Product management at a glance
Being an entrepreneur and software developer, I strive to understand the concept of product management and how it really works which means you are not alone if you are trying to wrap your head around it. In this blog posts, I will make an attempt to explore product management and analyze what can go wrong down the road, as well as how we can get better at developing and launching successful products.
It is really difficult to find a universal definition of the term product management that everybody would agree on. Wikipedia explains the term as:
“Product management is an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, and production, or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle. Similarly, product lifecycle management (PLM) integrates people, data, processes and business systems. It provides product information for companies and their extended supply chain enterprise.”
Simply put, the core responsibility of a product manager is to ensure that an idea becomes reality. It is a challenging task to be a successful product manager. Why? Because it takes motivation, organization, strategic thinking and execution to turn an idea into practical reality. On top of that, the final product must create customer value as well as measurable business benefits.
The role of a product manager
One of my mentors told me that the job of a product manager is to think of all the things that can possibly go wrong before they go wrong.
It has become abundantly clear that successful product leadership stretches beyond the scope of a management team. It is an entirely separate role that demands business acumen, a deep knowledge of the product and UX design.
The key responsibility of a product manager is to identify unsolved customer problems to create a great product experience that can stand out and remain competitive over a sustainable period. This is why great minds in this industry spend time understanding what customers need and want so that a viable solution can be developed.
Thus, a product manager is responsible for setting a product vision, defining a strategy, and developing a roadmap that can comfortably meet both user’s needs and the company goals.
What can go wrong
From the identification of the right market opportunities to the development of product portfolio, there are many things that can go wrong and put an entire project in jeopardy. It shouldn’t be surprising that more than 70% of projects fail to generate a positive return on investment.
Being aware of the alarming stats that most of the projects do not produce the expected results, it is extremely important to understand what can go wrong, what went wrong, and how to make things better the next time. Let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes a product manager or a company can make in this respect:
1. Inability to understand consumer’s needs and wants
It takes insightful and strategic thinking to make sense of all the available data and identify customer’s true needs. Failure should be taken as granted if you are unable to understand your audience and their expectations.
Are you listening to your customers? The risk of failure is high when you overlook things that are crucial or you base your idea of a new product merely on assumptions. Companies that do not put enough efforts to understand their customers are far less likely to produce great products.
2. An attempt to solve a non-problem
You will be in trouble if you are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. Isn’t it so obvious? What I feel is that most of the product leaders make frivolous assumptions about their prospects’ lives. Relying on broad preconceptions to drive the direction of an innovation will identify a problem that is not really a problem.
3. Lack of innovation
It is not hard to follow that new products demand innovative and novel ideas. Having an idea that does not stimulate innovation paralyzes the product development process from the start.
Great products often come from teams with large idea pools. The diversity of thought within the product management team is likely to be a winning combination. Many projects go wrong because the leadership does not encourage people to come on board and share their ideas. A crazy idea can lead to your next great product.
4. Failure to adapt
It was rightly said that repeating a mistake over and over again and expecting a different result is nothing but sheer stupidity. People responsible for a failed project often come up with these excuses:
- We were unable to understand the market.
- Luck was not on our side.
- Management did not let us set realistic budgets.
- We couldn’t just get the new product work right.
Complaining doesn’t change a thing. If you are serious to produce good results, change your approach upstream in the process. Technology changes the world dramatically and quickly. Being unable to adapt will make things worse.
There will always be an unlimited number of challenges and circumstances. Burying your head in the sand will not make them go away.
A bad product management decision can put the entire company at risk
There is no doubt about this; a bad business decision can cost millions. Companies invest plenty of resources and time into bringing successful products to the market. Startups often make bad decisions and end up being bankrupt.
I hear this often. Just get it done right now, we will fix this issue later. Unfortunately, that later never comes and the product is only fixed by the time it gets too late to recover and restore the reputation of the brand. It is a miserable approach when managers try to save a few bucks and put the future of the company at stake.
Simple techniques to develop successful product management strategies
The failure rate for new products can be as high as 90% which is alarming and offers all the reasons why you should be concerned. I will highlight some of the simple techniques to increase the odds that your product will be a success. Follow these steps to increase your new product’s chances:
1. Identify an opportunity
As mentioned earlier, if your product doesn’t resolve a problem or satisfy a want, it is bound to fail. Product management should start with analyzing the needs of current and potential customers, the nature of competition, consumption habits, and possibilities for enhancing existing solutions.
2. Create Personas
According to Hubspot Academy,
“Personas are fictional, generalized characters that encompass the various needs, goals, and observed behavior patterns among your real and potential customers. They help you understand your customers better”.
Customer personas help product managers communicate research about their ideal groups of potential users. Personas matter for they help understand a product’s core customer demographic. They assist product managers to make well-informed decisions about who their prospects are, what they need exactly, and how the product would be a practical solution.
3. Use of wireframes for communication
Explaining ideas to stakeholders, investors, or prospects effectively can be a difficult process. Being a product leader, it is your job to communicate your ideas comprehensively. Visual reference is one simple way to get it done. A couple of sketched wireframes instead of just talking can be mighty effective.
So far as the non-technical side is concerned, wireframes help to demonstrate key features to non-technical team members who may have varying levels of knowledge. Marketing and sales experts, for example, would probably not fully understand the technical aspects of a project. In such case, a wireframe erases the confusion and improves communication across a wide audience.
The project roadmap is a graphical presentation of the project’s goals and deliverables. The roadmap should be a simple overview containing project objectives, a timeline, important deliverables, milestones, risks, and dependencies. Roadmapping makes it easy for a product manager to manage expectations of stakeholders as well as coordinate resources with other teams on the panel.
A roadmap is a crucial document that aligns the vision for a product and chalks out plans to materialize that vision. It demonstrates what is being done when certain tasks will be accomplished, and the initiative product team is working on. Different stakeholders are likely to have their own point of view on what should be pursued. However, it is your job to prioritize which feature must go on the roadmap.
Testing is an inseparable component of product management. When you create prototypes, you need to test them thoroughly and see how well they perform. Put your ideas out for your potential or existing clients to consider. They will likely be happy to provide feedback. If they aren’t, it may indicate that the problem your prototype is attempting to solve is not big or interesting enough. Learning that early on is definitely much more desirable that finding out mid-way or approaching the end of the project. The testing phase will help you answer the following questions:
- Does your product satisfy customer needs?
- Can your product arrive on the market at the right time?
- Does your product perform efficiently, considering the development costs?
Once the product is thoroughly designed and studied, the next stage is to work on strategic positioning. Positioning is about how you want your prospective customers to perceive your product. This stage deals with the emotional, economic, and functional factors. For example, if the features of your product are similar to that of your competitors, the emotional factor can differentiate your product.
Related: 19 Examples of Product Positioning
- Do not let your team or company fall into autopilot mode. Bring new ideas actively and enlighten your team with new perspectives.
- Time-boxed prototype should be used to explore new directions, even when there is no pressure to change the course.
- A good product organization is not a conflict-free process. So, manage conflicts openly without getting personal.
- Exploit your most exciting moments and bring them into your everyday work.
- Step back if you think you are the only team member keeping the entire process from falling apart. Be aware of things that you cannot control and delegate the impactful work to your team members.
- Keep improving your product based on customer feedback and analytics.
Product management is about creating solutions that address real-world problems. As a product manager, your job is to do whatever it takes to bring your products to life. You will likely need a healthy, cohesive and strong team along the way to accomplish this.
Question of the day:
What was the biggest problem you have ever faced being a part of the product management process?