What Is Product Management?
This topic is so broad, that the answer could fill a few books and still leave a few empty spots. No worries, we won’t post a blog article the size of a management guidebook. Let’s check one of the most reliable sources – Atlassian, and see how they describe Product Management:
Product management is an organizational function that guides every step of a product’s lifecycle — from development to positioning and pricing — by focusing on the product and its customers first and foremost. To build the best possible product, product managers advocate for customers within the organization and make sure the voice of the market is heard and heeded.
Product management’s history reaches back to the 1930s when a “brand man” – a person that manages chosen products – emerged. Since then many definitions and management styles were developed – from Kanban in the 50s to 2001’s Agile Manifesto. The roles Product Manager, Project Manager, and Product Owner rised, and we described them and the differences between them here.
Inbound vs Outbound Product Management
Inbound and Outbound management is different, yet complementary. Simply put, inbound management takes care of developing the product, while outbound management is more about marketing and how the product answers to customers’ needs and the competition.
Roles and responsibilities in product management
- Propose and present potential products and ideas for improvement and expansion.
- Prepare the roadmap to supervise the product’s vision and to keep every interested party up to date.
- Adjust the product’s strategy during the development.
- Present the customer’s needs and expectations.
- Supervise the market and trends.
- Set the priorities for features and capabilities of the product.
- Create a knowledge hub for cross-section teams.
- Act as a leader of the product.
- Communicate with sales and marketing to adjust prices.
- Act as a source of inspiration for marketing and PR teams.
- Clearly communicate the Value Proposition of the product and its features.
- Run a pilot program for products.
What product management is not?
Now that we know the roles and responsibilities of product management, let’s focus on things that are NOT product management. Why? Mostly to avoid confusion and better understand the main points of interest and focus on them. Product management IS NOT about:
- Technical savviness – You don’t have to code the product. Product management is about business, not technicality. Obviously, it’s important to understand what is feasible and executable within the product, but mostly for commercial purposes.
- Marketing and PR – You must cooperate with these departments, but it’s not your responsibility to feature the product and sell it.
- Product Owner – They are responsible for more admin-oriented tasks, like product backlog and sprint backlog. Meanwhile, Product management is more about the bigger picture, prioritizing and delivering the features, and keeping the roadmap up to date.
- Approach purity – You know Scrum and Agile? That’s great! Do you want to blindly follow the rules and disregard potential adjustments that can benefit your team? That’s grim. Product Management is never about keeping developers in line with chosen approaches. On the contrary, it’s about finding the best method that makes people productive and happy. But if you want to derail the project, then stick to the former!
- Being a boss – Product Management is about leading the way, presenting the possibilities and opportunities to grow. It’s less about ordering and keeping the spotlight at all costs. A good product manager must know when the team knows best and avoid attempts to thwart its members’ creativity.
Product development frameworks: importance and features
The product management framework is a perfect way to set the rules and establish the way we want to create and later improve the product. Just like with a painting, the product management framework serves as a way to focus on what’s within and clearly tell what’s inside and what’s outside of the scope of interest. There are many different product management frameworks available, so let’s see some examples:
- Working backward, or the Amazon method – Popularized by the e-commerce giant Amazon, this approach literally commands you to start at the point that usually is the last one. Project managers write a press release or a list of potential features, then analyze the ideas and seek approvals. Later, they begin to create roadmaps, and backlogs with remaining elements.
- Spotify squads – Another brand-named framework, considered as one of the key reasons of the streaming service’s success. It requires creating squads – small, cross-functional, and, most importantly, autonomous teams. The main goal of this framework is about empowering squad members. The framework is about empowering squads to choose what to work on to achieve the desired outcome rather than having tasks assigned the top-down way. The key is to select work that is matching the organization’s overall strategy.
- Kano Model – Already brought on our blog, the essence of this framework is to categorize tasks by the needs and expectations of customers. The Kano Model recognizes five main categories of product attributes:
- Must-be – what the customer expects to have within the product, not as a cool feature, but an obvious and totally standard element.
- Attractive – something unexpected, but eye-catching and totally voluntary.
- One-dimensional – when we implement them, customers are happy.
- Indifferent – tasks and features with no direct influence on customers.
- Reverse – it’s better to remove these features instead of keeping them.
- GIST Planning – The abbreviation explains the framework’s basic premise. You break down your product’s planning into Goals, Ideas, Steps, and Tasks. The main goals of GIST Planning are to lower management overhead, advance team autonomy, and expedite development.
- North Star Framework – aka the only metric that matters. As Sean Ellis, who coined the term “growth hacking” describes, The North Star Metric is the single metric that best captures the core value that your product delivers to customers. Optimizing your efforts to grow this metric is key to driving sustainable growth across your full customer base.
Product management best practices
What should every product manager know and understand? Here are the essential points you must always remember:
- Analyze the market.
- Form a strategy.
- Align it with the company’s objectives.
- Listen to customers’ needs and opinions.
- Define the main, big goal.
- Prioritize tasks.
- Work across different teams.
- Don’t hesitate to change your strategy if needed.
Analyze sales and think about what worked and what didn’t during the product development.
Pros and Cons of using product development frameworks
There are many different frameworks we can use for our product management:
- Storytelling – the most barebones of product management frameworks, it sets the story for your product. Who is it for? What’s the solution? Is it already on the market? How to put the solution into practice and what the results should be? These questions will help every interested party understand the product.
- CIRCLES – another abbreviation that holds step-by-step instructions to your framework:
- Comprehend the Situation – understand the business environment your product will be in.
- Identify the Customer – create a profile of a person you address the product to.
- Report the Need of the Customer – think and list out the potential selling points of your product.
- Cut through prioritization – position your product on the market.
- List Solutions – what features and solutions your product will have and how they relate to the customer’s needs.
- Evaluate the Tradeoffs – you can’t make the perfect product; think about areas of potential compromises.
- Summarize – sum up all points and evaluate your product management framework.
- Impact Effort Matrix – This method divides tasks by two criteria: the level of impact and the level of effort. Tasks with a high level of impact and effort are obviously the major ones. High-impact tasks with low-effort are regarded as quick wins, while low-impact tasks with high-effort are thankless tasks, while low-effort tasks with low-impact are fillers.
- AARRR – sounds like a product management framework made for pirates, but it’s another abbreviation. This time for:
- Acquisition – create a plan to gain new customers.
- Activation – think about a good first customer impression.
- Retention – prepare the strategy to bring them back.
- Revenue – search for an answer on how you will make money.
- Referral – encourage the customers to recommend your product to other people.
Below are a few examples of product management frameworks based on prioritization:
- Value vs. Effort – you simply compare the value of each task and feature with the level of difficulty necessary to implement them. It’s a simple method to encourage teams to quantify and numerically score features, so they can agree which tasks are more important than others. On the other hand, these are mostly estimations and guesses – the reality of your teams’ work can be different.
- MoSCoW Method – a well-known and popular method. The principle is simple: we create four categories and assign tasks to them. The categories are:
- Must Have – essential features
- Should Have – important features, not vital but with extra value
- Could Have – good to implement, but only within the budget and available manpower
- Won’t Have – not important for this Sprint, its status may change later
- The Product Tree – a visual tool that brings gamification elements to product management. The branches represent the product’s primary functionalities. The roots are the requirements, and the leaves represent ideas for new features. How to gamify it? Product Managers ask team members to write their ideas on a Post-It note and stick them onto the tree. The tree blossoms with ideas. Then you relocate or take the leaves entirely. The ones that are closest to the tree trunk are the ones to concentrate on in the near future, while those on top are goals for long-term growth.
- Crazy 8’s – method developed by Google. You gather your teammates and sketch eight different ideas on a piece of paper that’s folded into eight rectangles. Each rectangle represents a different idea and each member has eight minutes to sketch their idea.
- 5 Whys – technique popularized by Toyota Motor Company. It’s similar to an interrogation, or, more philosophically, being a midwife (like Socrates) that helps in discovering the truth. Let’s look at this example. We have a problem: the vehicle won’t start. What do we do? If, for example, your car won’t start, ask these questions:
- Why? – The battery is dead.
- Why? – The alternator is not functioning.
- Why? – The alternator belt has broken.
- Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced.
- Why? – The vehicle was not maintained as recommended in the service schedule.
*You can ask even more questions, but usually five is a sufficient enough number to get to the source of the problem.
- Three Horizons – product management framework created by McKinsey, its main goal is to focus on your company’s future and sustainable growth in upcoming years. It’s an XY axis with time and value measures. Each of the three lines is a horizon – the one closest to the left represents the upcoming years, while the other two are spread more into the future.
- SWOT Matrix – a classic one. This matrix helps you assess four main areas of your potential project – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Then, with a little bit of brainstorming, you can pinpoint these elements. From your team members, you can learn your team’s strongest sides and biggest advantages, potential weak spots that need to be taken care of, opportunities you can take advantage of in business, and threats that are the source of failure for your initiatives.
- Impact mapping – as the creators state Impact mapping is a lightweight collaborative planning technique. It is based on user design interaction, outcome-driven planning, and mind mapping. Impact maps help visualize roadmaps, explain how deliverables connect to user needs, and communicate how user outcomes relate to higher levels of the organizational goals.
- Lean Canvas – want to prepare your whole plan on just one page? This is the solution for you. Created by Ash Maurya, Lean Canvas allows you to deconstruct your idea into key assumptions. It looks like this:
How to choose the proper product development framework?
The hardest part of every product development process is to select the right product management framework that benefits me the most. This choice must be based on many factors. First of all, is your product new, or an already existing one you want to improve? In the case of a new product, you should use a discovery matrix to check the potential market and your client base. Maybe you need a new cool feature? Think about crazy 8’s. Or do you have an already existing product that you want to properly develop in the upcoming years? Use the matrixes designed for the long-term goals. But remember, the product management framework designed for short-term goals and specific tasks must be detailed, while more visionary and roadmap-like product management frameworks need to be vague.
Roadmapping and feature prioritization
Simply put, feature prioritization is planning out the order of features your team works on, based on your product roadmap. We described many different ways to prioritize tasks and how to create a proper roadmap, but the overall idea stays the same: keep your eye on the prize. Don’t micromanage every small task and objective, focus on things that are aligned with your strategy.
How can poor product management hurt a business?
Want to neglect the whole product management thing? Take a deep breath and think again – it’s a vital element if you want to succeed. With poor product management, you risk:
- Lack of transparency and flow of information between interested parties.
- Bleeding money due to inefficient resource allocation.
- Lowering the team’s morale…
- …and potential discontent of the members.
- Lack of trust from stakeholders.
- Missing deadlines.
- Not being able to bring the promised features.
- Missing the market’s and customers’ needs.
- Being exceeded by competition.
- Launching bugged, failed product.
How does BigPicture make your product management easy?
Fortunately, you can always use BigPicture software to ease the whole product management process. With BigPicture, you’ll optimize your work, boost results, and save precious time. Your product, project, and portfolio management (PPM) will turn into a walk in the park, making room for soft aspects of management, prompting creativity, and building a culture of innovativeness. Interested? Check it for yourself.