Product Management: Reducing the risk of business failure
As a long-time product manager, and part of the ProdPad team, I see the benefits of good product management practices firsthand. However, when asked to explain the benefits of product management, I sometimes find it difficult. I know I’m not the only one; there are countless articles on the topic of “what is a product manager?”
It’s easy to describe why good marketing is important. The business benefits due to higher volumes of good quality leads, which turn into sales opportunities. Likewise for sales; a good sales team qualify these opportunities and then turn them into revenue. Looking at the technical side of the business, a first-rate development team with a well-defined process will build a good quality product that customers love. The missing link in all of this is defining what that product should do, what problems it should solve for the customers who buy it. This is where product management comes in.
Why is product management valuable for your business?
Fundamentally, if the product is the wrong one, or it solves the wrong problems, no-one else in the business is able to achieve their objectives:
- Marketing will face an uphill battle when it comes to finding potential customers
- Sales will struggle to convert prospects
- Development could spend their time building a great quality product that doesn’t actually solve the right problems
Product management is an important piece of the puzzle. However, it doesn’t follow that having a product manager will solve customer problems. There is little point in employing a product manager if they are not in an environment where they can do their job effectively. Building a good product culture that allows them to thrive, and work with different areas of the business, will ensure that customer problems are solved.
What does effective product culture look like?
Learning is the most important thing a product manager can do. It should be encouraged and the lessons learned should enable change to happen. Learning can take a number of forms in product management – it doesn’t have to be research-based (although that’s a great place to start). Experimentation is important, although often scary to take on. Running an experiment means opening up the project to failure, albeit on a small scale. Discovering that your projected path will result in failure is a lot easier to swallow if it’s done at the prototype stage, rather than at the end of an expensive project.
It’s also easier to bring value to the market sooner if you start small and iterate. A MVP (minimum viable product) will bring value to some customers from day one and will allow you to learn from their experience as you develop more complex features.
Let’s talk outcome-based roadmaps
Product managers can’t be expected to predict the future. With that in mind, an outcome-based roadmap is a great tool for product managers to use as they discuss product direction and strategy, without discussing dates. This makes it easier to agree on the expected outcomes without the ball and chain of (inaccurate) release dates to disrupt the discussion. Yes, a release plan is important when it comes to planning ahead. But without a lean, strategic roadmap to act as a foundation, those release dates mean nothing.
With all this talk of discussion, agreement and experimentation, it’s important that we don’t overlook the importance of psychological safety. Consider the analogy of learning to swim. We need a buoyancy aid or teacher to help keep afloat until we’ve mastered the technique. In the same way, we need to feel safe about the consequences of failure while we learn what works. A big part of that is having support from senior leadership. It’s okay for an experiment to fail, provided something was learnt along the way. If experiments are short, easy and inexpensive, and have a clearly defined hypothesis, opinion is removed from the debate. Therefore, individuals have a reduced chance of being seen as “wrong.”
Lean product management culture
The product culture I’m describing here is lean. It produces the best possible results by using the smallest amount of time and effort. When we bring all of these points together, it’s clear to see why lean product management reduces the risk of business failure. With that in mind, why wouldn’t you build a product culture to be proud of?
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