All around us, we see tons of products, supposedly built to fix tons of problems. The world we live in keeps proffering solutions to diverse problems. Chief amongst this problem solving movements is technology. Although, it is important to note that it is people who are behind technology. People take up different components and use diverse technologies to deliver a solution known as a product. Developing any product does not happen unconsciously. It involves a process that has to be actively driven.
I define product management as the process of coordinating people and technologies in a clear and strategic direction towards creating and delivering a value adding product to an audience (market).
Well, at least that’s some of it.
Product management is admittedly a lot more. In the delivery of a software product, the traditional life cycle is driven by product management. But it does not stop there.
WHAT IS PRODUCT MANAGEMENT?
According to Product Plan, product management is “the practice of strategically driving the development, market launch, and continual support and improvement of a company’s products.”
You might wonder why non-technical concepts are being mentioned in a seemingly technical conversation. This is because (as I mentioned earlier) product management isn’t exclusively a technical role. A product manager’s job isn’t to only deliver a product but to ensure that the product has a clear target and meets that target. But this target is usually a function of its use in a place called a market (customers; individuals, businesses, e.t.c). This leads me to the three most crucial components of product management;
The product manager must know the business perspective of the product. Some questions he/she should be able to answer include;
- What market are you playing in?
- Who are your competitors?
- Who are your client’s competitors?
- What’s your value proposition?
- What value are you deriving from this execution?
Technology must always remain a means and not the end in itself. While it is important but not to be fixated on, the product manager must be aware and conversant of the technologies being utilised in the delivery of the value proposition. Questions to be answered include;
- What technologies are being deployed?
- Is this the most efficient way to execute?
- How can it be improved?
- What are the possible challenges?
- Any trade-offs?
People here refers not just to your customers/users but also your team. Product managers must be human centric. Some questions to be answered include;
- Who is the audience? Who are the key decision makers?
- How interested is your team in the product?
- Are they personally vested?
- Is it just another ‘code’ to be written?
Let’s also look at some product management myths.
PRODUCT MANAGEMENT MYTHS
Here are some misconceptions about the product management role;
Exclusively technical: Like I mentioned earlier, product management is NOT exclusively a technical role. I use the word ‘exclusive’ because technical understanding is vital. However, it is not all that is required. People skills and a business mindset are almost as important as the need for technical understanding.
Product management = Project Management: A project manager is concerned about much more than the product as indicated by the knowledge areas of project management. It is important to note though, that a huge amount of the information the project manager requires for his/her activities is actively provided by the product manager. For example, while the timeline should be top of mind for everyone, the project manager is the ultimate ‘moral compass’ and is expected to hold the product manager accountable for this.
All about requirement specification sheets: Well, it isn’t about dreaming up unrealistic features on paper. As a product manager, you must deliver those functionalities. After all, you are in the best position to inform what’s possible or not.
King/Queen of the timeline: Product managers do not conjure a timeline or at least they shouldn’t. While, they can estimate from experience, product managers always need the engineering team to agree on timelines. In reality, constraints might require the product manager to submit more stringent timelines but it should be with the team’s buy-in.
It’s all about strategy: There is this idea that product management is very high level, that there is no need to focus on the details. Very wrong. While the product manager is concerned about the ultimate outcome, this is only delivered by focusing on the details.
Super easy!: Is product management fun? Absolutely! Easy? Not quite. The interesting thing is that you are at the mercy of your team for the most part. While having a clear view of the task at hand is key, they are being executed by others and it is important to remember that they are people and people are complex creatures. In short, product management will test your people skills.
PRODUCT MANAGEMENT RESPONSIBILITIES
The product manager is responsible for the success of the product but what does this really mean?
- Research: Every product must be driven by research, which should inform the ‘need’. The product manager must be fully convinced as to why the product should exist in the first place and this must be backed up by facts.
- Requirement gathering: I like to think of this as a detailed breakdown of the expected outcome behind building the product. What do you hope to achieve, how do you hope to achieve, who is going to use it,what experience do you intend to offer, how does it translate into a better way of doing this, what is the required infrastructure, what is the product architecture. For bespoke solutions, the result of this is usually a Business Requirement Document.
- Feature definition: Every detail needs to be spelt out here. The requirement document informs this. The product manager begins to answer questions as basic as sign up requirements, authentication levels, roles and permissions, etc.
- Liaising with the relevant departments: The product manager requires a lot of support to achieve success. Bringing the relevant parties together in varying degrees goes a long way to reaching that success.
- Communication: The product manager is expected to be aware of every detail and serve as the communication officer for the product team. This is particularly important because he/she answers for the information that drives any decision taken by the team.
- Driving adoption: The level of responsibility here varies from one product manager to another. However, generally speaking, every product manager must strive to see their product being used.
- Support market effort: Again, to varying degrees, the product manager support the activities that result in the purchase and use of the product.
- Processing feedback: The product manager is the feedback funnel for the team. This feedback determines what features may need to be changed, maintained or decommissioned.
- Managing execution: This is really a summation of every other responsibility; the product manager is there to execute. When it’s all said and done, that’s what counts. Execution and how well it was executed.
From a functional point of view, the diagram below highlights the activities that a product manager carries out, oversees or supports;
B2B vs. B2C PRODUCT MANAGEMENT
The term ‘B2B’ refers to a commercial transaction between two organisations, typically one being a service provider and the other being a client/customer.
Therefore, B2B product management is focused on building products for other organisations (your core products or bespoke solutions defined by their business requirements).
How similar is it to B2C and at what point do they diverge?
B2B product management is similar to its B2C counterpart in the following ways;
- There is always a customer (an individual or an organisation), just different approaches
- There is always a value proposition; whether to one or many, you are either selling the same thing or different ‘semi’ value propositions to different people
However, it differs in the following;
Customer: The B2C customer is usually an individual while the B2B customer is an organisation (usually with multiple internal customers)
Sales approach: In B2B, there are usually different stakeholders that influence the purchase. This means multiple buy-ins are required while in B2C, you need a buy-in of one. (Buy-in does not always mean that the decision to buy rests with the individual)
Market: B2B products are, in a sense, specialised (niche market) while B2C products are usually open to multiple iterations which are subject to what users want (mass appeal)
Monetisation: With B2C, the customer will likely pay small and recurring charges based on what they intend to use. However, with B2B, the organisation may likely pay for the entire product irrespective of what feature is used or not.
Rationale: B2C products may or may not be an obvious need to the customer. They generally look good and gives the customer the impression of a need (there can be a genuine need) triggering an emotional buying decision. On the other hand, B2B products come into play because the organisation believes it has an important problem it needs to solve. For B2B, there is an emphasis on process and logic and the client has a perceived value that must be delivered.
Relationship: B2B transactions tend to build partnerships where the provider can potentially become the go-to person for any related services. With B2C, it is more unpredictable and usually brief. There is always a need to constantly capture the attention of the customer.
DELIVERING VALUE TO CUSTOMERS
Every product idea is geared towards achieving an outcome and offering value to the intended users. And that is any product manager’s ultimate focus, irrespective of the target market.
While the target market defines who is responsible for the market activities, the product manager plays different roles ranging from support to ownership and this determines how much influence the product manager ultimately has.
At Softcom for example, where we drive both internal product development and bespoke solutions for other organisations, this range of roles is most evident. For our products, a product manager largely plays the ownership role in shipping the product to market, championing adoption, support, feedback and supporting core marketing efforts.
In the case of bespoke solutions, the client will typically lead the market effort as it is a function of their internal strategies, planning and original intent behind commissioning the development of the product. In this case, the product manager is required to play a more supportive role by ensuring all requirements are fulfilled from a core product point of view.