One of the interesting aspects of the tech industry is that people build on existing products more than they build from scratch, which results in there being a large percentage of the industry who have never actually built a product from the ground up. And even fewer product leaders who have built an idea into a product with a working team, working processes, delivering a functional, sustainable product line.
I believe this is why I'm starting to see companies who are hiring product help ask about more than just "Do you know how to run a product team?", and more about a portfolio of what you have built.
As an engineer who moved into product roles, I have an advantage here - I got to spend many years as a one-man shop learning all the pieces of the puzzle.
So I sat down to think about that question - what have I built over the last 25 years, specifically which projects were taken from idea all the way to not just a product, but a sustainable product that met the goals of its customers?
1997-1999: Built probably close to 100 business workflow apps inside of IBM to digitize manual processes. All small, simple apps that only took a day or two to build, but established a solid pattern for the future: Sitting down with the customer to see what they need, talk about solutions, go build them, get feedback, and launch to the users.
1999-2001: Built one of the first content management systems for web sites. We had a little startup that did this successfully for a couple years. We failed when the original dotcom boom crashed.
2002-2007: No successes to report - more than a few "lessons learned".
2007-11: While working in the energy industry, inherited a portfolio of business apps. Spent most of my time talking to the customers, understanding what was/was not working for them, and re-working the products to better serve them. This included some new dev work, and a lot of performance tuning, refactoring to reduce maintenance efforts, quite a bit of work to empower customers to manage their own data, and replatforming apps onto newer tech stack. A highly successful run both in terms of business impacts and in getting comfortable with the idea that coding is not the goal - it is just a tool to apply once you know what the goal is.
2012: Developed a tool to organize application migrations to new tech stacks, specifically off of Domino servers, and on to Microsoft products. Used it on a few consulting gigs to develop programs to re-platform entire enterprise environments. Successful product, but with an exceedingly narrow niche so I didn't use it for long.
2013-2017: Built a policy management product for K-12 that went from 0 -> growth -> aquired in 4 years. Although the acquisition was the end of it, the actual product dev and growth was a resounding success.
2018-2022: Re-built that same policy management product on a new tech stack, in the new company. Sucessfully built, but I cannot report it as a success because it got trapped in corporate politics.
2022-2023: More "lessons learned."
My actual product management skills were laughable at the start of all this, or course. But 30 years of mixed success and failure have given me a decent view of what it takes to launch a software product successfully. And how much more difficult it is when you do not start small. My success rate is almost 100% on small apps for small customers bases, either inside enterprise environments or direct to customers... but I'm only hitting 33% when I need to deliver a large complex app inside an existing corporate environment. And while I could honestly claim that the lack of success on those products was due to decisions made above my level... I'm going to have to think fairly hard about that and how to avoid it in my next gig.