The Diabetes Research Product Manager – by Helen May

helen-may-1114-150x150Some time ago, I worked as Product Manager. A major part of this role was working out how to invest a limited budget to develop the next release of the product. And then, I had to justify this decision. Making the decision involved multiple spreadsheets ranking the different features against each other according to different criteria. How much would each feature cost to implement? How much of the market could utilise this feature? Did we have the expertise to develop it or would we need to recruit new skills? Was this feature potentially ground breaking and put us ahead of the competition, or did we have to provide to keep up with the other products in the market? How could we market this feature: could we explain how it helped our customers or were we doing it to make our own lives easier?

At the end of some very long product planning sessions, the contents of the spreadsheets were forgotten. However, the conclusions were remembered and acted upon. This may seems strange but it was the discussions, facilitated by the spreadsheets, that were the important part of the exercise. Everyone involved in the discussions understood the decision criteria, the “competition” to what was most important to them and the costs involved. And, if any of our customers asked, we could explain the decision to them helping them understand why we did not invest in the feature that only they wanted.

When I read about research into diabetes, I think of myself as one of the customers of the research “Product Managers” who are considered when they do their budget planning.

Do they focus on Type 2 diabetes because more people have it so it should have a bigger impact? Or do they focus on something less common like Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) because it is too often forgotten? Do they focus on stopping diabetes happening or a cure for those who have it today or reducing the impact diabetes has on overall health? Do they invest in a new area of investigation which has never been researched so is more risky but potentially has bigger impact? Or do they dig deeper into a well known area hoping to extract another morsel of knowledge? Do they concentrate on researchers with a proven record or someone new to the field with a different way of thinking? Do they put any emphasis that would get more column inches in the news and highlight the plight of people affected by diabetes?

As I read the news about a recent diabetes study that could stall the start of diabetes, my feelings were mixed: it would be great to stop diabetes but this won’t help people like me who already have diabetes and are beyond the honeymoon period.  There are so many ways to slice the diabetes research pie that it must be incredibly hard to decide where to start.

One technique I used as a Product Manager was to slice the budget into categories such as improving past features, creating new features, responding to customer feature requests and improving the underlying architecture. Each category was assigned a percentage of the budget. This allocation was reviewed each year but largely remained unchanged. Again this helped with understanding, communication and decision making.

Diabetes UK publishes their top research priorities for Type 1 and Type 2 and gives us an opportunity to comment. As one of their research customers, I would like to understand more about how they make these decisions on how to invest their research budget, how they split the budget between Type 1 and Type 2, and whether it is realistic for me to expect a cure in my lifetime, eradication for future generations or management of my diabetes without pricks and injections.

Diabetes UK says:

Anna Morris, Head of Research Funding at Diabetes UK, has responded to Helen’s questions.

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