From Software Engineer to Product Manager – Learning New Skills in the Cyber Security Industry

January 19, 2019

Tuukka Merilainen Product Manager Deltagon

I joined Deltagon Group almost four years ago. The first two years I worked 100 percent of my time as a Software Engineer. Then my position started to drift towards the business side and I got promoted to Product Manager for all of Deltagon’s products. As of today, I have worked as a Product Manager for one year. In this post I will summaries what has happened in that year and analyze how it feels and what it takes to be a Product Manager in the cyber security industry.

What is Deltagon Group?

From deltagon.com:

Deltagon develops information security solutions for electronic communications and electronic services across a wide range of industries from the financial sector to public administration – and everything in between.

Deltagon’s story started 20 years ago and the first launched product Sec@GW for email encryption is still alive. Sec@GW’s lifecycle phase is still in growth position.  Deltagon’s email encryption solution is definitely a market leader in Finland. It is also used in other Nordic countries. For example the government of justice in Sweden has used Sec@GW for several years to send court decisions to all stakeholders. Main customer segments for the product are: the public sector, finance and insurance, healthcare, the legal industry and security operators.

In addition to email encryption Deltagon has three other products. Here’s a list of all four of Deltagon’s products:

What Product Manager Position Covers on a High Level

  • Own, lead and maintain product management process
  • Ensure company’s continuous customer value delivery
  • Active management and development of competitive product portfolio
  • Lead product idea creation, prioritization and decision making
  • Product roadmap creation and communication
  • Product lifecycle management and communication
  • Maintain competitive intelligence of relevant markets, players and products
  • Product knowledge transfer internally, for partners and customers

Switching to a New Position Was a Shock

To be honest switching from almost pure technical position into a business minded position was a shock at first. Quite fast the new challenges forced my mind from a state of shock to actually realising that there was a lot of interesting work to do. Even though the products were amazing, there was a lot of long overdue work to be done. In other words, I dived right into the tasks ahead.

Without help I couldn’t have succeed as well as I did. The most important help came from product management heavyweight player Pekka Usva. Deltagon hired him as a consultant to give me the advice I needed to succeed in product management. Pekka has history of 20 years in different product management related positions at F-Secure. His last position at F-Secure  was Vice President for different departments.

In the beginning, Pekka coached me full-time and later he offered consultation as needed. He drastically improved my knowledge of software development business and helped to develop my skills to perform succesfully as a Product Manager.

Quite soon I faced the public part of my new position. Previously I was typically sitting in the offices corner coding like a maniac. Sometimes I met customers with Sales Managers but it did not happen every week. As a Product Manager I had to constantly meet different stake holders. One of the first investments was getting new formal shirts for the role.

Travelling to Conferences and Seeing Customers, Public Speaking and Interviews

I realised that after switching position I often found myself at the airport. The glamour of flying slowly diminished. Now I know how it feels to work and travel at same time. I had to travel to Sweden and Norway to meet customers and partners. Typically, I took the first plane in the morning, travelled for a couple of hours before the first meeting and then continued with a couple of meetings. It does not require high math skills to realise that workdays were over 14 hours long.

Many conferences and events in Finland became familiar. I also attended Asis conference in Rotterdam and Critical Communications World 2018 in Berlin. Berlin’s conference I attended as a speaker.

During the 2018 I was interviewed for an article that was published in Norwegian magazine’s Nordic Businesses & Innovations appendix. The magazine could be read in all of Norwegian’s aeroplanes.

Tuukka Merilainen's Interview in Norwegian's Magazine

Inspired by the article I wrote two blog posts to Deltagon’s official blog. First post covered the same topic as the Norwegian’s article: “Do you want to gain cost savings with security?“. The second post continued the topic and I wrote about a culture of signing agreements: “We continue to rely on signatures from the Stone Age“.

 

Product Vision and Refreshing the Strategy

Deltagon’s vision and strategy defines that the company produces solutions for confidential communications and digital services. This is implemented in the form of the four different products mentioned earlier. The product ideas were great and all products had many good features and customers already. Still, we realised that both the product vision and the strategy were lacking. Some products (especially others than Sec@GW) did not have clearly documented business goals or value propositions.

We started by re-creating each product vision from scratch. After the visions were re-created we started defining the product strategy. We used Roman Pichlers product vision boards as a template for product strategy work. We chose an extended vision board, that contains all the basic aspects that have to be crystallised to succeed with product strategy.

Roman Pichler extended product vision board

The vision and strategy re-creation process was far from unnecessary. In the end we found a couple of bottlenecks regarding our products and portfolio and we chose a new path.

Improvements Regarding the Product Development Process

Lucky for me, Deltagon was already using a Jira for maintaining product development process. Also the decision to use Kanban instead of Scrum was already made. Kanban method fitted our business model. On a high level the process was fine and workflows existed.

What I did realise was that the workflows required some fine-tuning. For example prioritazion of the tickets in Jira were lacking. Also the Kanban board did not contained any limits like it should. Basically the developers could have as many tasks in progress as they wanted. We made a decision that all the tickets have to have priority and maximum number of tickets in progress status is 2 x per developers. Sometimes the different statuses weren’t used properly. We agreed together that it is very important to switch the ticket status into “In Progress” when developing starts etc.

Product Portfolio Roadmap Creation

Deltagon was Missing the Portfolio Roadmap. Of course some plans existed, but the official portfolio roadmap was missing. I published a roadmap which showed the plans for the next 18 months for Deltagon’s products. Rather than doing a feature based roadmap I decide to go with a goal based roadmap. For example, for 2019 we set these four goals:

  1. Overall Automation and Integration Possibilities Improved
  2. Multi tenancy Improvements
  3. Fast Deployment
  4. Added Value for Cloud Services

Maintaining the Product Backlog

Maintaining the backlog required a lot of effort. Bringing new ideas from the customers into a backlog might sound like a easy task. Reality hit hard and keeping the backlog updated was a big task. Luckily, the development team’s lead contributed a lot  and together we could keep the backlog in shape. Our goal was to have the tickets in better shape than before. We decided that all the tickets should contain at least the following:

  • Background info for the change request (what is wrong/missing and why this is relevant)
  • Implementation guidelines (tips for developers)
  • Priority

Sales Support and Partner Meetings

The past year, supporting the Sales team in their process has been an important part of my work. Deltagon’s sales team consist of very skilled sales professionals. However, naturally they didn’t have a deeper knowledge about the technical capabilities of the products. This is were my background came in handy. Together with the sales team we also realised that sometimes a value proposition is easier to do in pairs. Because of these two reasons I joined some of the sales meetings with our sales managers or sales director. We worked as a team to help the customers understand the value of our solutions.

Deltagon has many high value end customers who are handled by the partners. In many cases the partners’ solution catalog contained a wide range of different solutions. Deltagon’s solutions completed the catalog by adding a solution for confidential communication and business critical information storing. I helped our partners to develop their business with Deltagon’s solutions. The moments spent with partners were the most valuable for me and I really enjoyed to work in co-operation with such important players.

Battle Cards

During the sales meetings and the moments spent with partners I noticed that we were facing the same questions all over again related to features of our product compared to others. Many times finding the right words for value proposition was also a pain. Mr. Pekka Usva suggested that we should create battle cards to help with those kinds of situations.

Together with our marketing team and Pekka I created the first Deltagon’s battle cards to help with value proposition.

Documentation Improvements

Several times Pekka said that helping the partners do their work should be a top priority. On the other hand, he said that if partners have capabilities to maintain the solution by themselves they will do it if it brings profit and value. Further, he added that if the facilities are not in place, you will have to do all the work by yourself and it lowers the value of the partner.

After seeing the partners and developing the business with them I realised we had a bottleneck regarding our documentation. This bottleneck was actually a missing facility. Partners could not maintain the systems well enough because the documentation was lacking. I had to tell them the same things all over again and sometimes the amount of information was so overwhelming that they forgot most of it. We did have many documents containing useful information. However, it was quite hard to get a decent overall view of everything as all of the information was in separate documents.

I decided to put a stop to the separate documents. I implemented a documentation portal with MkDocs and I introduced a new way to maintain documentation. Instead of writing Microsoft Word documents and saving those as a PDFs we started composing markdown documents and publishing those in a fancy web portal. Next goal is to complete implementation and launch the portal for partners.

Product Launch in ALSO Cloud Marketplace

One of the first task’s as a Product Manager I got was to help the sales and marketing team to launch our Sec@GW product in ALSO Cloud Marketplace. At first the task felt easy, but it turned out that it required a lot of effort from all Deltagon’s key players. Together with one of our Sales Manager’s I gathered the material and lead the decision making process to make the product launch possible.

Conclusion

Since I have been a developer at Deltagon for over two years I have a deep knowledge of the capabilities of all of Deltagon’s products. Moving to the position of Product Manager after that was a great success. It glued together all the pieces of my expertise.

As a Software Engineer I had a couple of projects that I was handling as a manager. But as a Product Manager I actually had to take on more of Project Manager role in many different type of projects. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to launch, execute and successfully complete a project.

Sometimes I miss the work as a developer. However, being a Product Manager has definitely helped me grow as a professional. It has given me a much better understanding for the business side of software development in the cyber security industry. I believe I now have much more complete skills for successfully maintaining or creating software in the future no matter what professional position I might have.

 

 

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