Product Management is one of the most creative and sought after roles in the Software development industry and there are more reasons than for it than one. Primarily this glorious role is attributed with the responsibility of creation. You are the fount of ideas by means of which the product evolves and enriches itself. You find the touchstone against which your ideas are tested and validated. You assemble the team, influence, lead, persuade, and marshall your flock that leads the company into the glorious light of success. You are, in your own little territory, running a small company, and performing all functions required to successfully run a company.
One may ask whence does the power that makes you lead come from. Unfortunately so often, you are not officially holding the reigns of a team – you have no team reporting to you and yet you are accountable for its output. The answer is that the power of a Product Manager (succinctly, PM) comes from within him. From her/his ability to absorb the influx of information and ideas, and from the chaos conjure up a cohesive product (or features) idea.
In being a product manager, supremely so, one experiences the thrill of creation. Certainly, we all may concede that creation is not trivial. It requires a stroke of intuition, often genius, patient study, extensive survey, user research and agglomeration of conflicting ideas, constraints and business imperatives. Huh!
To make it all more concrete, I shall list down what are the typical responsibilities of a PM in a technology company.
- Product Vision
- Product Strategy
- Product Roadmap
- Product Design
- Product Development
- Product Marketing
Product Vision: First and foremost, the PM defines and communicates the product vision. Doing so requires you to study the market, users, competition, and industry and discover challenges of the users that your “to be gestated” product will seek to surmount. You define who is your customer (a segment or a set of them) for whom your team will create the product and how are they going to use it to derive the benefit it proposes to impart. The product vision statement is concise, concrete, and simplistically conveys the idea of the product.
The product vision acts a guiding principle and laconically encodes its raison d’etre. It is aspirational and actionable and also puts bounds on the team as to within what constraints is it supposed to build the product. It captures the essence of the product and communicates it at high level of abstraction. Ken Schwaber so writes of product vision: “The vision describes why the project is being undertaken and what the desired end state is.”
An effective product vision encodes in itself the following:
- Who is the target customer? Who will buy the product and use it in what ways?
- What needs will the product address? Which challenges of users will it conquer? In other words, what value does the product (or feature) add to the user.
- What is the differentiating value proposition of the product? What it proposes to do differently from the competition or breaks through into a zone of no competition (refer: The Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne). It unveils the specific product attribute(s) that will fulfill the specific needs of the user and generate revenue for the company.
- It may also specify how the product is different from its alternatives and substitutes in the market.
Let this is emphatically state that the product vision needs to be internalised by the team and in the times of confusion or surfeit information, it will act as the guiding light to stay focused on what attributes needs to be build in the product.
Product Strategy: Vital to product manager’s role is crafting the product strategy. Creating product strategy is the ultimate test of the PM’s ingenuity, rigour, analytical and critical thinking skills. The PM studies the market and competition, performs user research and arrives at clear understanding of customers’ needs. Based on the needs, the constraints in which you should operate, and the present capabilities of the company, you conceive the product (or feature) that offers its unique value proposition to your target customers. You will also work with other functional departments such as Sales, Marketing, Customer Support, Operations, Engineering to garner requirements for your product.
Chalking out the strategy might also require various tasks such as building the right team, acquiring the right skills and resources, and planning how the product is going to be built, defining the business model, and setting goals for teams and specifying metrics for success.
Product Roadmap: This is where the PM steps into deeper waters and begins to breakdown this themes into comprising themes and epics. You specify what are those interacting components that need to be built to deliver value to the target users. You specify, a minimum viable product (MVP), that you would like to take to your users comprising the key product attributes that solve the vital needs (not all) of your users. Then you specify how your team arrives at the MVP delineating the components and their delivery dates.
Prioritization: Implied in product development is the prioritization of backlog that is created by user research, inputs from various functional teams and your own conception of what the product must be. Individual epics and stories from the backlog are designated to be developed as part of sprints.
Product Design: You now work with UX designers, engineering, QA and Operations to concretely design the product features and how they interact with each other. At this juncture, the Engineering team would have the architecture and design of the product ready.
Product Development: For each component defined in the previous step, the PM defines features and breaks them into user stories that are small, atomic components that collectively build the feature(s). Doing so will require the PM to work with Engineering and steer it toward materialisation of desired features. You may also specify acceptance criteria for stories by which its accuracy and proposed value to customer is judged.
Launch: The PM coordinates various functional teams to launch the product (or features). This includes approving the final build, going through the launch checklist and communicating with stakeholders about the delivered product (or features). The PM will also work with Marketing on the Go-To-Market (GTM) plan and ensure that the product sends a consistent brand image to its users.
Product Marketing (Evangelism): Product Managers are biggest votaries of the product they help create. Although your organisation is likely to have a Product Marketing Manager (PMM), the PMs are still one of the most vital cogs in the Product Team’s wheel. The PM takes proactive part in promoting the product by giving demos, speaking in webinars and trade shows, composing blogs, contributing to Slack channels, and participating in all those means of promotion that your organisation’s Marketing team employs (say, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.)
Conclusion: In this introductory blog, we have learnt the chief activities of a PM. I have not delved deep into any of activities which I shall in ensuing posts. But this article explains to you the scope of a product manager’s activities and the gravity of the role in an organisation. Product Management is a cyclical activity and the scope defined above are not performed once or linearly. The various aspects of product management are performed cyclically and/or concurrently. In subsequent blogs, we shall learn individual aspects of product management in keener detail and hope to impart you practical and thorough knowledge of the art of creating addictive products. Cheers!