In this rapidly evolving industry, businesses often pour their energies into the pursuit of the 'next big thing'. This constant aspiration for the best, the latest, the sleekest, and the innovative, poses strong considerations as to how we can accurately predict and work towards such lofty goals.

Often, people think that the next big thing just happens overnight- as a sudden innovation. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Just as many strokes of paint make up the final big picture, the next big thing consists of more than simply putting a group of intelligent people together- tasked with creating a brilliant novel idea and actualizing it.

The success of a business is based on identifying and meeting the customer's needs at the right place and time. But how can businesses ensure that they are hitting all the targets of delivering a product that serves to convey the same messages from the team to their end users? As a response, businesses have started to introduce the concept of product management to the workplace:

Product management is an organizational function that guides every step of a product’s lifecycle: from development, to positioning and pricing, by focusing on the product and its customers first and foremost.

While customer services provides resources tailored to customer's needs and satisfaction, product management does more than just delivering. Metaphorically, a product is like a child to a Product Manager because they know about the product more than anyone else, including the customers' experiences with the product. Likewise, a Product Manager is often labeled as a product expert because of their product knowledge.

Three Essential Steps for Product Managers.

Product managers need to balance all three needs: UX, Tech, and Business, whilst making difficult decisions and trade-offs.

Brainstorming is crucial when it comes to setting the bar for success. When it comes to building a product, we often jump to the 'What,' 'Who,' and 'How' for the product development before understanding 'Why' we are building this. This often deters the product from reaching its full potential. However, a product manager can prevent this scenario from happening through these three steps:

  • Roadmap - general direction
  • Product Requirements Document (PRD) - focus on specific problems
  • Backlog - activities that the team needs to hit the targets

While it is important to understand the customer journey, product management provides businesses with deeper insights on the stakeholders' thoughts and decision making process while maintaining the mutual understanding between them and the product.

The Customer Journey.
When you’re close to your own product or service, it can be difficult to fully understand the entirety of the ‘customer journey’. Mapping out the process of all potential touch-points between your brand and customers will allow you to greatly optimize processes to improve experiences.

Defining the Role.

Product Management is a fairly recently defined job role, and there's been contrasting definitions and ideologies behind effectively defining what the role entails. Fifteen years ago, the CEO of Opsware, Ben Horowitz, referred to the Product Manager as the “CEO of the product.” This definition helped give some insight into the role, suggesting the Product Manager would head up a particular product as if they were the final rung of responsibility and greatest motivator for impact and progress.

A product manager is the person who identifies the customer need and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, articulates what success looks like for a product, and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality.

A Product Manager provides the mission and vision for the product from its initial prototype to the physical merchandise. Following the launching of the product, a Product Manager continues to oversee the product's performance through its lifespan, ROI, and its overall success. Similarly to the trial-and-error phase during product development, a Product Manager continues to communicate and advocate on behalf of outside stakeholders in order to find improvements.

Baring the customers in mind, a product manager serves as an internal advocate for the company to identify the gap between the team and stakeholders by finding a common ground to reach mutual understanding. Simply put, a Product Manager acts as a representative and a liaison between the products, customers, and business.

Challenging the 'CEO' Comparison.

Whilst imagining a Product Manager as the 'CEO' of a product, parts of this analogy don't always align. Firstly, a Product Manager doesn't need to be an authority figure, rather it's more about taking the lead responsibility for the outcome of the product.

Adding to this, it's useful to be aware of key differentiations between Product Managers and Product Owners.

Typically, a Product Manager will work with outside stakeholders, helping to define the product vision and outlining what success will look like. They take charge of this vision, heading up the marketing and return of investment aspects of the product whilst generally working at a 'conceptual' level.

In comparison, the Product Owner works with internal stakeholders and helps teams to actualize a shared vision. The Product Owner focuses more-so on creating plans to achieve success and takes charge of the team backlog and fulfillment work. This role is very much based on day-to-day involvement activities.

Flexibility Factors.

It is much easier to take the above typical tasks and build a skeleton for the Product Manager role, than it is to create a one-size-fits-all job description. One major reason for this is that team culture is an important factor to consider:

Team culture can wildly vary depending on organization size, industry and product goals. This is one variable that makes the 'Product Manager' role difficult to define.

Further to this, some products may require multiple agencies, businesses, and freelancers harmonizing throughout the product development journey. This potential clash of cultures can leave responsibilities, progress and communication hazy and lead to a bottleneck of issues.

With a Product Manager able to effectively communicate, and create an overall 'Team Culture' suited for the entire project, operations can stay on track.  

Successful Attributes for Product Management.

Alongside effective communication, comes a key skill: Prioritization.

The Product Manager will have to have an effective overview of a project, and be able to identify the key areas for each team member to prioritize t0 keep progress (and success) on track.

Ensuring that responsibilities are clearly explained and defined will help keep all team members accountable, and avoids any unnecessary delays to work due to miscommunication.

Next, the aforementioned idea that a Product Manager is the 'product expert' is extremely important. Whether the Product Manager kickstarts a new project, or joins during development (when growing workloads call for this extra level of management), it's key that the Product Manager does a deep dive into all key information relating to the project - ensuring that they can consistently guide team members towards clearly defined goals.

Ultimately, this clarity stops a team from building a misaligned product that customers won't actually want. At Mäd, we use multiple design thinking tools to quickly discover key information that will lead to successful time usage... sometimes research will discover that there's no scope/marketability for the proposed idea at all!

Motivate, and Empower.

As hinted throughout this insight, the role of the Product Manager is not to simply delegate tasks but instead is to define success, and motivate and empower team members to achieve it.

By being highly influential to your team, and allowing team members to feel empowered to make responsible decisions aligned with the project goals, a Product Manager becomes invaluable for efficiency and motivation. There's a rarity for people that are both forward thinking whilst having the ability to convey people of the rationale behind decisions to provide assurance.

However, almost always great products aren't made by a single great individual - it's the strongly developed teams of good people doing great work, guided by an organized and inspiring Product Manager.

Final Thought: The Tradeoffs.

Trying to balance business needs with technology and UX requirements often leads to difficult trade offs. Developing a thick skin is key, as everyone can't be pleased all the time with every decision. A great Product Manager will be able to justify their decision making with thoughtful rationale, and be able to command respect for decisions made even if it's not what certain individuals or stakeholders would have liked.

Ultimately, a great product does the talking, so be confident in your decisions and be able to justify thoughts with results.

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