Understanding Product Management Role (and the ‘Discipline’ to Build Kickass Products)

Our upcoming Product Strategy Workshop is scheduled for this Saturday and we have been getting queries that ranges from ‘I want to understand Project management role’ to ‘Will you also talk about sales strategy?’ etc.

Here is a brief primer I’d like to discuss regarding one of the most important role/discipline in any product company, i.e. Product Management and why it is really important for startups to understand the importance of this role.

Problem Statement: Irrespective of who you are (i.e. a big business, struggling startup to an ideation stage venture), you will face some (or all) of these challenges

  • Feature prioritization – Is there a data-driven approach?
  • Lack of any structured methodology in understanding users.
  • As a founder/CEO, you are deeply sucked into your day-to-day activities (and that leaves no time for strategic thinking).
  • No significant market research goes into your product – a lot of what you build is validated via your friends and family.
  • Reaction to sales pressure – “Because they want this, we will build it (customer is king) “.
  • Reaction to customer feedback – “Because they ‘said‘ they need this, we will build this”.
  • Too sucked into understanding competition (and sometimes, end up following them).
  • Finding it difficult to Cross the chasm

As a founder/CEO of your business, you have enough reasons to justify some (or all) of the above challenges (heck! we are a startup, we better listen to our customers and build custom solutions for them!, ‘Feature priortization’ – I started this company and do know where our products are headed!), but big businesses are built on principles and have a soul to their product strategy.

Your product strategy is essentially a function of your business strategy (and vice versa) and you better get it right before it’s too late.

And this is where Product Management discipline kicks in (note the word, discipline – we aren’t saying ‘role’ which actually substantiates to hiring, while discipline is something that needs to be inculcated).

So who is a product manager?

In a typical corporate world, Product Manager is an entity without any authority – but has the most important responsibility, i.e. of getting things done. An essential attribute of a PM is leadership. In most cases, PMs deal with teams which do not directly report to them.

He has to –

  • Convince the team of the product idea
  • Get a buy-in and commitment from the team for its implementation
  • Work with the team to set deadlines and adhere to the overall timelines
  • Do the overall monitoring and check on quality

Most of the above steps require lots of interaction, brainstorming & feedback from development and testing. They however report into their own structures and interact with PM only as a part of the project. Hence the PM needs to convince the team and not delegate / order. He does this by

  • example
  • logic
  • customer need, and
  • knowledge of competition – to name only a few. [read a detailed note]

The same is true for Product management discipline in startups/small businesses – i.e. follow the keywords: leadership, customer need, logic, buy-in & convince.

Product Management and How Businesses function
Need for Product Management Culture

What Product Management is not?

  • Product Management is not Product Marketing
  • Product Management is not Project/Program Management.
  • Product Management cannot be classified as Inbound/Outbound role (uness you work for an offshore/outsourced development center).

Is product management a ‘support’ function?

Well, it actually is a CEO function – a PM is actually the CEO of the product. Like a CEO, Product Management wears multiple hats and takes decisions in an unemotional manner – and if you are a startup, it’s really the top management function to define the role and inculcate the discipline.

In essence, what startups need to understand (and execute) is a better understanding of who they are, what they do, who are their customers/competition and a few tricks/tips to get the ball rolling.

What’s your opinion? If you are a startup, do you follow your gut or have some methodology built around the gut?

Next article: Product Management function and Indian Startups – the Achilles Heel

[Join us for the Product Strategy workshop for an indepth discussion on What/How/Why and When of Building Great Products.]

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