In between trying to organise my brothers I spent my teenage years involved in a couple of ventures, including building a telephone-based equivalent to ‘match.com’. I spent a great deal of time graphing and projecting the results from the content we posted to try and predict how engaging it was going to be. With 80% of the call volume triggered by just 20% of the content we were creating I came to understand early how important data is in business decision-making and became obsessed with using this data to optimise product design.
Great product management requires a lot of hard work and planning and there are also some great companies and texts for you to explore that provide some fantastic tips on great product management. One such company is Pragmatic Marketing, which runs courses that teach you how to make a success of building and marketing products. From the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, to tips on product launches, running customer focus groups and delivering consistent surveys, there are some really great resources that will help any product manager. I’d also cite Ben Horowitz’s “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager" and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries as really insightful texts that are a staple for any product manager.
Personally, my inspiration in the search for the perfect product has always been the teardrop. A teardrop shape is nature’s most perfect aerodynamic shape (a slight simplification but go with me here). If you subject water to gravity it will form a teardrop shape as that is the most efficient way for it to travel. A product is the same but the force on it is market winds, rather than gravity. Of course market winds aren’t the only thing that determines how successful a product will be. Clear focus, rigour around the data and customer understanding also have significant roles to play.
As far as I’m concerned, there are seven steps to product heaven as a product manager, but don’t just take my word for it, the sources I mentioned above back-up the majority of these steps.
1. Become the product CEO
Ben Horowitz’s “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager" provides a really strong best practice guide to making a success of a product, and he suggests that there is a need for the product manager to act like the CEO of the product, taking responsibility for the product vision and its ultimate success or failure. From my perspective as a CEO I find a lot of parallels between what I do (at a business level) and what a product manager does (at a product level). It is my job to set direction, work with my team to determine strategy; create, understand and articulate vision and drive the development of the business forward. This is exactly what a good product manager does for the product.
2. Never stop learning
There are many lessons that can also be added from The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, but the stand-out message for me would be the importance of learning – “Build-Measure-Learn” as Ries states. As a product manager you must learn from everything you do – learn from launches (and re-launch if needs be), learn from your colleagues, learn from competitors and other businesses.
3. Collaboration & Communication
Another great point from Horowitz is that product managers can’t work in siloes if they want to be effective, they must be well-known within the sales team, be up-to-speed on market conditions and challenges and be focused on the common goal. Product requirements and plans must also be clearly defined and communicated in writing, to ensure that there is no ambiguity.
4. Development doesn’t end
A common mistake companies make is thinking that product development ends when the product is ‘complete’. Actually, the product itself is simply the core of the product package, which needs to include all the other pieces of the product enablement jigsaw from the community that supports/ develops/ resells/ updates it to the training that will ensure customers get what they need from it.
5. The ‘unfair advantage’
It is crucial to identify what I call the ‘unfair advantage’ of the product. What is the secret sauce that makes your product stand out from anyone else’s? This doesn’t have to be a feature – it could be in the way it was created, the rationale for its existence, or the services that wrap around it. The fact is though if you aren’t clear on what it is then no-one else will be.
6. Don’t forget to test
There is always a temptation to do your testing away from prying eyes but the fact is, the fewer people are exposed to the development of the product, the less data you will be able to collect on it, and data is key. You cannot have too much data especially when it comes to development cycles. The more you know about how people are going to respond to a product, the better each iteration will be. Be brave and make your betas public – not only will you get better feedback but you will also encourage trust by demonstrating transparency.
7. Gather knowledge and skills
Clearly, knowledge is power and, according to Horowitz “Good product managers know the market, the product, the product line and the competition extremely well and operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence.” It’s not enough however, to know your product, customers and sales teams. There are key skills that will also serve product managers well, such as marketing and communications, time management and discipline.