I’m amazed at how time flies. Its such a cliche but its true. Its especially true these days when we’re available via mobile phone, instant messenger, skype, voicemail, email etc. Its so much easier for everyone to “take” a little piece of our time.
In anycase I wanted to write my 10 tips for Product Managers at the start of 2007 but I’ve only just managed to complete the list.
Here’s how I go about being a Product Manager. Much of what I’ve listed is common sense but it’s good to have a written list to remind ourselves every now and then. Ohh and I’m big on relationship building. Processes and requirements are important but we have to interact with people along that process.
1. Develop Meaningful Relationships
It’s no surprise that Product Managers generally have to work through other functional groups within the organisation to achieve their goals. If your product is one of many having to compete for resources, it is much easier if you have good relationships with your internal suppliers. Take the time to understand their key drivers, to ask them what information they need from you and how they want the information delivered.
2. Know Your Product Well
It stands to reason that knowing your product well establishes your credibility within any organisation. People should instinctively come to you for assistance. Helping others resolve issues, fielding product queries from within the organisation will mean that others will be more willing to assist you down the track. So what should you know? Apart from the product features, you should know the product business rules initmately. This may seem simple but as the product matures, business rules grow exponentially. Product Managers should take the time to maintain a product and business rules document that can be used to easily describe what the product is and how it works.
3. Know Your Market and Competitors
Don’t guess your market. Don’t apply stereotypical views to your customer base just because a large percentage happen to reside in a geographical location or is heavily skewed towards one gender. I’ve been guilty of this sin on occasions and I think it does your product no favours. Always keep abreast of competitor activity and if possible, maintain some record of what your competitors are doing on a regular basis. This will give you a historical perspective of what your competitors have done.
4. Spend Time with Your Support Staff
What better way to know what your customers want than spending time with the people who deal with your customers’ problems. If possible try listening to inbound calls. Spending a day a month with your support teams will help you understand the problems your customers are experiencing. These are the customers who have already invested in your product and brand. These are the customers who will provide you either good or bad word of mouth. Your customer base will genuinely provide good feedback. Use it and your support staff will also feel included in the product improvement process.
5. Listen to Your Sales People
Everyday your salespeople are faced with reasons why customers don’t want to buy your product. Use this information to either focus your sales messages on the product’s strengths to help overcome these objections or consider adapting the product to meet customer needs. A word of caution. While it is natural for customers to want more for less this does not necessarily equate to good business decisions. Use information from your sales team to adapt your product to meet customer objections without compromising on price.
6. Create, Review, Revise Your Roadmap
Have a roadmap. A roadmap is a high level plan of how to deliver on the product and business objectives with limited resources. Use it as a guide and an internal sales tool but not an external sales tool. Feel empowered to change it as you learn from your customers, your support staff, your sales staff and react to external competitive activity. Use it as a focal point for the work that you are doing. If you are working on it, is it on the roadmap? If not, should it be on the roadmap? If not, should you really be working on it?
7. Sell Product Management Internally
Back to relationship management. Selling Product Management and the Product Management team is VERY important. In general, marketing folk are good at communicating what they do, product people are good at supporting their product but not so good at communicating what they do for their product. This is another reason why it is good to interact with the support teams and the sales teams. Once your roadmap is developed for the year, take your roadmap on a company wide ”tour”. Use the product roadmap as your internal sales tool. Be prepared to tell people exactly what you are working on and how it will support the business. Take the time to develop simple communications that summarise the product vision and your plans for achieving it.
8. Common Language
Product Managers within any organisation should speak the same language. When we create common understanding of what is meant by a “roadmap”, by “market analysis” or by “product and business requirements” within the team, the organisation will inevitably have a better understanding of what Product Managers do. Standard document templates will deliver the consistency and will also help Product Managers through the various tasks required to manage and develop products. If we converse using the same language, our teams become stronger and our message over time becomes clearer.
9. Pay Attention to Your Performance Indicators
They tell an important story. Most organisations will generally provide a set of indicators for Product Managers to use but sometimes, indicators for non-revenue generating products or services are overlooked. Create your own set of measures! It’s still important to measure the performance of these products. In general though, the key figures should either substantiate the product plan or drive Product Managers to modify any planned activity to deliver the desired results.
10. Listen to Individual Customer Stories
Individual customer stories provide insightful information on how products and services are consumed in the “real world”. Listening to customers allows Product Managers to step beyond the abstract data and identify and resolve the “actual” problem, if there is one. In any case, its always interesting to see how customers use a product or service that you created.