Most agree that a Product Manager has a critical role in a product’s success. Simply put a Product Manager “Increases the chances of product success and adoption rates in the market place while generating reasonable revenue”. Many ask me what tasks fill a workday and most importantly what does a product manager do. Based on the industry and maturity of the product, a product manager does different things. However, If there are ONLY 10 things that I as a PM can do to create an impact, below are the items that I would focus on (the list is in no particular order).
1) Prioritize, Prioritize and Prioritize: If there is only one thing that a product manager can do, then it would be the prioritization. Determining what problem to solve, what products to make, which features to put in that first release, who do you want to make happy and who is OK to get upset, when to release and many more are the decisions that a product manager takes everyday. Remember that sales or consulting organizations looks at a specific customer or industry whereas a product manager looks at a generic solution and broad reach.
As an example, when Apple first made their iPad, think about all the decisions that must have gone in. Some of the decisions like hardware partners, App partners, target markets, target users, product features (like screen size, button size, processor, kind of screen, accessories) are extremely important that bring in a make or break situation for product success. Even though there are multiple experts that knows the best about each topic, there should be a or group of people who prioritize and make a product happen.
2) Talk to customers: Duh… this seems to be too simple to even mention in this list. But gets into complicated situation based on the size of the organization. Be it prospects or current customers, both understand the market and have a problem to solve. It makes absolute sense to talk to the users who is going through the pain everyday. As the product matures and sales organization increases, make sure that sales also understands this need for direct communication with customer. Always maintain a direct communication with customers, influencers and users. Often this is sidelined thinking that “we know everything that customer wants“. This is a death spiral. Not every company is Apple and Tesla.
3) Win/Loss Analysis: When you are a tiny startup, it is easy to comprehend a sales call and use it directly to strategize the next moves. When sales processes grows big and complex, it is important to catch up with every success and failure and feed that back into the organization and product. Win analysis provides equally important feedback as the Loss analysis as to the product direction, most liked features, least appreciated features, industry specific insights and many more.
4) Competitive analysis: Irrespective of size of organization, there is always a competitor. If not, there is a problem with the industry segment or someone will soon enter. Competition should never be understood in a negative way. It provides the industry validation and brings in more innovation to the customers. Small or big, do have a competitive portfolio. In the simplest case, have a SWOT for each competitor that you have. As a product manager this is one of the core competencies to understand the external factors that influence the product direction, feature set and pricing.
5) Product Innovation: Innovation comes from many stakeholders. The inspiration could be a combination of your customers, partners, competitors, industry insights, academic research, internal development organization and many more. It is extremely important for a product manager to shed the “ego” and let the innovation flow seamlessly into the product. Many times product and customers suffer for the lack of innovation because there is a invisible roadblock from departments and individuals. Let the innovation and product shine.
6) Be the leader: If you don’t believe in your product and evangelize it, nobody will. Industry conference, tech conferences and local meetups are some of the venues to show what your product is up to. Bring in a social presence (LinkedIn, FB, twitter, G+) and talk about the industry challenges, innovation and your solutions. Even if your marketing team goes big on the social media, a product manager should still have a social presence.
Most things that a product manager does is through influence. Clearly, there is no direct authority on others and this calls for lot more skills than just being intelligent. How well you understand others and how you deal with other’s agenda is very critical. It is mostly give and take and moving in the right direction.
7) Know the organization goals: The product you are building is in the context of organizational goals and make sure that the goals are aligned and understood. E.g. if yours is a hardware organization and you are building mobile Apps, make sure that there is a clear value proposition for your Apps. If not, soon you will get in to countless arguments within the team and may lead to disappointment. You would see so many business units getting closed in big organizations as they don’t fall in the new strategic direction that company has taken. This is especially critical when a organization has multiple product lines and each product either compliments or replaces others.
8) Build the roadmap: Roadmap does not mean set of feature definition for the next 6 months. What is a clear definition of your vision for the product in the coming 5 years at the very least. Clearly, you may not know about specific features but you should know about the major themes and direction. This is a complex, essential and intimidating process to bring senior management, development and sales organization agree. This longer term roadmap (and execution) helps investors, analysts and customers to trust your company and products.
9) Partner with Development and Sales teams: As much as the product management is a well known role in the industry, people still work in silos. This means, preparing the MRDs, PRDs and then sharing these across the fence with development thinking that the job is done. While the development teams can still deliver in such a disconnected model, the output is often a surprise to the organization and then then blame game starts. Instead, partner with the development and understand their strengths, concerns to better slice the product and releases.
A partnership with the sales is equally important as they are the agents for the revenue generation. They know the customer best and bring in a lot of value to the organization. Remember that sales teams want a product that they can sell and solve the real needs.
“We all are in the same boat and we have the same destination”.
10) Clear Revenue Strategy: What’s the fun, if your products don’t make money? Product sexiness and geekiness does not count if you don’t make enough money for the team to survive. Not only that, it is important to have a clear strategy on how do you plan to generate revenue out of the product (or suite of products in case of compliments). In essence, define business model and revenue stream(s).
Of course there are many more things that a product manager does and should do. But, above 10 items will take care of internal, external stakeholders satisfaction while providing the value to the product and all cross-functional teams.