While there is no formula for creating great products, there are proven best practices. Below, I’ll explore the steps to creating a valuable product and how you can apply these practices to other parts of your professional life. If you’re not focused on product development in your current role, consider these best practices as ways to weather the recession in your career as a utility player.
7 Product Management Lessons for Career Advancement
- Build on a stable base.
- Ask the right questions.
- Always test your solutions.
- Design your solutions with others.
- Use your cutting room floor generously.
- Build relationships with key contributors.
- Always resolve for end users.
1. Build on a stable foundation
First, we can start with a question: when you build a house, do you want a rock solid foundation or a foundation that you half sunk in because you were so excited to put the frame on? If you start with a bad base, it can eventually cause everything on it to crumble. It’s the same with building products, and especially with building your career. Take the time to lay the foundation in the right direction.
2. Ask the right questions
To build a stable foundation for a product – and for your career – you have to force yourself to ask and answer the right questions. Here are some key first questions to consider:
7 Questions Every Product Manager Should Ask
- What underlying problem am I solving?
- Who are the key personas (target users or customer segments)?
- Have I set the right goals and KPIs to measure success?
- Why would a customer use it? Why would a customer choose my product? Is it a game of efficiency? Does the product have a significant impact on someone’s life?
- Do I know enough about the area in which I am building? Is there data to support my ideas at the macro level (industry and beyond) and micro level (competitors)?
- Can I predict product longevity or do I need a multidimensional product roadmap?
- Have I developed a one-page document and consulted with key stakeholders and people I trust for candid feedback?
It is always important to begin by answering the questions”Why am i doing this? and “Is it worth the investment of resources and time?” Looking at your projects and products from an opportunity cost perspective is crucial because it puts a dollar amount on the human hours spent on construction and forces you to ensure that your project is valuable on which team members need to focus.
As you work through these key foundational questions, you will gain clarity and increase your confidence in making decisions moving forward. Once you decide you’ve found the right problem to solve, you’ve got the right solution (or at least a damn good guess), then you know it’s worth the time you’re about to invest in it. Then it’s time to test the idea under pressure.
3. Always test your solutions
The scientific method never fails. Developing a hypothesis is essential to building a product. To Value creation laboratorieswe like to start hypothesis development with psychographic analysiswhich allows us to reduce the list of potential targeted customers very early on so as not to develop something too dispersed. Defining the characters is extremely important, so you’re not trying to be everything to everyone, which never really works. In other words, if you try to make everyone happy, you will fail and no one will be happy.
Next, prove your hypothesis by put the solution in some form in front of potential users. In other words, pitch your ideas to an audience or focus group before releasing them to the world (or even your entire team). It’s UXR (user experience research and testing). This is an area where most companies spend too little time and resources, but it can go a long way in reducing costs. If you validate your ideas and solutions before putting them into production, you’ll be more likely to ship a product that people will actually use or buy. Research and user testing will also help you understand some aspects of your product that you can improve before you start shipping to users. You should configure the tests in a way that helps answer the key questions or main elements of your hypothesis.
At this point, you continue to pour the concrete and ensure that the foundation on which you place the frame will be stable and solid. It’s easy to get ahead of the game and want to skip user testing, but here are some tips from people who have in the past:
4. Design your solution with others
After testing and iterating the product experience to make sure you’ve validated the ideas and feel happy with the expected results, it’s time to start talking with the entire product team. All of this may happen at different cadences, and product people may choose to use different approaches, but we’re pretty confident that if you answer at least a few key questions up front and get some feedback, you’ll much more likely to succeed in your product journey.
Developing design concepts based on user testing, data, and proving (or disproving) a hypothesis is always a fun part of the creative process. This is when you determine how the user interface and customer experience will work. If you followed the right steps, at this point you have all the right materials to build the house, and now it’s all about the execution. At this point, it’s time to reach out to key contributors and stakeholders to ensure you have buy-in. As with any project, you want to bring in these important collaborators to create a unified front toward solving the problem.
5. Use Your Cutting Room Floor Generously
During the concept and design process, the team will almost certainly come up with tons of great ideas. It’s important for the product manager to anchor the team and help them stay focused by resisting the urge to add every bell and whistle; this may delay the shipment of the product and its potential impact. Remember: just because you box doing something does not mean you should.
A backlog will naturally come from these conversations, whiteboard sessions, and prototyping. This is another crucial point where the product manager needs to capture ideas and insert them appropriately into the backlog to ensure there is order in the process. Prioritization is necessary to determine features based on customer impact and cost to build. Mapping a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a great way to stay focused and avoid getting caught up in layering more than is really needed to get your product into the hands of users.
In summary, you may need to leave a few great ideas on the cutting room floor, but just be sure to capture them in your backlog for the future. Product creation is an iterative process, much like business creation.
6. Build relationships with key contributors
From there, many more steps ensue that fall on the product owner to flex their skills as an interpersonal communication leader. Along with crafting and executing a short, medium, and long-term product roadmap (something that’s both an art and a science), you’ll want to build strong relationships with your product teams. engineering, analysis, design, security and marketing so that you can incorporate them into the process. It’s not easy, but it’s fun if you like the challenge of being the general manager of your own domain. Forging personal relationships with all key contributors, from junior to senior, will pay dividends when (not “if”) the waters turn turbulent and you need to rally the troops.
7. Always resolve for end users
Stability in the early stages of product planning (i.e. focus and discipline in What you want to do and Why) will strengthen your foundation as you go into construction. Quite often we build products based on personal preferences or untested ideas, but you need to be objective in your approach. You are not solving for yourself, but for your potential customers or users and the real challenges they face. Take time early in the process to pressure test every aspect you can think of and validate to the best of your ability. It is normal that the idea does not materialize. In fact, it would be much worse if you spent four to six months building something that no one would end up using, and then your ass was on the line to make it work. This applies to everything we do, whether it’s a deliverable or not. Whatever you do, make sure you’re working on solving a problem that really needs to be solved and creating solutions that people can actually use.
So build on a stable base and have fun doing it. Now go make an impact on the digital world!