Are You Doing Product Management Right?

[Guest article by Srikanth Thunga, Product Manager at Snapdeal]

I have seen that many companies & business leaders don’t get product management. Generally, leaders tend to have biases around product managers as project managers *guys for requirements gathering on one hand) OR as people who own the vision & are the CEO of the product on the other hand. I am not contesting those definitions. They are just not easily relatable or actionable. Very few leaders can coherently define the role of a product manager in their company as well as make the full use of the potential of product managers.

Every industry has a different need which means that product roles can be defined different across different industries. A product manager at an internet company will behave very differently to the product manager at a SaaS company to a product manager at an enterprise product company mainly because of the environment & not because of the principles.

I have only observed one consistent trend. People define product management at an action level (negotiating, evaluating mockups, marketing plans etc..) rather than at a principle level creating confusion in the definition. Very few leaders realize that they all converge into 3 core principles.

The core principles of products management revolve around 3 things: Business, Product Development & cross-functional/multidisciplinary learnability.

The Product
The Product

Business, simply put, is about defining a metric, understanding opportunities around that metric & figuring out the impact of each of those opportunities on that metric. Defining a metric is extremely hard. Numbers can be made to say anything. Ideally, the metric should not be too global (conversion) or too local (pageviews). Doing this will not inspire you to look in the right direction to optimize the metric. It is also extremely important to understand the entire business as well as understand all the metrics for the business rather than just the metric that is being driven/optimized by the product manager. This will help in taking the right calls during prioritization of product development bandwidth.

Product development is about refining those requirements (AB testing, market research etc..) multiple times until the right requirements are figured out & defined in the system. When in doubt, design for flexibility to be agile on requirements rather than defining the functionality. This is probably one of the reasons why few products look ugly but are extremely successful at what they do (eg: toodledo, ebay). The most critical thing to keep in mind is that the developer bandwidth is limited & the inertia is too high for product development. Once an initiative is started, it is very hard to back out of it & the development time is a sunk cost. Since the sunk cost is high, it is best to understand various aspects of the customer by doing AB testing/market release as well as understand various aspects of product development like UX, programming, so that the cost is effectively utilized.

The product manager’s role is ever evolving(read: Jobs of a PM).
No 2 days are the same. People with a single minded focus have too much inertia in that direction making them hard to reconfigure themselves to solve the problem. A product manager who enjoys learning new things to help solve a problem is more valuable than someone who understands technology or UX. eg: Product managers who come from technology background have a hard time getting solutions done with excel macros instead of software development as it doesn’t fit into their product development model. Multidisciplinary thinking should be a cornerstone of product management thinking to be able to solve problems more effectively.

If you are doing product management right, you will be tracking metrics around opportunities/features/market extremely closely with a 1-3 month opportunity roadmap. You will also be constantly learning new things & solving problems with or without technology product development bandwidth.

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