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“How To….”Excel At Day-To-Day Product Management

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Much has been written about innovation strategies, innovation processes and product development methods.  These topics are important and ultimately represent a better way of doing Product Management, yet the reality is that for most Product Managers there is, and will always be a range of “Day to Day” Product Management activities that tend to soak up the “strategic time” . In this article we wanted to share our ideas on how Product Managers can excel at their day-to-day job in a more strategic way (even when they are in the thick of new product development).

Step 1: Disengage from tactical “fire-fighting”

Whilst Product Managers may feel responsible for every aspect of their product, the effectiveness of the Product Manager’s role will be compromised if they are also the “go to” or “support” person for their product.  The function of Product Management in any organisation is more important than simply responding to queries about the product from PR, Marketing, Customer Service, Sales and solving minor product issues that arise during the course of the product’s life-cycle which may impact only a tiny fraction of the product’s target market.

Whilst some troubleshooting is inevitable, it is more important to seek patterns and insights about the performance of your product, your competitors and your customers that some of these day-to-day issues and questions can uncover.

Step 2: Love your product’s numbers

Reporting product numbers is an essential part of day-to-day Product Management, but it should not be done simply because management requires a weekly or monthly update.

Select key performance indicators (KPI’s) to track and report on. Regardless of what type of product you manage, there are always key numbers that will help you monitor your product’s performance in the market. Over time this information will provide patterns that will allow you to observe changes in the product’s performance in the marketplace.

Along with these KPI’s observe the timing of any marketing, sales or PR activity that may have a positive or an adverse effect on the product’s performance. For example, you may run weekly or monthly promotional offers for new subscribers. Keeping track of the details of the promotional offer and reviewing the numbers in light of the offer will enable you to determine which offer maintain or stop. Monthly offer 1 may drive higher sales than monthly offer 2. In which case, monitoring and reporting on this will provide you with insights to make better decisions.

You should also overlay your competitor’s activity especially if they’ve released a new price point or a new feature that may affect your product’s performance in the market. Look for any changes in the KPI’s that you have been following and see if they match external changes in the market place.

An intimate knowledge of the product’s numbers provides Product Managers a historical view of behaviours. This will act as a guide to plan and forecast the next steps to take.

Step 3: Engage with customers

We often engage with customers only when we’re at the beginning of the product development cycle or when we have something specific to ask them about a new product or new feature.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of a Product Manager’s day-to-day role is to make the time to engage with customers at some level to listen to them and observe their lifestyle, business, job and so forth and to identify the issues, inefficiencies or workarounds that they deal with. These are the insights that no multiple choice survey will ever uncover.

Depending on your product there are many ways to engage with customers on a regular basis.

For Product Managers managing B2B products, spending a day at your clients office will provide valuable insights. You’ll see how your product solves existing, known problems or you may discover your product solving problems that you have not considered.

For B2C Product Managers, spending time where many of your customers convene to use your product (retail banks, department stores) or listening to sales calls and customer services calls at the Call Centre will present opportunities for uncovering new problems.

With further validation, some of these insights may lead to significant future changes in your product and these can often be the most valuable improvements to make. In addition, a better connection with real customers (or even non-customers) will definitely enable you to speak about your market more intelligently.

Step 4: Review and re-evaluate your product’s value proposition

Part of your day-to-day Product Management job is to keep abreast of your product’s position in the market, and be able to articulate its value proposition succinctly. While there are competing product alternatives, a value proposition will always be under siege.

Product Managers should continually undertake market and competitor analysis to ensure that their product’s pricing and promotion strategies continue to deliver customer value and consequently business results.

Step 5: Provide leadership for your product

To excel, Product Managers need to be leaders, not just managers. Many Product Managers have no direct staff reporting to them yet they are called upon to manage a wide variety of business stakeholders to achieve product and business outcomes. One of the biggest barriers that a Product Manager will face is to become the leader for their product without hierarchical authority.

To gain the respect required to be able to lead stakeholders, the Product Manager needs to provide thought leadership by being informed about their product and about the market, customers and also about Product Management practices. They need to have an opinion and open to listening to others, but ultimately be able to make, stick to and defend decisions regarding the product’s direction.

Providing this kind of leadership will help when sourcing resources and support for projects.

Step 6: Proactively communicate everything!

One of the other burdens that we see Product Managers dealing with is constant requests for information, clarifications or reports that already exist in some format. These interruptions cripple productivity and undermine the Product Manager’s effectiveness.
To address this burden, make the time to communicate with all stakeholders as often as possible in a way that they will consume the information. Investing the time to do this will actually support all of the other steps listed above.

  1. Disengage from tactical “fire-fighting” – Good communication can ensure that a problem addressed in one situation is quickly shared with all stakeholders, and how it will (or won’t) be addressed in the product in the future.
  2. Love your product’s numbers – Be transparent about the product’s progress. The whole business is responsible for it’s successes and failures. Share that knowledge.
  3. Engage with customers – No one else will care as much about what the market thinks as you do yet they will be asked to make decisions that will effect the product at some point the product’s lifecycle. Be the voice of the market place and make sure that stakeholders know your market well.
  4. Review and re-evaluate your product’s value proposition – Once you have established a clear value proposition shout it from the rooftops and make sure that everyone in the business knows who the product is targeting and why it represents amazing value to them. This allows all internal stakeholders to become advocates for the product.
  5. Provide leadership for your product – Communication it your best leadership tool. A leader must be heard to be followed. Make your internal communications as clear and compelling as your external communications and you will get support throughout the organisation.
Please add your feedback in the comments below.

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3 Comments

  • Nice post. The challenge in #1 of course is that many others in the organization think that firefighting is indeed the role of product management. To get started making a change, I suggest that product managers set aside one day for product management activities. It’s amazing how much real work you can do in a single day without interruption. That gives you the time and quiet to do items 2-6.


  • Brad Taylor says:

    One of the best things I’ve done for my own development & by logical extension – my product’s development is to carve out small chunks of the day for quiet thinking time/strategic “doing” time.

    It may be hard to do at first as you think the world will crumble without your participation 100%, but trust me, it doesn’t.

    Block a regular time in your calendar & leave your desk. Go for a walk, hide in a meeting room where you can’t be found – whatever it takes. Use the time to keep up to date with things you find inspiring, plan your product, research, etc.

    Whatever you do, just do it regularly, and even small amounts of time is time well spent.

    (My favourite trick is to do this in a meeting room on another level in the office).


  • Adrienne says:

    Thanks for your comments Steve and Brad.

    Very sound advice Steve. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

    Brad, in my chapter in The 42 Rules of Product Management, I write on the topic of carving out Think Time and the importance of it. So I certainly relate to your comment


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