More than a decade of grousing about product management

Product Management in a Nutshell

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Product management involves identifying a problem for a market segment, ensuring customers are willing to pay for a solution, and managing the product lifecycle. Skills required vary from idea validation and business planning to product development and launch activities. The role demands flexibility and adaptability to navigate through different phases and fill skill gaps.

Tons of ink has been spilled on the art (and science) of product management. About methodologies, strategies, and the like. Grumbling about how the role varies, depending on the organization. Yada yada yada.

Let’s simplify this.

Product management at its very core is:

  • Identify a problem for some market segment (also known as customers)
  • A problem that is causing some form of pain (inefficiency, inability to accomplish a goal, etc)
  • That enough customers have this problem that is worth solving
  • And that those customers will be willing to pay for your solution, and …
  • Pay enough to fund your development and provide some profit.

Simple, but not easy. The fact that 90+% of all products fail (fail to return on their initial investment) is testament to this difficulty.

Plenty of “models” for how to do this. More on it in a later post.

The challenge of the role is that depending on where you are in the lifecycle of the product, you have very different skills that are crucial.

At the start, you need to be able to take the idea (your own, submitted by a colleague, or – most likely – by an executive) and validate it. Research, digging, quantifying, interviewing potential customers, market segmentation, et cetera. Lots of skills needed, and difficult skills at that.

Then you need to draft the business plan, the requirements, the attributes that are required to address the need. Validate your plan, present the business case, get approval from your governing body to begin development.

From there, you switch into “head down, full product development” mode. Backlog, stage gates, progress reports, product owner, QA concerns, mapping to segments, working close with the development team. Providing leadership and guidance, shoulders to cry on, running interference to protect your team, managing up, preventing sales intrusion. And so on.

As you get close to “done” you go into launch mode. Beta test or early field trials, get early feedback, bug scrubs, all nighters with the team (you buy the pizza and beer.) Collateral, go to market plans, website updates, is the documentation ready? How will it be delivered? How will it be sold? Sales training, direct? Partners? Working with your product marketing team (please, hope you have that function), marketing, lead generation, reference accounts, white papers, case studies … You get the idea.

Post launch. Monitor the ramp, check early feedback, talk to the support team, any early warnings? How is the regional adoption? How does this map to your original projections, and business case assumptions.

Each, and every phase requires different skills, and a product manager must shift their hat to accommodate what is needed. If you are fortunate, you have dedicated market research teams, product marketing is staffed, you have competent marketing (communications, lead generation, pubs) to leverage. However, if not, or if there are deficiencies you get to fill the gaps.

Hopefully the gaps get filled, and the product is a success.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Written by

A crusty veteran from the product management trenches. Plenty of salty language, references to cannabis, and a connoisseur of White Russian cocktails

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Written by pmdude