Managing Infrastructure Products
Product managers are used to collecting requirements from their users and hopefully from the customers. In fact, in talk after talk, Product Managers always explain how “listen to your customers” is the most important aspect in the life of a product manager. This is a great advice that works really well for a product company. If one is a product manager for an ink pen, understanding what are the customer pain points and creating a better ink pen (make the tip thinner, ensure that I can see when the ink runs out, make the cap chewable…) is the thing to do.
The customer pays the vendor to use or own the infrastructure. They are the ones that are stuck with the bill as well as having to manage the infrastructure and maintain its life cycle. By the above definition, these are the folks that should be providing pain points and requirements for your road map. That’s true but they are not the only ones.
The users of the infrastructure are equally and almost more important than the buyer of the infrastructure. Even though they do not pay for the thing that is being made, often, they are the reason that the customer bought the infrastructure to begin with.
Let’s look at an example of infrastructure: servers for a data center. People who buy servers for data centers are buying them to do something with them. These people have very hard requirements. They want the server to be powerful and have loads of CPU cores and memory and fast storage. They also want the least amount of power consumption since they have to pay for electricity. If they invest in immutable infrastructure, they know that they will never upgrade or touch the servers, so they want everything including “future-proof” Network Interface Cards (NICs), modern BIOS and ILO boards. As a product manager, you can understand these requirements and can work tirelessly to fulfill them.
These amazing servers that you are product managing are going to be used by your paying customers to host applications and this is where the story gets interesting. These applications actually have requirements. For example, an application that is very heavy in CPU cycles, will need to maximize the number of CPU cores per socket. A networking heavy application will want to make sure that it never crosses a NUMA boundary to get the most out of the server networking capabilities. An even heavier networking application might need to leverage NIC offloading capabilities.
As a product manager working in any infrastructure company, your job is therefore to listen to your customers and listen to your customers’ other suppliers and then harmonize the requirements to ensure that when you deliver, your customers are happy and their suppliers are ready to go on top of your infrastructure. It might be a bigger ask, but the reward is actually 2x. You get to delight both your customers and your customers’ other suppliers.