Product Management

So you’ve decided to become a Product Manager… now what?

A Product Manager’s role varies depending on the organisation and industry in which it operates; and when effectively empowered, it can result in tremendous business success.

The Product Manager’s role is often a blend between commercial (being aware of what is out there in the market, and where possible opportunities lie), technical (aware of the technological opportunities and limitations), empathetic (being aware of the user’s needs and pain points). Often being described as the evangelist of a product and promoting it to a wider audience; responsibilities stretch from steering product development activities, through to bringing together stakeholders to ensure the product delivers value over time towards a common goal.

As a Product Manager (and as with many other roles) you’ll likely encounter some sticking points. But how teams and organisations conquer these, as opposed to exacerbating them, is what truly lies in their merit.

In our experience, many of these problems arise across six core areas: poor brand alignment and ambition, siloed working derived from culture challenges, an absence of quality customer intelligence and insight, accurate and readily available data, strategy and alignment to a North Star, or technology implementation – or, more often than not a combination of these.

In such situations Product Managers must remain agile in their approach. Let us guide you through some project management methodologies which we believe will help level the playing field.

Strategy: Are you clear about your goal?

If you’re constantly caught in situations where the team is delivering features from various sources, with no clear direction in terms of the long-term goal, the problem is simple. The product clearly lacks a North Star, therefore it isn’t clear why the product exists.

Usually, the first thing that is written when a product is brought to life is a product vision, which serves as a statement of intent for the product, i.e. the North Star everyone is working towards. If done correctly, this should eliminate competing priorities and create a shared objective for the product.

As an immediate activity after stating the product vision, a product strategy should also be created. You should aim to cover the following points:

  • Who are the customers?
  • What are their needs and pain points?
  • How will the product address these needs and pain points?
  • Who are the competitors in the market?
  • How will the product’s success be measured?
  • Does the benefits and goal of the product link to the business’s objectives?

Key Takeaway: Setting a clear product vision (North Star) and strategy is critical to ensure that all stakeholders have the same goal. It ensures that the product you are building solves a real problem. This stage is critical for any product.

Brand: Do you have an absence of alignment?

When tasks are started and subsequently de-prioritised, it is possible that the team are operating in a ‘whoever shouts the loudest’ way of prioritising, which can result in conflict. Although agile methodologies enable changes in priorities, it does not come at the cost of operations halting altogether.

Teams should prioritise tasks that deliver the highest value, whilst considering effort as a factor. Prioritising tasks is much easier once the product vision and strategy has been put together with the benefits clearly stated.

It may not always be immediately obvious in terms of which task to focus on next. In this case consider using a prioritisation criteria and a value-effort matrix to help visualise your tasks:

  • List the benefits that were stated when the product strategy was crafted in order of importance, this will serve as your prioritisation criteria in terms of ‘value’
  • Using your list of tasks (in collaboration with the necessary stakeholders); assign each task a number out of 5 in terms of value; assign each tasks a number out of 5 in terms of effort
  • Plot your results on the following scales and you can quickly work out where best the team can focus their efforts

Key Takeaway: Prioritisation is important for deciding which tasks should be done in what order. Having a criteria can help in ensuring that conflicts can be dealt with effectively. It also ensures that requests that do not meet these criteria can be rejected.

Brand: Diaries overflowing with meetings?

Alternatively, it could be that teams are regularly reiterating information to serve common requests, which would suggest that message about your product is not clear or available to all stakeholders.

To reduce the time spent regurgitating the same information, it would be beneficial to ensure the business is aligned to the brand strategy and ambition by making product assets transparent and available. You can start with the below:

  • Product vision and strategy – this sets the scene for your stakeholders who may otherwise make an inquiry for an ‘overview’ of the product
  • Demos – Consider recording a demo of your product with specific references to important features
  • Roadmap and backlog – ensure that these two assets are visible: expectations must be set that a roadmap is not a plan and is not a commitment to deliver at a specific date
  • Any important processes regarding onboarding or training for new users

Key Takeaway: Sharing of assets can help in reducing the need to answer the same question from different people. Recording demos, making ‘wiki’ pages transparent and available all help to promote a ‘self-serve’ culture.

Culture: Are you working in silos?

Poor engagement between various teams can be detrimental to the product’s ability to deliver value. Usually when this is the case, there is often a history of distrust between both sides as well as a feeling of ‘not being involved’. Perhaps in the past, there have not been collaboration and transparency where expectations were clear from all parties involved. In this instance, ways of working and roles and responsibilities are not clear.

Countering bad engagement with other teams is sometimes difficult as there may be numerous political factors at play. However, you can still ensure that all lines of communication are open and that other teams are aware of the roles they have to play in the product’s ongoing development.

  • Involve stakeholders early into the development life cycle: Oftentimes key stakeholders are invited into the development process too late, meaning that decisions have already been made and are difficult to challenge. By involving stakeholders early, there is joint accountability as they are involved in the development process.
  • Test and Learn: The message should always be one of which value is added incrementally. This means there needs to be feedback given at an early stage in order to make further enhancements – by promoting a culture of test and learn you will ensure that stakeholders feel greater inclusion in the development process, and that their feedback has been taken into consideration.
  • Ways of working: If you are developing products using agile methodologies, this may be different to other stakeholders’ way of working. As a result, expectations need to be set around principles such as Minimum Viable Product (MVP), sprint cycles, retrospectives, and the key fact that a roadmap is not the same as a delivery plan!

Key Takeaway: Collaboration of stakeholders across areas is fundamental to ensure the success of the product. Setting expectations in terms of what is required from various stakeholders means that there is joint accountability of development whilst ensuring that regular feedback is given to the product team.

There are lots of reasons why an environment can be chaotic and not always controllable by a single person. Product owners have a unique perspective by often being the central point of various interactions between various teams. They can facilitate a greater cohesion between groups by:

  • Creating a product vision and strategy define a common understanding of the product
  • Ensuring tasks are prioritised in accordance to the value that they deliver against the brand ambition
  • Making all assets, relating to the product, easy to access and understand
  • Collaborating with stakeholders early to ensure familiarity with ways of working and avoid organisational silos

The above principles are all key product management techniques and can be used to provide some reprieve in a world of chaos.

If you’d like to find out more about how Engine Transformation can help your organisation, contact us at transformation@enginegroup.com.