A Small Business Guide to Smart Product Management

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Product management goes far beyond simple product development: you have to manage a complex process. Here are the characteristics that every product manager must have to be successful.

Few things are more exciting than launching a new product – or more terrifying if you’re a product manager.

You and your team have worked hard for months to perfect the product, and now is the moment of truth. Will it be a success, or have you spent the last few months on a flop, killing your professional reputation in the process?

Nobody knows exactly why certain products succeed or fail, but over the years we’ve developed a pretty good idea of ​​the ingredients of a successful product development process. So, if you are in this business, it is essential that you know and exhibit these qualities.

Good product development management is often the difference between growing as a business and getting crushed by competitors. To be an effective and agile product development manager, you must possess a few key characteristics. But first, it helps identify exactly what product management entails.

Overview: What is Product Management?

Product management refers to the process of researching, identifying, and developing new products based on customer needs so that your company can produce and sell those products.

Effective product management will help a company correctly determine what customers are looking for and then develop a product with specifications that match those needs.

A lot of work goes into product management beyond the actual product development process.

Product managers should conduct thorough research on the customer base and their needs, identify key specifications, discuss with the development team what is possible, and devise a product development roadmap for the project manager.

Basically, you need to manage all aspects of the product lifecycle from start to finish.

Product Management vs Project Management: What’s the Difference?

The difference between a product manager and a project manager is a matter of scope and overall responsibility.

While a product manager focuses narrowly on developing a product roadmap, the project manager takes that roadmap and breaks it down into individual tasks, creates a project schedule, allocates resources for the project , monitors its progress, assigns roles and responsibilities to the team, coordinates the product launch and communicates with stakeholders.

7 Characteristics of Effective Product Management

Being a good product manager takes more than understanding how to put a product together. These seven characteristics are essential for anyone hoping to excel in this professional field.

1. Steering

Like any manager, a product manager must have good leadership qualities. This means the product manager must be willing to listen to the team, lead by example, empathize with others, understand in detail what needs to be accomplished, and motivate the team to get the results. desired results.

Leaders also need to show that they can push their team to execute the project and accomplish the milestones outlined in the plan on time and on budget.

Example: Sarah, a product manager for a bottling company, noticed that the team had recently filled backorders. She brings the team together and, rather than requiring employees to work harder to ship products faster, asks for feedback on why they’ve had trouble shipping orders on time. She finds that workers are dealing with outdated machines that often break down, which prompted her to submit a proposal to the company to replace the machines with newer models that won’t break down as often and will work. more efficiently than older models.

2. Understand the customer

Demonstrating a thorough understanding of who your customer is, what they want, and the type of product that will meet their needs is perhaps the most essential part of being an effective product manager.

It goes beyond simply collecting statistics on customer trends or reviewing surveys – you need to have a general idea of ​​what your customer wants based on your intuition developed over years of interactions. with customers.

Example: John, a product manager at an accounting software company, wants to better clarify who the customers are and what they want. He asks his team to generate three customer profiles: one for the midsize business owner who wants to streamline the company budget, one for the small business owner trying to find their first budgeting software solution. , and one for the householder who wishes to understand personal finance.

3. Knowledge of current and past products

It’s hard to develop a strong future product if you don’t know your past. By understanding the company’s past products – what worked, what didn’t, and what was an absolute disaster – you’ll learn from previous mistakes and identify features in a product that tend to make them worse. a success.

While experimentation is important – see feature #7 below – it’s wise to avoid reinventing the wheel whenever you can.

Example: Caryn, the product manager for a consumer drone manufacturer, has received feedback from a customer survey indicating there is interest in a drone that can fly at much higher altitudes than the current product. . However, she is aware that a past effort to produce such a product has violated Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and she raises this concern with the company owner. They decide to launch a study to better refine the requirements of the future product in order to meet FAA regulations while satisfying customer needs.

4. Effective communication

All managers need to be excellent communicators, and product managers are no exception. You need to understand how to communicate with a diverse group of employees and get them all on the same page and collaborate together.

This avoids duplication of effort and ensures that your team is working at maximum efficiency. You also need to clearly communicate the product strategy with a well-communicated roadmap that clearly defines things like product attributes and who is responsible for what.

Finally, you must take responsibility if something goes wrong. As a manager, you own the product and must act as such.

Example: Steve, product manager for a manufacturer of scientific instruments, is guiding the development of a new calculator. To ensure everyone on his team is on the same page, he creates a detailed product strategy that explains what components should be developed and when, who will be responsible for each stage of development, and stipulates milestones. updated daily so that he can monitor progress and communicate any changes.

5. Prioritization Skills

In a business, resources are always limited. Sometimes you can’t get everything you want in a product, so you need to prioritize the features and capabilities that are most important to the customer.

A product manager should do this not only because a product may omit the most important features in favor of less essential ones, but also because a lack of prioritization may cause a product manager to try ‘get all the features anyway. and end up with an inferior overall product.

Example: Tina, a product manager at a video game company, learns halfway through developing a new role-playing game that she doesn’t have the funds to develop all aspects of the game. company focuses on the aspects of previous games that customers enjoyed the most and decides to spend their resources on similar gameplay elements, removing extras that they hoped would add value to the game but weren’t essential.

6. Ability to think strategically

Product managers need to look at the picture and think strategically.

They have to ask themselves: “Am I offering a temporary product just to satisfy customer demands for a few months that will be abandoned in two or three years, forcing us to start from scratch, or am I developing a solution who can grow with our customers?”

Your products are the lifeblood of your business, so you need to develop a concept map for products that incorporates a long-term vision.

Example: Tom, a product manager at an exercise equipment company, notices that customers show a strong preference for expensive, feature-rich exercise bikes. However, the product does not fit with his company’s overall strategy of producing affordable exercise equipment for budget-conscious people. So he resists the urge to go through an expensive product development process to meet what he thinks is temporary demand.

7. Willingness to experiment

Developing new products requires an adventurous spirit. You must be willing to take calculated risks and experiment with new things that may fail.

By having a backup plan and a core product line that supports the business, you can branch out and try new things with your product team. This allows you to identify new opportunities for your business to grow beyond where your business is currently focused.

Example: Mary, a product manager at a cybersecurity company, continues to provide support for the company’s core line of cybersecurity products, but wants to experiment with a pilot program for a new technology that will introduce security measures for customers who want as many layers of protection as possible. She sets aside some time and resources each week to dedicate to this pilot program to see if it will work and keeps the business owner informed of her progress.

Become more efficient with software

Although product lifecycle management does not involve all project management tasks, you will still benefit from project management software.

This software can help you gather detailed customer analytics, build a project timeline, and build a strategic product development plan that aligns with your company’s vision.

Some software options go beyond product development and help with product marketing and sales, in case you are in a small business and wear many hats.

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