What is Product Management?
I explain this a little differently depending on who I meet. To people who aren't familiar with tech, this is how I put it:
"A product manager works with engineers to build new features into the app."
Pretty simple right? And easy to understand.
But of course, if you are here reading this, you'd know that isn't all there is to Product Management. As with the age old saying to Product Managers, nobody asked you to be here. In the early days of tech companies, Product Managers didn't exist.
So what is Product Management?
I believe that each company and team defines a Product Manager differently, but some of the things that a product manager does includes to:
Align stakeholders within the company,
Understand customer problems and solve them,
Prioritise a list of bugs, features, improvements to build,
Do cost analysis of Build vs Buy for certain solutions or services,
Evaluate data pre and post product development to prioritise what to build and what to launch,
Lead and influence a team of people that are (usually) not managed by you,
Write product requirements and sketch wireframes,
Take ownership of the products shipped,
Understanding the market and competitive landscape, knowing how your product is 10x better than the other alternatives out there.
Sounds like a lot of things, but as mentioned in a previous post, fundamentally I believe that a Product Manager's first and foremost responsibility is to understand what customer problems to solve for.
Product Managers are the biggest advocate for the customers. We understand the problems they face either with using our product, or the problems they face in their Jobs to Be Done. Ideally, this should come after aligning with the outcomes that the company hopes to achieve.
Imagine that you are the captain of a ship. You decide which direction to steer towards, and you only have enough food and resources to last your crew for a month. If you decide on the wrong direction aka the wrong customer problems to solve for, then your ship will end up at the unintended destination, or may not even end up at a destination ... ! Yikes.
Many people think that it should also be the job of the Product Manager to come up with solutions; I do not disagree, but I think a Product Manager should leverage on their team members as much as possible.
One of the most challenging things I've had to do as a Product Manager was to say 'no' to great ideas and suggestions that others in the company had. (Of course, it's not just saying 'no', but it's about explaining the 'Why'.) People in the company have good intentions to help the company succeed. You will never have a lack of solutions if you were to leverage on the ideas by your fellow team mates.
But your team mates need directional guidance on what they should be thinking about. If you decide that A is the problem to solve for, you will get hundreds of ideas on how to solve for A. Same for B. But at the end, if B isn't the most impactful problem to focus on, it will take a lot of recalibration to focus on A again.
Taking the suggestions from others also gives them a sense of shared ownership in the product that you are going to build, and that helps to build trust amongst stakeholders.
How do I know what customers problems to solve for?
1. Talk to your users!
I cannot emphasize this enough. As a Product Manager, you should interact with your customers, and try to understand why they are using or not using your product. Treat user feedback from App Store reviews and inbound tickets with importance, as these are the customers who care enough to spend time to leave feedback.
Of course, this is not the only indicator for understanding problems. It'll be challenging for you to make a case to the team if you only chat with 5 customers and try to conclude for the overall population of your product. Insights from speaking with customers should lead you to some hypotheses, which you could validate with quantitative data
2. Review internal data
Look at the conversion funnels of how customers use your product. For instance, if you are improving the experience for a new user to get to their first purchase, what does the conversion look like at each step of the funnel?
Assuming that you got the above conversions from your own data, it makes much more sense to focus on View Listing to Check Out problems, because the incremental uplift of improving a 30% conversion is more than a 80% conversion funnel.
Run user surveys based on customer insights to get some quantitative measure of how big of a magnitude those problems could be. For instance, you could find out from talking to users that A, B and C are problems. But how do you know if the wider population finds A, B or C more of a problem? You can send a survey probing into these 3 problems to see what % of the population faces either of these.
3. Research competitors' products
I get it, the biggest competitor you should be competing with is yourself. But it doesn't hurt to examine why your customers flock to competitors too. This is being realistic and knowing your market.
Going a step further - How it all translates to business impact
Of course, understanding what problems to solve for your customers isn't enough. You will need to understand how solving them translates into business impact. That's why companies hire you as a Product Manager.
What does it mean for Carousell if we helped shoppers to find what they want on the platform faster? What does it mean for Netflix if we helped Netflix viewers decide what they may want to watch? What does it mean for NinjaVan if we informed shippers of the delivery status of their parcels at every step of the way?
You will need to understand how the business works, and what is the key value your product brings to customers.
What will help me in becoming a Product Manager?
One of the most important skillsets of a Product Manager, in my opinion, is clear communication.
Product Managers interface with stakeholders across all functions every day. You will need to understand their goals and communicate the roadmap to them to ensure alignment. You will also need communicate well in order to lead and inspire your team, regardless in presentations, meetings or 1-1 sessions.
I'm not a stickler for jargon. Anything that adds unnecessary complexity when a customer or team mate reads it should be removed. That is also why I avoid using acronyms whenever possible.
Can you understand what 5G is after this video?
Good Product Managers can explain what their product does to a 5 year old or an 80 year old person.
There is no use trying to impress. You would realise that most people do not read. And it's your job to keep things as simple as possible.
Of course, the above is just a really short insight into what product management is. To find out more, you should definitely check out some of the articles here:
Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager - Ben Horowitz
Empowered Product Teams - Marty Cagan
If you want to know more about how to get into Product Management, you can give this a read!