The Black Box of Product Management: Why does it matter so much?

The Black Box of Product Management

Product Management is the art of making sure a company’s product serves its customers effectively while accomplishing business objectives and stays relevant through constant iteration.

Each piece mentioned above is extremely important.

Serving customers

Successful product management is data-informed, if not data-driven. This means listening to the customers, analyzing their requirements, both in the form of quantitative and qualitative data.

A thorough understanding of what the customers like and what they’d avoid helps a company understand a lot more about the market they’re targeting. Further, it helps companies achieve things like:

  • Increasing the number of users who experience an “aha!” moment on using the product.
  • Improving user retention and increasing user acquisition.
  • Figuring out a lot of marketing and sales initiatives.
  • Engaging more users in revenue-generating activities.
  • Increasing the likelihood of the company finding the product/market fit.

Accomplishing business objectives

While keeping the customer’s interest in mind is important, it’s equally important for any business to know that customer feedback is not gospel. There can be very compelling reasons for businesses to make certain product decisions that might not really please customers (one example – monetizing through advertisements).

The key lies in balancing the business needs with the needs of the user. This is where smart Product Management comes into the picture – figuring out ways to do both in a manner that satisfies (if not delights) both sets of stakeholders.

As simple as this sounds, it gets a lot more complex in marketplace businesses that have more than one set of users. It can become tempting to listen to the side that is more easily monetized, since they’re practically the ones sustaining the business. Again, it all comes down to smart Product Management to figure out the best solutions in these situations.

Being iterative and self-evolving

To make the product competitive in the ever-evolving market, it’s important to track metrics and assess if they’re moving in the right direction. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean blindly adding new features, or updating existing functionalities for solving edge case problems.

Being iterative is a lot more than providing new features all the time. The key lies in ensuring that the entire team understands the core competence of the product – the USP of the product the company is selling. In case that core competence is broken, customers will end up frustrated and dissatisfied.

Product Management is all about keeping these things in control, and it’s crucially important. The customers won’t do it, nor the senior stakeholders. Designers will often miss perspectives, and so too would developers. It all comes down to Product Management, to make sure all the stakeholders are not only heard, but also understood, and that decisions are made by effectively balancing all the needs, without compromising the product’s vision.

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Surprisingly, in spite of this, the role of a Product Manager can be a hard sell for some companies. Some common objections to it include:

  • “Product Management just slows down the entire process”
  • “How does Product Management, as a unit, bring the business more money?”
  • “We can divide the role of a Product Manager between others in the team, why do we need a separate resource?”, and more.

While these, on the surface, appear to be valid concerns, the problem is that they stem out of a place of not understanding the job role properly. These thoughts and feelings generally perpetuate in organizations that have had bad experiences with Product Management or have had some rotten Product Managers who have propagated such perceptions. All of this, in no way, undermines the importance of Product Management as a dynamic function of a successful business.

In reality, the role of a Product Manager need not be filled by multiple people. When it is said that the Product Manager needs to have an idea of all the components of the organization, it does not imply that they should be experts at everything. It just means that the Product Manager should be capable of seeing the bigger picture, the strategic vision as well as the nuances of implementation, in order to make decisions that benefit the product and the organization. If different people fill up the roles of a Product Manager, the dissonance of knowledge will continue to exist, since first hand knowledge of different components will reside in the heads of various different people, with no one having a complete view – adding limitedvalue in terms of Product Management.

Product Managers focus on a market-driven approach.

If done correctly, a market-driven approach results in sustainable, long-term benefits to businesses, by keeping them focussed on solving real business problems, serving their customers better, instead of just looking to dabble with the latest technology. Market-driven focus is important for companies – and, according to George S. Day and Prakash Nedungadi, companies that have a market-driven focus have proven to be 31% more profitable than those driven by other factors.

Identifying market problems is a culmination of finding existing issues to fix, and creating new products that satisfy unmet needs. Product Managers are experts at identifying such problems by keeping a market-driven approach to making crucial decisions. This doesn’t mean they eliminate other factors except “market” – it just means they weigh it to the degree it deserves, and take it very seriously. After all, the success of a product eventually often depends on the share of the market it’s able to capture.

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Product Managers improve the time-to-everything.

Product Managers, by looking at the holistic picture, and taking decisions keeping different dynamic components in mind, help organizations in reducing the time it takes to reach their goals. A well-structured, clearly-defined, and appropriate product development initiative helps in reducing both the time-to-market, as well as the time-to-revenue.

The simple reason for this quick turnaround time is that a good Product Manager is responsible for figuring out, and making the final call on, what’s worth building and what’s not.

The demands and rewards of being a Product Manager

Clearly, Product Management is a very crucial role for the success of a business. As a result, it’s a role that is high in demand these days, and will continue to be for years to come. However, to be good at it requires honing multidisciplinary skills. You’ll need to know a bit of development, a bit of management, a bit of testing, a bit of marketing, and a whole lot of thinking of your feet.

That said, the role is extremely rewarding as well – simply because of the sheer happiness it gives on seeing a product succeed and be loved by audiences, that was built on your ideation and planning. Afterall, as a Product Manager, you’ll be largely responsible for deciding the product’s direction, and so, you’ll be able to experience firsthand how it affects your customers.

As this role has become more complex and demanding with time, new practices and techniques have emerged to make things simpler and more streamlined. Agile development practice is one such example, and it demands Product Managers to excel at strategic thinking and be capable of translating strategies into actionable plans. To be successful as a product manager at this, there’s a need to maintain continuous communication with diverse stakeholders, relate to their needs, and suggest additions – all of that requires knowledge of both technical and business aspects.

All of these diverse skills when combined successfully enable Product Managers to take leadership roles and be completely in charge of their products, and of the company’s success!

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