When Ravi Kumar asked me to share my product philosophy for a new product website he is moderating, I had to stop and really think.
How would I describe my product philosophy in a way that is meaningful and can provide value to others looking to refine and grow in their role as product leaders?
I’d love to be able to tell you my product management philosophy is tightly crafted and that I am always on point in delivering to it. That would be false. Like everyone, I have good days and bad and both product successes and failures in my role as a product manager.
Through it all however, I do try to stay true to my Product Philosophy – my ‘true north’ when it comes to product design and delivery and in managing product teams. For me the bottom line is creating value – delivering useful and engaging propositions that solve for customer (or in my current role member) needs. To help me get there I try and keep grounded in the guiding principles detailed below.
Product management is not about ‘shiny, new baubles’
So much of the narrative around product management is focussed on creating the next ‘new thing’ – the shiny, new bauble.
While the development and design of new propositions is part of any product manager’s accountability, it is important not to get distracted from the ongoing management of the proposition in market and ensuring that it is delivering value to your business and most importantly, your customers.
An idea is not an opportunity
Great ideas are never in short supply, but great ideas that solve for a customer problem or need are.
I often tell my business stakeholders, “An idea is not an opportunity. You need to know what value your idea will deliver; what problem it is solving for.” The idea then needs to evolve, be tested and refined to ensure that it is addressing the need you have identified.
Your customers should be at the heart of everything you do
Never lose sight of your customers when designing your product or service – whether your customer is in a B2B or B2C context, they should be at the centre of everything you do.
Tony Ulwick’s Jobs To Be Done framework is invaluable in framing and uncovering the customer problem or need you are designing for. In applying the JBTD approach, you will also in be in a better position to align your existing products with specific market opportunities as well as develop new ones to address unmet customer needs.
Know and understand your measures of success
Too often I encounter product initiatives which are poorly defined and unmeasured.
‘Product innovation’ is not a leave pass to skip essentials such as benefit design and forecasting (both financial and non-financial). You need to be able define and measure success and most importantly, translate these into actionable product performance insights.
Value Driver Trees can be very helping in focusing and defining key attributes of your product and proposition to measure.
Once you have defined your measures of success then you need to measure and track them! Good product portfolio management should incorporate ongoing measurement and analysis of key product and business metrics, which should then form the basis of business priorities and your product pipeline.
Get stuff done
It may seem obvious, but you need to get stuff done. To gain the confidence and trust of the business, you need to build a strong record of delivery.
In my experience, having some ‘runs on the board’ means you have greater leeway to explore and develop more innovative propositions (often with less certain or known returns/benefits) if the business is confident in your ability to deliver, assess and pivot when needed. This is particularly true for larger corporates who may have more structured governance and risk frameworks to navigate.
Everyone in the product team needs to embrace continuous learning
Never stop learning and help your team to continuously evolve and develop their product management skills.
Learning brings new perspectives, tools and thinking to your product strategy and will ultimately deliver a better customer outcome and value.
In the age of online learning there are many opportunities to extend your learning beyond the physical borders of where you live, both formally and informally.
I recently enrolled in Dan Ariely’s Changing Customer Behaviour course online. It explores the psychology of customer decision making and behaviour and I am finding it very useful in reviewing and assessing both our product set and how we take them to market to deliver more optimal customer outcomes.
Product conferences, meetups and product camps are also a great way to connect with the product community and learn from others. I
There is no such thing as over-communication
Effective product managers need to be highly skilled story tellers. As product managers, our stakeholders tend to be many and varied, as we work deep within our business as well as broadly across it. Frequent (and targeted) communication can be the difference in getting stakeholder support (or not).
Don’t underestimate the power of communication and storytelling in building the advocacy that is critical when you meet the roadblocks and challenges that invariably occur when developing and managing your product portfolio. Keep working on your storytelling skills. Find ‘friendly’ stakeholders within the business and leverage them to practice and refine your communication approach.
Having fun at work is often under-rated but I think it shines through in your product proposition and the way you engage across the business. Of course, you need to be serious about your work and role, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun in the process.
As a product manager, you must motivate, inspire and mobilise the business. If you are a ‘grumpy cat’, then you will find your effectiveness very limited.
My current go-to product related reads
This is Service Design Thinking, Marc Stickdorn
The Secrets of Big Business Innovation, Dan Taylor
The Lean Startup, Eric Ries
Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely
Good Charts , by Scott Berinato
Putting Stories to Work, Shawn Callahan
Product Conferences and meetups
Leading the Product
Mind the Product
Product Management Festival
Women in Product Melbourne