INTRODUCTION

One could argue that products, especially digital products, have exponentially increased in importance since the Covid-19 pandemic changed how we live, work and interact. We can expect to see previously undigitized activities achieve some level of technology application.

In times like this, the product manager role is not only perceived to be important but more evident.

As a product manager, there are several dimensions to the work that you do. The specifics may also vary depending on the segment you play in either Business to Consumer (B2C), Business to Business (B2B), or Business to Government (B2G) and all other Bs.

Arguably, product delivery is the most critical of the outcomes expected of you.

Before going into the peculiarities of the times (Covid-19 and post-COVID) we live in, let us shed some light on what the outcomes and expectations of product delivery entail and our job as product managers while maintaining oversight of the product team.

Product Delivery

Simply put, product delivery is the product manager’s mandate. It is the part of product management that focuses on the engineering activities of the product. Ideas are great, but our task is to bring them to life. In doing this, your team engages in several activities led by you.

Regardless of the development methodology adopted by your team (agile or waterfall/traditional), the product delivery activities, for the most part, remain the same, which includes:

1. Product Discovery

It is the process of gaining a holistic understanding of the customer’s requirements. Maybe in the form of:

  • Market research: gathering consumer market trends and user behavior (mostly considered for B2C products) or industry trends (more likely for B2B products).
  • Client meetings to learn essential operations and needs of the industry (the company or business), which is most common in B2B products.

Most importantly, the idea is to have a granular understanding of the customer, client, or industry need.

2. Product Documentation

The product discovery process guides the process of product documentation, and it allows you to define the answer to the question “What should we build?”.

  • Choosing the methodology which will determine how extensive documentation will be before product development can start.
  • Developing the roadmap.
  • Writing the user stories (if applicable).
  • Other members of the team become more involved.
  • Timelines are also defined here.

3. Product Development

After completing the prior stages of product delivery, which includes Product Discovery and Product Documentation; we now have a granular understanding of expectations and outcomes for the product. For product development, we focus on:

  • Achieving the best design and experience (UI/UX)
  • Choosing a technology stack (this might be product agnostic if the team always builds with the same tools).
  • Setting up testing and development environments, respectively.
  • Engineering the product (time for some code!)
  • Setting up monitoring tools to measure key metrics.

4. Testing

Code reviews are complete, and features are moved along to the QA team to ensure compliance with the expected requirements.

  • Develop test cases
  • Choose the appropriate tools for this product (additional tools may be required from product to product)
  • Provide test reports to go live

5. Shipping

The QA team acknowledges that we now have a working product to serve a need. DevOps will:

  • Set up our Production environment
  • Deploy code to Production

6. Maintenance

We now have a product on the market. Hooray! Everyone is happy, but we must ensure quality and availability. To do this, we:

  • Measure metrics
  • Maintain uptime
  • Optimize the product
  • Push updates (if required)

The table below gives an overview of the differences in methodologies as it pertains to these activities;

S/N ACTIVITY AGILE WATERFALL
1 Product Discovery (Customer Engagement/Market Research/Requirement gathering/Data Analysis) The Customer is always involved, making it a continuous process The Customer is rarely involved after requirement gathering until a UAT is scheduled
2 Product Documentation A product overview is given. However, documentation is usually on a sprint basis Detailed documentation is usually prepared before development commences
3 Product Development (Design, Feature Implementation) Iterative Traditional
4 Testing (QA, Beta testing, UAT/Focus Groups) Iterative At the end of development
5 Shipping Nothing exclusive to Agile Nothing exclusive to Waterfall
6 Maintenance Iterative The development process is gone through over again

It is important to reiterate that you are ultimately responsible for the product delivery as a product manager, and some specific tasks are to be performed by you. These includes:

  • Driving product discovery
  • Developing the roadmap
  • Writing the user stories
  • Maintaining the backlog
  • Prioritizing features
  • Managing the delivery process and engaging the relevant stakeholder at each stage
  • Engaging customers and serve as the market feedback loop
  • Ensuring everything goes right!

The Covid-19 Era Product Manager

Pre-COVID, the technology space already allowed a lot of flexibility in choosing to work remotely. That has become mandatory due to the health situation across the world.

As most teams go completely remote, product delivery becomes a science and art in equal measure.

The science largely remains the same (as discussed above). However, art allows you to answer questions such as:

  • How do you hold productive meetings?
  • How do you keep the team engaged irrespective of distance?
  • How do you ensure quality levels do not drop?

In most cases, engineers do not usually report to product managers (even though PMs can influence how an engineer is perceived). Therefore, your people skills become your primary tool here.

Here are a few pointers (these are things we should be doing anyway but are more critical now):

  1. Reduce the feedback time: Give feedback as quickly as possible. Daily standups are a great way of achieving this. It will ensure quick course correction if required.
  2. Carry the team along in meetings: Try to schedule meetings with everyone’s buy-in (not always possible but always try). Have predefined meeting agendas. Also, ensure all team members are aware of what the meeting is for so they are prepared. Engage everyone, so no one is a meeting spectator.
  3. Make expectations explicitly clear: Ensure your team members get it; beyond the collective engagement, engage the individual. It might probably demand more time, but it’s well worth it. Spell it out in writing where possible. Make the most of your documentation tools so the team can refer.
  4. Believe your team can do its job: There is a risk of “over-engagement” that is plain micromanagement. Communicate with your team members that you believe in them, and they can deliver their job. It has a way of boosting their confidence in you and them not wanting to let you down. However, this is not a license to manipulate.
  5. Check on teammates without asking for deliverables: I know it’s hard. There are deadlines to be met. However, you need people to be at their best, and work is not the only area of their lives. Be deliberate about reaching out.

Product Delivery at Softcom

At Softcom, we are not unaffected by the global health situation and have been remote for months. Looking back now, I would say we prepared well.

As an organization, we build products targeting different segments, and while we have adopted the agile methodology, our work for other organizations when building custom solutions requires certain adjustments from time to time.

What we have done is to operate these engagements separately, allowing us to stick to our chosen methodology while adopting a blended approach for custom solutions. In this case, the pre-development leg is similar to the waterfall methodology, while the core development leg is agile.

This ensures that product delivery remains efficient, and is of high quality because we can adapt to the realities around what product is being built which may include customer type, predefined requirements by external parties, etc.

Summary

In conclusion, the ultimate goal for a product manager is to solve problems for users and the times we live in will not change that. As such, the success or failure of the product delivery process either gets you closer or farther from this goal. You can say that for a product manager, everything rises and falls on product delivery.