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  • Writer's pictureDilip Kumar

Life of a Product Manager

Updated: Sep 14, 2020


Being a Product Manager is not an easy task. But if executed well, it can also be the most rewarding role. I remember reading this somewhere: "The Product Manager is the CEO of the product." And it's absolutely true. Someday you wish to start your own business? Try being a product manager first. It is the best possible way to learn how to run a successful business. You are responsible for the success or failure of the product. You are given no opportunities to play the blame game. The roles of a product manager is quite complex. You need to play the roles of many different people. There are many aspects to consider as a product manager if you wish to be successful in this role.


Understand customer Problems

Remember this: You are the voice of the customer. Any product that you build should solve a problem for your end customer. To understand a customer's problem, you need to be able to empathize with your target customer. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. What do they feel? That is the best way to understand their pain points. Only when you understand the pain points, you build products that create real value. That way you add value to both ends, the customer and the business. The value to the customer is that their problem is getting solved. The value you bring to the business is that you make a profit by selling the solution.


Once you have understood the customer problems, you have to create user stories that explain the problem. This is the fundamental way of capturing the requirements of an end-user. With the end-user in mind, think about how you would solve their problem at a high level. This is going to be the seed of an idea for your product.


Market Analysis

Now that you have your top-level idea, don't immediately roll up your sleeves and jump into building it. You are yet to ask a very important question. Does my idea have a product-market fit? Since you started by defining the problem based on a customer in mind, your work is already half done here. You just need to see if there are other people with similar problems as well. Different organizations take different approaches to building products. Some have a Eureka moment that generates a product idea. In this case, a more comprehensive market study is required.


The ultimate question you should be asking is: Is there an existing solution to the customer problem? If yes, what are its shortcomings? Maybe it is the cost of the overall solution. It could be because a key feature that would have made the life of the user easy is missing in the existing solution. You have to learn from your competitors. You can use the mistakes of others to your advantage. If you improve on an existing solution, you have to be very good at it to make sure you win over the incumbent solution.


However if the answer is no, then great! You got yourself an idea for building a great product while at the same time be unique.


Brainstorming feasibility

Now that you have an idea, it's time to put on your thinking cap to understand the best possible way to solve the problem. As a product manager, you should have a fair understanding of all the technology skills your business possesses. Technology is the tool you use to solve customer problems. Based on your knowledge, you start to build a wireframe for the solution to the problem. This wireframe will be helpful to discuss the product with different stakeholders. Congratulations, you just played the role of a solution architect. :)


With the basic wireframe in hand, it's time to sit with your engineering team and start the first round of discussions to understand the feasibility of the proposed solution. The engineering team might have to try a few things before confirming everything works as intended. Of course, things might need to be changed as well. It's very difficult to get everything correct at the first try. There might be multiple iterations of discussions required to finalize the design of the solution.


Understanding the cost and timeline to build the product

Now that the design for the product/solution has been finalized, it is time to analyze the cost involved to build it. The product design needs to be broken down into smaller features and tasks to make the correct estimate. It includes all direct and indirect costs. The cost of engineering resources is the biggest direct cost, while the risks involved would be the indirect cost. Any uncertainty in the design would be a risk and steps have to be taken to mitigate it. This will be helpful to set the budget for the project as well as the timeline and pricing of the final product. This falls under the purvey of a Project Manager.


Convert your vision into a Roadmap

It is easy to have ideas. Anyone can have them. But what matters most is the execution. To execute, you need to have a great plan. Being able to see beyond just the idea and building a plan to execute them is important for the success of any product. It is a great test of your strategic thinking abilities. A vision with a great plan of execution brings long term profit to the organization.


Constant Communication during development and testing

Having been a part of the development team for a long time, I have realized how important communication is. Even after making a detailed plan for executing the project, There may be many instances when a feature 'A' is malformed into feature 'X' during development due to miscommunication. The devs think they are building the right thing for the customer and only when it is time to deliver, they realize that all their effort was for nothing. This leads to frustration for all the parties involved. The customer is disappointed. The Business Development team is not sure why the dev team is not in sync. The dev team feels bad that all their effort was for nothing.


To avoid this, there has to be constant communication between the customer, business dev, and engineering devs. If everyone is in the loop, there is less chance for straying away from the actual requirements. It is the role of the Product Manager to make sure everyone is on the same level and sees each other eye to eye. When something goes amiss, the product manager has to take corrective actions immediately. Also by keeping the customer and the development team in the loop you impart a sense of trust and accountability in them.


Once the development work is done, the product features need to be verified to make sure it satisfies the requirements and design articulated at the beginning of the project.


Marketing

Congratulations! After a lot of hard work, the dev team has successfully finished the product to satisfy the required specification. Now it is time to make sure the customer understands it and is satisfied with the deliverable. If the requirement is based on a specific customer (which is usually the case in a service project), there will not be much effort required here. But if the product specification is for a wider target audience, they might not understand why or how they need it. This is where marketing comes into the picture.


The Product Manager has to work with the marketing team to prepare case studies, proof of concepts to showcase the features of the product, and how it solves a customer pain point. Multiple channels can be used for promotion. This promotion leads to more queries about the product. From these queries/leads it is easier to filter out the qualified leads based on the prospective customer and their requirement. If a repeated query is amiss in the newly developed product, it goes to the product backlog for the next sprint.


Sales

Great! now we have a great product which is getting a lot of interest from the market. And people are eager to buy it. Sales is not a one time process. It is a continuous relationship. You have to work with the sales team to identify the types of customers who are using the product. This is necessary to understand the end-user even better and ask for feedback if they have any.


Most of the time, product sales do not immediately pick up but rather start as a trickle. This is because the initial users are still evaluating the product and are not sure how to proceed further. A little nudge from the sales team to understand their requirement in detail and what is missing for them will help improve sales as well as the product further. During this process of engaging with the customers, it is important to understand key accounts. ie. potential clients for repeat business. Key accounts are important for the sustainability of any company. They might have additional requirements that were not part of the original features list. Depending upon the volume of expected sales, the new feature might be prioritized during the next product development sprint.


Other Interesting Thoughts

And of course, you must have already noticed how implementing agile practices into your product development cycle can help react faster to customer feedback and keep churning useful features at the end of each cycle.


The role of a Product Manager is not something that is set in stone. It differs from business to business depending upon the scale of the organization and the type of product developed. In large organizations, the responsibilities are broken down a little such as product technical manager, product growth manager, business product manager, and so on. In smaller companies, it gets more exciting as all the responsibilities, usually fall under a single product manager. At the end of the day, it is the role of the Product Manager to make products successful and a person with a mix of all these characteristics will be good at it.

  1. Customer Empathy

  2. Good understanding of the technology used

  3. Excellent Communication and People Skills

  4. Project management skills

  5. Business Acumen

  6. Marketing and Sales mindset

Good Luck!


Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Product Management. This is my take on how product management works. Every organization has a different approach to it. If you feel I am wrong in any way, feel free to comment or reach out to me directly at hello@jdilipkumar.com. I'll be happy to learn and correct myself. 🙂

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