Product management itself isn’t necessarily difficult to execute; the problems arise when we attempt to implement product management workflow into an already existing company culture. But this implementation is possible and can have an extremely positive outcome on your product development.
In this article, we’ll go over what product management is, how it’s used, the steps involved in its execution, as well as a few MJV pro tips and tricks. If that sounds like something you’re looking for, read on.
What Is Product Management?
Product management is an organizational methodology that leads every stage of a product’s lifecycle, from conception and development to market positioning and pricing. It does this by focusing on customer needs, using them as a north star to steer development.
Due to the user-centric nature of product management, product teams tend to ship more adherent and higher quality products. This is even more crucial in tech, where new products are constantly creeping up, making competition more user experience-focused.
We have reached the age where consumers are looking for more than just high-quality products. What they want is a unique and tailored experience. This demand for customization makes product management even more important for developers.
Product management is centered around three basic concepts that guide its focus and goals.
Business: Product management assists teams in achieving their business objectives by bridging the gap between development and design, as well as the customer and the business.
UX: As stated before, product management uses customer-centricity to great effect. It is the guiding principle used to focus all team efforts towards a common goal, regardless of department.
Technology: Product management thrives in the digital sphere. In the current market context, no product is without at least a digital counterpart. This means that product teams need to have a strong understanding of data science.
In many cases, product management is seen as a must-have, especially when it comes to app development. The nature of digital products leads them to benefit greatly from customer-centric methodologies. Not only because of the sheer amount of data developers have at their disposal regarding their users but also because it’s very easy to iterate in the digital sphere.
How does it differ from project management?
Projects are finite; they represent, essentially, a path to reach a desired goal – usually accompanied by a roadmap. They focus on more general constraints, like; cost, time, and resources. Products, on the other hand, are about; pipelines, deliveries, and user needs.
This means that product management will take advantage of user feedback, for example, in a much more direct way than project management. See the comparison we’ve prepared for you.
|Projects are finite. They have a predefined roadmap from the start.
|It’s a continuously improving process, oriented by user feedback, so there’s always something new, whether it’s fixing a bug or building new features.
|Fixed constraints, meaning that the project already has a fairly rigid goal. This means less room for innovation and experimentation.
|Products have the opposite problem. Because you can tackle the issue from any angle, meaning they lack focus and are usually built from the ground-up.
|Projects are generally sold to clients as a service, meaning they have a strict deadline. This limits the number of time teams can spend iterating.
|Products are usually only revealed once completed. While this doesn’t mean product teams can take all the time in the world to finish them, it does give them more time to experiment and iterate.
|Depending on the industry you or your clients operate in, projects are usually built-to-order. Meaning you can’t simply adapt one project for another client.
|Products are built on the successes and failures of their predecessors. This means that a new product can and should contain elements from previous versions.
|The main goal is to achieve stakeholder satisfaction or customer success.
|The main concern is market fit; ensuring the product is desirable, feasible, and viable for the market.
Although initially, they are different things, today, we cannot say they’re “totally different”. In many cases, projects and products overlap. Agile, for example, is a discipline capable of responding to operational and strategic objectives with the same resourcefulness.
Building a product from scratch is, conceptually, part of a closed-deal project. In this case (when talking about digital products), product management is what makes projects tangible.
What is the goal of a product?
The product’s purpose will differ depending on which department you ask. Marketers will say that the goal of a product is to sell; developers will say it’s all about performance, and designers will probably focus on user experience.
MJV sees products as having four basic goals to succeed. Reach, desirability, viability, and feasibility.
The four concepts are strangely correlated to one another. Your reach will partially be determined by your desirability. Your viability is directly related to the feasibility of your product. While they are related to each other and they do affect one another, that doesn’t mean that they are all one of the same. See the differences below:
This aspect is more in line with what your marketing team might be pushing for. Products have no real merit on their own; they only truly shine when they’re in the hands of your customers. The goal is to get your product to reach as many users as possible, and a well-designed product should reach a diverse cast of users. This obviously involves a strong marketing campaign, but that doesn’t mean that reach is squarely in the hands of the marketing team. Every department can affect this goal.
Developers have to make sure that everyone can use and benefit from your product, and designers need to ensure that the product is attractive to a wide audience.
This plays a bit into what was mentioned concerning reach. Your product needs to be something that will stand out in the market. That means that it needs to fulfill a job that customers are looking to complete.
This essentially boils down to the purpose of your product. Why does it exist? What problem does it solve? How are customers going to use it, and why would they use your product over that of a competitor?
These are the kinds of questions that your development and design teams should be asking themselves from conception through to product launch. But that doesn’t mean that the marketing department shouldn’t be involved from the beginning.
This is related to the technology aspect of product management. An idea can be anything, but a product has to be tangible (even if it’s 100% digital). That means that the concept behind what the product can offer needs to be viable.
A machine that cures all bodily ailments would simply sell itself, but since panaceas are firmly located in the realm of fantasy, it’s not exactly a viable concept for a product team. You need to make sure that whatever ideas you have are grounded in reality. Not just what is physically possible, but something that is actually in demand and within the scope of your business.
Giants like Google and Apple could probably take on as ambitious of a project as they like, but most companies should focus on what they can actually deliver.
This is the bread and butter of product management. The size of your company, the size of your team, and the resources available to you will significantly alter how ambitious your product can be. That’s not to say that feasibility is the limiting factor among the four. Actually, on the contrary, each of the four goals should be taken under equal consideration when it comes to product management.
Regardless of equal goal consideration, it’s important to make sure that your team stays within its means when it comes to creating a new product. This is something that companies in the video game industry have struggled with in the past decade. Forcing a small team to produce something that is beyond their capabilities (in terms of time and scope) is an excellent recipe for overworking and burnout.
While focusing on customers is a must, you shouldn’t disregard the needs and limits of your product team. This means making sure that deadlines and goals are realistic. A five-person team can’t be expected to make a brand new product from scratch in a single month. Resources are one thing, but human capital also has its limits.
What are the main steps of managing a product?
Every company or product manager might have a different set of steps for this, or even be organized in a different order. But as we see it, here are the main steps of product management:
The first step to product management is discovering a product worth managing. It starts by identifying a high-value user pain point. This can be anything from a transportation problem, to an entertainment question. The idea is to find something within your company’s scope and area of expertise.
The best way to go about the discovery is through research. Speak with actual users you already have, and find out what your competitors are focusing on. Even simple desk research isn’t out of the question. The more information and opinions you can gather, the more opportunities you’ll be able to uncover.
It also doesn’t hurt to speak with experts in the field and within your own company. The people who have the most experience with the issue (those on the ground) will usually be the ones that have their eyes peeled for issues that need solving.
Once you’ve done your research and gathered all the information you can, it’s now time to find an opportunity. This is less about empathy and customer-centricity and more about quantifying your findings.
This needs to be done through the shrewd eyes of a business. Remember that it’s not just about locating a big problem, but one that can have a high impact on the market, and preferably one that is relatively easy to solve.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What is the total addressable market for this issue? (How many people would purchase your solution?)
- Is the problem severe enough for people to consider an alternative solution? (Are there already solutions on the market that satisfy their needs?
- Are customers willing to pay to resolve this problem? (What are they currently doing to solve this pain point?)
This stage is similar to what design thinkers call “Ideation”. This is the phase where your team will take the opportunities raised in the previous step and generate ideas designed to solve the issue at hand.
The goal in this phase is to generate as many ideas as possible, allowing your team’s imagination to run wild. It’s a good idea to include members from each department in this stage, especially your design and development teams (especially when it comes to digital products).
Once you have a massive list of ideas, take the time to prioritize them. Remember that a good idea isn’t simply one that solves a serious problem, but one that is also easy to make and sell. Some ideas can also be lumped together to create features for an app or modify other solutions.
This should ideally leave you with just a single solution, ready for prototyping.
Building and MVP
Now it’s finally time to put your idea into practice. Keep in mind that an MVP is simply a minimum viable product. Meaning that you shouldn’t get bogged down designing a high-fidelity version of your product. Try to make something that is testable, no more, no less.
This stage of the game is highly iterative, meaning that you might find out that the incredible idea you had is honestly very impractical to implement, sending you right back to your list of solutions. But don’t be afraid to fail. It’s your MVPs failing that will show you which ideas will float and which will sink.
It’s always good to test your MVPs with real users or, at the very least, your target demographic (or firmographic). Iterating on a primarily functional MVP is the best way to reach a fully functional product.
This is the final stage of the product management process. At this point, your product should be basically ready, it’s time to make a value proposition. This will help you sell your product by helping you communicate your offerings to your potential customers.
A highly important aspect of finally getting your product on the market is that it offers you the ability to collect user feedback. This is particularly useful for digital products, which can be altered quickly and updated, providing continuous improvement for your users.
This is the most complex of the product management phases, and we suggest you take an in-depth look into this stage. Luckily we have a chapter in our 2023 Digital Trends Report all about it. Check it out here if you want to learn more.
Manage your product the right way: DT + Agile
As you saw in this article, product workflows usually involve apps, web applications, or other tech-based deliveries for the end user. It’s what the market calls digital products.
MJV has teams specifically designed to help businesses take their product idea off the ground, lead the development stage, or even successfully manage the product lifecycle while customizing solutions for specific needs.
For this, we use a combination of Design Thinking and Agile methodologies to ensure that the entire process runs smoothly. We also add a bit of lean, just for seasoning. Below is a visual representation of what this kind of project looks like.
The Design Thinking methodology organizes and structures entire innovation process workflows. We also use other cross-disciplinary techniques, such as Jobs To Be Done, In-depth Interviews, and Ethnographies, to discover, analyze, ideate, and prototype solutions.
But, digital product workflows are different from the rest: in a way, they’re continuous. So, we need to build a structure that lasts. That’s where agile management comes in.
At MJV, we use Agile for both product and project management.
- When managing a product, our Scrum Masters are responsible for the product pipeline and operational routines; it’s about ensuring desirability, feasibility, viability, and competitive differentiation.
- But there’s also the project dimension, where business agility is involved; in other words, impacting our customers with agile management experience and results; it’s about delivering value and customer success.
Since agile programs tend to be more fluid than traditional approaches, this allows your product management to become more flexible, going through multiple iterations of a product in order to quickly test out and adapt features. This combination was capable of raising results by 115% in just four weeks. If you’re looking for a practical example, check out our case study here.
This is what makes a successful digital product: Research insights, feedback, reframing, iteration, testing, and continuous improvement cycles. And that’s what MJV ensures.
If you’re thinking about implementing product management in your company, why not reach out to one of our consultants? We can help you get started in implementing this methodology in your company.
Remember, you don’t have to go it alone.