I often get approached by people who want to learn more about product management and product manager roles, as it seems a bit mysterious and a potentially exciting career path. I typically share a handful of resources to help others decide whether or not it is worth pursuing. I’d like to share my personal favorites below to assist anyone else considering the product management path.
Pragmatic Marketing. Let’s begin with the value product management brings as a discipline to an organization. As Pragmatic Marketing states, “..a market-driven focus leads companies to build products people want to buy.” [DownloadPDF here: “The Strategic Role of ProductManagement.] Organizations need to create and deliver value to a specific target market and the target market must be willing to pay for that value. PragmaticMarketing.com is a great place to start the discovery process, review resources, take courses, get certified, and more. Understanding the fundamentals and the product management framework is critical for success.
Solving the right problem. Can your organization say with certainty they are creating the right value --solving the right problems for the right customers -- and the potential customers are willing to pay for it? If so, then revenues should be coming in at or above your sales quotas. They are, right? If not, keep reading.
Customer Empathy to Create Value. Empathy is a requirement during the discovery process in order to understand potential customer pain points. Start with the basics and talk to them about the problem. Probe deeply. Keep asking “Why?” Sometimes half the battle is to verify you are working on the right problem.
A perfect example is EmbraceGlobal.org. This product came out of the realization infant mortality in developing countries isn’t on the rise due to failing incubators in a hospital or clinic. The team was tasked to build a better incubator, requiring low maintenance. After speaking with women in villages surrounding the clinics, the team quickly realized the incubator wasn’t the problem at all. The real problem was how to keep babies warm from the moment they are born. Often times, babies are born in villages miles away from a hospital or clinic and may not survive the journey there. By keeping newborns warmer from the moment they are born (day 1), infant mortality rates could potentially decrease. If the team hadn’t gone out to the villages and probed to better understand the issues, they may not have uncovered the true problem to solve. The Embrace innovation may never have happened. Fortunately, Embrace was created and delivered to the market – and infant mortality rates have been declining.
Test the concept. Gather feedback and metrics as evidence to support the proposed solution will actually solve the problem, and is differentiated (better/faster/cheaper) from other products or substitute products. Ultimately, the potential customers are willing to pay for the solution because of the benefits derived from solving the problem and the value outweighs their cost. The bonus is when they grow to love your product.
Well Designed. One of my favorite books that addresses this process is “Well Designed: How touse empathy to create products people love” by Jon Kolko (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014). Jon addresses design thinking but emphasizes it’s the ‘design doing’ that matters. By continuously iterating your idea to ensure you are solving the correct problem and there is a market willing to pay for it, you have the key elements for sustainability. I had the pleasure of having Jon guest lecture in my Spring 2014 class. My students learned first-hand the importance of creating value and building products people love.
Day in the Life of a Product Mgr. Product Managers don’t just sit at their desks writing user stories based on what sales, marketing or members of the executive team say the market needs and therefore the company should build. Their inputs are valuable. However, these are very different perspectives than a product manager would have. The inputs need to be vetted and ensure they enhance the overall product portfolio and are in alignment with corporate objectives. Working on pet projects and shiny objects can be distracting and take away resource allocation for the real strategic initiatives.
The Product Manager represents the voice of the customer and is point person to monitor the industry and competitive landscapes to listen for signals. Product Managers spot emerging trends, patterns, new market opportunities (problems to be solved) and drive the process from ideation to proof of concept to prototype and ultimately the launched product in the marketplace. In essence, the product manager is the true SME (subject matter expert) for what the market needs and the types of solutions that the organization should build and deliver.
IDEO. I’m a big fan of IDEO, a design and innovation consulting company.
In particular their Blog “Design Thinking” and the book “ChangeBy Design” both written by Tim Brown, CEO. Founder David Kelly has many TEDTalks worth watching. (I secretly imagine how cool it would be to work for IDEO.)
Courses. I had the privilege of experiencing a hands-on application of design thinking principles in the “Empathize and Prototype” course within the Innovation andEntrepreneurship Program at Stanford. Jeremy Utley and Perry Kleban taught the course and are professors at the Hasso Plattner Institute ofDesign at Stanford (also known as the d.school). I highly recommend the I&E Program, a collaboration between Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and The School of Engineering. It’s a brilliant way to bring innovation, design thinking, and basic business management principles into one unique program.
Go-to-Market. Once you have a solid understanding of the problem and you have articulated the requirements to build the solution in a differentiated manner, you have a winner. “Winner” products lead to sustainability and profitability. The marketing strategy to deliver your value proposition into the marketplace becomes a piece of cake if the product management team has done their job properly. If the value proposition is designed right, sales and marketing efforts just got a whole lot easier. If you fail on the value creation and delivery, even a top-notch sales and marketing effort can’t bring in the leads, which ultimately convert to revenues. These basic fundamentals apply to building a sustainable and profitable business with loyal customers. (Pointing out I didn’t say “satisfied customers” as “satisfaction” is fleeting but loyalty is not. Learn more at NetPromoterScore.com.)
Tools. If you are looking for a product management tool to manage your product roadmaps, check out MindTheProduct.com. I use their ProdPad service, which allows you to show a roadmap for one or more products. View what’s in progress now, what’s coming up and what’s slated for future work. You can collect and store customer feedback, user personas, collaborate as a team, share ideas, and easily reprioritize initiatives. It’s easy to use with its intuitive UI. Their customer support is on top of it. They love user feedback and are quick to respond to questions and suggestions. I’m a huge fan of their co-founder, Janna Bastow. One of these days I hope to meet her at a MindTheProduct event.
What’s your take on product management? Share your ideas with me!