Sunday, March 17, 2019

What is product management?

Product management is the process where a product owner/manager translates customer pains into solution requirements while making sure the solution is profitable to their business. The product manager needs to bring clarity to their team.

So I started arguing that product management is a process. While the product manager has multiple jobs to do (will detail on this later) product management is the process where there is a clear communication path from the validated customer pain to each granular task that goes into the backlog and eventually gets shipped back to the customer. If we live in an alternate universe, things stop here. But usually customers come with feedback and lots of it.

The product management process

The ideal process is when features or product ideas come form a validated market need (there are other cases, but I won't cover them in this post).
A validated market need is when a customer segment has an important problem and "hacked" a solution together to fix it. Hacking a solution can mean using pen and paper for documenting disease progress (non-digital medical journal) or hailing in the street on a rainy day for a taxi - in Uber's case.

In the customer interview process (requires getting out of the building - there are no facts in the building, only opinions), customers should not be asked about solutions or even mentioning your idea to the solution. In this part of the process, product managers should talk 2% and listen 98%. Try to get the potential customer to explain in his or her words the pain and the experience facing doing a particular task. And listen, I cannot stress this enough. Now, repeat this process until you get repetitive answers.

Go back to the team and map that data and create a story map. Tell the customer story and make personas. Feature decisions should be data driven, not opinion given, although sometimes it helps to have an expert on board to confirm certain paths. But usually the customer data is the most valuable resource you have at this point. No usage metrics, churn rates etc. Just raw data that needs to be empathized into a solution.

After you figured out how to clearly state the problem and the customer story the product manager needs to prioritize. What is the most important problem that the potential customer would highly appreciate our product to solve? Does it make sense to the business? Would the customer pay for the solution? How much would the customer pay for it?

The product manager prioritized some problems to solve based on his "feel" from empathizing with the customer, data, their business, the market, the current competitors (competitors can be pen and paper - not every digital product is better than pen and paper because in some markets there is a restrain from adopting a digital solution over an analogue one) etc.

After the prioritization, user stories need to be created. A user story is just a part of the feature that is expressed somehow in non-technical customer language. As an example, these are user story examples:

  • as a customer I want to login with Facebook
  • as a customer I want to add a reminder
  • as a customer I want to have home/work suggestions when starting my navigation system
Let's take the last one as a thought process. I don't believe any customer said 10 years ago that this is what they want to see when their navigation system boots up but a product manager decided that these are the 2 most important locations to navigate in a customer persona. The customer would want to navigate to work and back home. In the interview customers might have said that they use the car to get to work, grocery shopping and taking their kids home from school. This is customer empathy.

Getting back to the user stories. After they were created, they are tackled by the development team, going through CI processes, tested by QA, validated by the product manager and presented to the stakeholders. In each of these steps there is feedback and fixes are in place (again, prioritized). After a significant and also minimal amount of features are build, tested and validated, the team has a working prototype or minimal viable product. 

The product manager takes this product back to some of the initial customers in the interview process and gets it in their hands: What do you think of this solution? Watch the customer interact with your solution, just watch. They're going to have questions, not find things and give feedback. 

Take this feedback back to the team. Rinse and repeat.

This should usually go to the next level when you make your initial customers love you and get to product market fit.

This was a shot presentation of the product management process. There are multiple things that go wrong and products that fail. But you should always remember: talk to your f****** customers! Assumption is the mother of most fuckups. 😵