet, additionally, while reading Ursula Burns’ company biography, I was intrigued by whether Ms. Burns’ formative years with Xerox included significant work within product management. This may well have been the case.

Ursula Burns’ Xerox executive bio notes that “Burns joined Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern and later assumed roles in product development and planning. From 1992 through 2000, Burns led several business teams including the office color and fax business and office network printing business.” It would be interesting to know whether the business teams Ms. Burns led was within product management, and whether her work prior to 1992 included roles within product management (this might depend on how Xerox defines “product development and planning.”) I dropped a quick email to the Xerox PR department inquiring about any specific product management roles during Ms. Burns’ career at Xerox, culminating to her new role as CEO. Carl Langsenkamp, Xerox Public Relations, quickly replied, noting that Ms. Burns’ held several jobs that encompassed product management. He also explained that Xerox describes certain positions in unique ways that may not be a standard in other companies.

Product-Manager-to-CEOThe notion that a Product Manager can and should emerge as an ultimate heir apparent to CEO of the company is one that has been raised many times. I had the epiphany (well, for me, anyway) after completing the Pragmatic Marketing product management training led by Steve Johnson that product managers and product marketers are uniquely skilled to ultimately serve as CEO. You can also Google “product manager to CEO”, hit “I’m Feeling Lucky”, and you should be directed to a very interesting online article on the product manager as CEO written by Barbara Tallent, who was herself a product manager-turned-CEO.

All that said, Product Managers (and again, yes, Product Marketing Managers) often still feel their opinions on strategic matters or key decisions are not heard or considered by senior management. This is because it remains up to a product manager to fill her or his worktime with those value-added activities that constitute true steps forward to the CEO corner office. These value-added activities are summed up in five key “soft” skills every product manager and marketer must master. This advice came from ZIGZAG Marketing Founder & Managing Partner John Mansour, who just spoke on this topic as guest speaker for the The Boston Product Management Association (BPMA) meeting just held on May 21…

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