The Birth Of A Product Manager's Training Program

March 3, 2008
Marylyn Donahue
Successful Product Manager's Handbook

Product manager training should be customized to meet a company's changing needs. But how do you do it?

"I always remembered the frustration of being a very 'green' product manager," says Kathy Osvath, who got her start as a product manager (PM) with Ives Laboratories, a small pharmaceutical division of American Home Products (now Wyeth), back in the 1980s.

Kathy Osvath

The frustration took on a new dimension when Osvath moved on to Kallir, Phillips, and Ross, a medical advertising agency. "As a group product director on the Ortho Pharmaceutical account, I worked with many new product managers—some very inexperienced," she explains. "It made me wish there were a more formalized approach to product-management training."

More recently, as president of Wellington Group, she has been providing product- and disease state–related sales-training programs for Allergan and other healthcare companies. Through this work, she had a chance to pitch her training idea to someone in a position to give it the green light. The innovative, interactive e-learning program that came out of the conversation—the Product Manager Resource Center (PMRC)—is attracting attention in the industry, so Pharm Exec got in touch with Osvath to hear how it works and how it came into being.

Q: Was Allergan receptive to the idea right away?

Interestingly, when I brought up the idea, Jim Trunick—in the sales training department at Allergan—told me he'd helped develop a task force called the Marketing Director's Forum, which had already identified product-manager training as a critical need at Allergan. Jim introduced me to Miles McLennan, one of the product directors in the task force. It turned out we all shared a vision of how a training program could be laid out. And eventually they decided to let my company develop a soup-to-nuts program for them.

Q: How did the shared aspect of your vision become a reality?

Miles McLennan and Jim Trunick polled their fellow directors for input and came up with the top-ten most-important topics that needed to be covered. Then Alexandra Barton, from Allergan's human resources department, enthusiastically teamed up with Jim to help develop and oversee the project.

Q: What are the topics you've covered so far in the PMRC?

To date, we have developed six modules —Business Planning, Market Research,

Forecasting, Campaign Development, Strategic Communications, and Budgeting. And in 2008, we plan to add several additional topics, including Project/Vendor Management and Product Life Cycle Management. In addition to the PMRC online training, this is an all-encompassing PM training program that incorporates on-site follow-up workshops as well as off-site business programs, through the UCLA Medical Marketing Program.

Q: Can you give me an example of one of the exercises?

In the Forecasting module, for example, PMs are required to create a sales forecast for Ocutan [a fictional product], using data from the past two years. They are provided with an Ocutan Excel Spreadsheet and a situation analysis. They have to make assumptions for creating the forecast and then, using simple linear regression, forecast the market TRxs for the current year.

That's followed by a series of more challenging forecasting exercises that are designed to give them practice with real-world marketing situations. For example, PMs are asked to adjust the market TRxs for seasonality and to forecast the impact of a new generics competitor.

If they need help, they can click on the Resources folder on the Web site and see how [fictional product manager] Pete Moss completed the same exercise. They can also download a PowerPoint file containing forecasting analog situations, such as generic intrusion or the entrance of a new product.

So although the exercises may seem pretty basic for a seasoned PM, they will be incredibly useful to a PM with limited experience in forecasting.

Q: Were there any unexpected challenges in the development process?

Actually, there were. We cut our teeth on a very large and in-depth module, Business Planning (some companies call it Market Planning). It covers everything from data gathering to situation assessment and SWOT [Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats] analysis, to creating a promotional strategy and then communicating the Business Plan to management and, eventually, the sales force.

We created interactive mini-movies, exercises, and worksheets for each of these components, so the amount of work involved was staggering and incredibly complex from both a writing and a production perspective.

But here was the problem: Initially, we were just getting input from the Product Directors group; we soon realized we needed to develop a methodology for development and review of content that focused on one "go to" contact for us along with a team of reviewers.

So Alexandra and Jim identified a unique group of four to six individuals [Directors] at Allergan to serve as a review committee for each of the identified modules, and chose one of them to be the content "expert" and primary contact for The Wellington Group.

Now we have a very systematic approach to creating content. First, we work with our assigned contact to create a detailed content outline for each module. That outline is then reviewed by the entire committee. Next, we work directly with our assigned expert to locate information resources within Allergan and to review our initial drafts. Sometimes that entails a bit of detective work, but eventually a final draft is ready to submit to the review committee.

Once the outline is approved, we design the exercises and the production work begins. Production usually takes between one and two months, depending on the complexity of the module, before it goes live on the PMRC Web site.

We also designed the PMRC so it could grow and change as Allergan's informational needs changed. And we wanted the PMs to be able to access a variety of resources85from the modules themselves [available as printable pdfs] , to case-based exercises and answer keys, to printable worksheets, to topic-specific glossaries.

Q: I was curious about Pete Moss, the fictional PM you created to be part of your program, and the equally fictional product Ocutan.

We wanted the PMRC to reflect the case-based learning style that is used in many MBA programs. He is very realistic. We keep hoping someone at Allergan will call up Jim or Alexandra and ask which floor Pete Moss' office is on.

Q: In the end, what do you think the payoff will be for Allergan?

The PMRC helps them take a consistent approach to managing their brands, but also I think it will give them an important hiring edge. Allergan can now demonstrate to potential hires that they support their Product Managers and give them the tools to do their jobs well. Finally, this program helps to shorten the learning curve for new PMs, establishes clear job expectations, and helps to build a team of professionally competent Product Managers.