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Driving Product Management Performance

Brief

Product Manager roles and responsibilities can often be very broad from company to company and even between products. Major factors that tend to impact PM roles relate to the company and/or product’s culture, maturity, size, pricing structure, etc.

Not every team or organization may be positioned to fully benefit from having a product manager, however in such cases, other employees are likely to take roles and responsibilities that are often given to a PM and to ensure that they are well equipped to do so, training and structure may be required. In this article, we will look at some key aspects that a Product Manager (PM) or individuals with PM responsibilities should consider to maximize the potential product success.

User Studies

Design and execute on detailed user studies that conflate with the organization’s capabilities and resources. Briefly, user studies are related to the standardized examination of user characteristics and behavior associated with the company’s product, services, or systems. To gain further insight on the concept of user studies and the most common types of assessment, refer to SemanticScholar and Scott MacKenzie at York University.

Prototyping & Feedback Loops

Whenever possible, build and evaluate prototypes alongside key stakeholders and customers. By allowing key stakeholder to be a part of the prototyping process, it allows for greater transparency and a lower risk of unexpected disagreements at the end. Customer feedback in this environment can serve as a counter-balance to the team and stakeholder’s perspective, allowing for a broader picture of the solution. Further, by involving clients early and throughout the development process, costly late changes may be prevented.

Procurement

Explore options and develop the right environment for cross-relational externalities for the team and/or organization. This may involve vendors, procurement, partners, supply chain, contractors and offshore resourcing. Look at what will be needed, the necessary steps to be taken to procure it, the tools and processes that will be required, vendor options, etc.

Product Management Office or Task Force

As organizations reach a certain product management size, ensuring that teams adhere to a certain structure can help provide guidance and build synergy between teams. In such environment, an organization should consider building a product management office to help compile best practices, tools and process, then define and maintain standards for product management. Not every organization may benefit from such structure due to resource constraint and other factors, but building an annual PM task force to revise product management practices can be an essential middle ground.

Lead with Data Analytics

Product management should aim to drive decisions based in part by data insights. According to Mckinsey, organizations have captured only a small fraction of the benefits that can come from data analytics. These decisions can range from employee management, marketing, customer service and many more. To successfully achieve data analytics proficiency and gains, multiple data collection mechanism should be considered, built and maintained. Below are a few examples that may be worth having in your industry/operation:

  • Employee Management – Overtime cost (E.g. How much is it impacting the product’s budget? What steps can be taken to minimize it?), Vacation Days (E.g. Will it potentially impact product launch?), Diversity (E.g. Is the product team reaching the level of diversity emphasized by business objectives?), Turnover (Are turnovers costing valuable resources and pushing product milestones further in the future?),
  • Marketing – Website tracking, PPC marketing, Social Media marketing, Customer response analytics (E.g. clickthrough, inbound links), Campaign Conversion Analytics (E.g. sources of revenue, rate of success per source, cost of maintaining marketing ops per area).
  • Engineer – Backlog (Are there critical items being left in the backlog for longer than X days? Is the backlog spiraling out of control?), Bugs (Have the number of bugs remained stable? What has caused spikes? Do we need more personnel to decrease bugs to an acceptable level?), Technical Debt (Have our engineers noticed a spike in ‘critical’ level technical debt? Should we direct our effort to decrease it?), Time Allocation (Should personnel 1 re-allocate their time to X & Y tasks?)
  • Customer Service – Customer retention rates, Customer referral rates, Customer journey, end-to-end ticket management analytics, Customer satisfaction, Support cost per customer)

After defining and building the data analytics, the organization or product management team should aim to build dashboards catered to decision making stakeholders.

There are many pitfalls that can come from data analytics, it can range from poor datasets, weak exploratory processes, ineffective hypothesis testing to difficulty interpreting data. That is part of the reason why data insight should not be the only factor when making decisions, sometimes a quick call with 5 customers can help build a stronger case for changes (or lack thereof) in a product feature than 10,000 lines of data.

Risk Identification

Learn to identify potential risks, problems and opportunities early, this will allow the team and organization to make an informed decision whether to avoid, control, transfer or accept it. Part of being able to identify issues at an early stage is to sometimes spend some extra time in the planning phase and to instill a culture of transparency and communication. There are several techniques that can be utilized for risk identification purposes, find one that work for you and your team and develop an action plan accordingly. Agile driven teams are also bound to do similar risk identification processes, albeit within shorter turnarounds due to the structure of teams.

Cyber Securing Intel

Every year, organizations are faced with a multitude of cyber-attacks, a recent study by McAffe and CSIS has concluded that cybercrime has cost the world economy over $500 billion and this number continues to grow exponentially. Cybersecurity can impact all aspects of an organization. For example, it can lead to breaches of customer and employee data. These attacks are causing major damage to organizations of all sizes, impacting areas such as:

Some organizations may find themselves having a solid cyber security program to help support product management, others may need to build a solution themselves to improve both internal and external security. Here are a few areas that should be considered as part of the product and the organization/ team’s product management cybersecurity arsenal:

Tell a Story

Product management often involves a lot of communication with stakeholders and customers. To help guide the narrative of the conversation, product managers can benefit from being good business storyteller. When storytelling is well-done, it can help the team better visualize the process that the customer goes through to find the benefits and impediments. It can drive prospect and recurring customers to do business with the organization. When a product manager goes through the process of storytelling, they have a chance to better understand their product to allow for enhanced prioritization, communication and results. To get a better sense of storytelling, refer to TEDx David JP Phillips ‘The magical science of storytelling’.

Determine & Cultivate Relationships

Build a database system of VIPs that work or are related to the product that is being built. This is likely to comprise of key internal stakeholders, major players, exceptional personnel that are in and outside of the organization, (potential) partners, influencer fans, activists and others.

  • Key Internal Stakeholder – May help provide political capital needed to fund, approve or reinforce the success of the product.
  • Personnel – May help the organization take steps to improve retention of highly valued employees and to acquire exceptional personnel that can help the product reach new heights.
  • Partners – Supports the build decisions regarding procurement, mitigation of risk (not having all your eggs in one supplier’s basket, etc.)
  • Fans – Fans of the brand or product can be a great source of referral to the product/ organization, helping to drive increased profits at a limited or no cost. Influencer fans can often reach an even wider audience, which can be an order of magnitude more valuable to the organization. Learning to foster and to work with them is a potential source of revenue growth.
  • Activists – Whether they can promote, impede or direct efforts towards your product or against it, having a formal database of activists can help construct plans and solutions to enhance or mitigate risks that may come from the product’s interaction with them.

Learn from the Past, Visualize the Future, Live in the Present

Product managers and other professionals should often look at the past to gain a better sense of what has worked or not worked. They will then use the knowledge gained from the past to visualize how the future may look like. By building the connection between these two times, the professional can then concoct a plan or solution to tackle the present. Below are a few questions that product managers may benefit to look at:

The Past

  • What has been the market landscape?
  • What did customers reject? Why so?
  • How did legislation impact the product?
  • What led certain products to win the market? What led others to lose out?
  • Why and how did previous products fail?

The Future

  • What is the market landscape expected to look like in the future?
  • What are customers expected to reject in the future? (The same as before? Will cultural changes impact it?)
  • Where is the law expected to be in the future?
  • What are the attributes are likely to define future winners and losers?

There is often value to be gained from not only looking at the field in which product is expected to be engaged on, but also potential fields that can disrupt or help augment its value. Organizations aiming to be the disruptor, should always look around and sometimes build partnerships that can extend its capabilities and goals.

Based on the outcomes of this exercise, product managers should be able to create a story (Refer to Storytelling) that can be used to build the strategies and gain the support from key stakeholders. They will be better positioned to make decisions today that will help the organization reach their goals.

Success and Failure

Embrace success and failure as a learning opportunity and be sure to document it to its fullest possible extent for future organizational and personal reference. Remember to have iterative retrospectives and an organizational structure to maintain the records in a way that is easily indexable.

Learn from the failure of others within and outside the organization, these are invaluable insights that can help drive personal improvement. There are always areas for improvement whether a product succeeds or not, learning to contextualize and evolve from it is a key part of product management work.

Conclusion

The Product Management work plays a central role in the success of the organization. Successful PMs will often strive to create the right environment for a great product release and the right structure and planning to guide future iterations needed for the product. Considering and implementing the areas covered in this article will be essential to personal, product and organizational success.

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