What is product management? – A quick breakdown for the unfamiliar.

Product management as a business practice goes back to the mid-20th century. However, the concept of managing products and their development is nothing new. Shoot, all of the way back to the Silk Road in ancient China, merchants were managing the development and distribution of their products.

During the 1940s, Ivory soap was marketed as a gentle soap that’s safe for all skin types. It became popular with families as it was considered high-quality and affordable.

In the 1930s and 1940s, companies like Procter & Gamble began to develop more structured approaches to product development and marketing, eventually leading to product management roles. In the 1950s and 1960s, companies like IBM and General Electric further developed the discipline, formalizing the product management function and introducing tools and frameworks to manage products throughout their lifecycle.

Today, product management has become a critical function in many industries, including technology, consumer goods, and healthcare. Product managers are responsible for identifying customer needs, defining product requirements, guiding product development, and bringing products to market.

So, what is product management?

Product management is a process of overseeing the development and lifecycle of a product from ideation to retirement. The primary goal of product management is to create a product that meets the needs of the target customers, is profitable for the company, and provides value to stakeholders.

The role of a product manager is to act as a bridge between the various teams involved in the product development process, including engineering, design, marketing, and sales. They are responsible for defining the product strategy, setting the product roadmap, prioritizing features, and ensuring that the product is delivered on time and within budget.

Product managers are also responsible for gathering feedback from customers and stakeholders, analyzing market trends, and identifying new opportunities for product development. They use this information to make data-driven decisions about the direction of the product.

The bottom line is that product management is about creating a product that solves a problem or meets a need in the market, while also achieving business objectives and providing value to customers. It requires a combination of strategic thinking, communication skills, and a deep understanding of customer needs and market trends.

Why is product management important?

Product management is important because it helps ensure the success of a product in the market by meeting the needs of customers while also being financially profitable for the company. Here are some specific reasons why product management is important:

  1. Aligning the product with customer needs: Product management helps ensure that the product meets the needs of the target market by gathering and analyzing customer feedback and market data.
  2. Maximizing profitability: Product management helps ensure that the product is profitable for the company by identifying the features that are most important to customers and optimizing the product roadmap and pricing strategy accordingly.
  3. Ensuring timely delivery: Product management helps ensure that the product is delivered on time by working closely with cross-functional teams to prioritize features and manage the development process.
  4. Supporting innovation: Product management encourages innovation by identifying new opportunities for product development and identifying emerging market trends.
  5. Ensuring effective communication: Product management helps ensure that the product vision and strategy is communicated effectively to stakeholders, including executives, investors, and cross-functional teams.

Overall, product management plays a critical role in ensuring the success of a product by aligning it with customer needs, maximizing profitability, ensuring timely delivery, supporting innovation, and ensuring effective communication.

Is product management hard?

According to Apptentive’s study, the top challenges for product managers are too many responsibilities, not enough time in the day, and limited team bandwidth. In other words, product management takes a lot of time, which is a challenge in and of itself. (Source).

Product management can be challenging because it requires a diverse set of skills and involves balancing competing priorities. Here are some factors that can make product management hard:

  • Cross-functional collaboration: Product managers need to work closely with cross-functional teams, including designers, engineers, marketers, and sales teams, to ensure timely delivery of the product. This requires effective communication and collaboration skills.
  • Balancing competing priorities: Product managers need to balance customer needs, business objectives, and technical constraints when making product decisions. This can be challenging and requires good judgment and decision-making skills.
  • Gathering and analyzing customer feedback: Product managers need to gather and analyze customer feedback to ensure that the product meets their needs. This can be challenging because customers may have different preferences and priorities.
  • Adapting to change: Product managers need to be flexible and adaptable because product development is an iterative process that requires constant adjustment based on customer feedback and market data.
  • Managing ambiguity: Product managers need to be comfortable with ambiguity because there are often many unknowns when developing a new product, and they need to be able to make decisions and take action despite uncertainty.

Overall, product management can be hard because it requires a combination of technical, business, and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to balance competing priorities and adapt to change. However, many people find product management to be a rewarding and fulfilling career because of the impact they can have on the success of a product and the company.

What are the steps in product management?

Exploration (or Discovery) and Validation are the two core disciplines of product management. Product management is also a contributor once projects move into the delivery phase. (Source: Akita Solutions )

Product management involves a series of steps that are designed to ensure the successful development and launch of a product. The following are the common steps in product management:

  1. Conduct market research: Product managers need to understand the market and their customers’ needs to identify opportunities for new products or improvements to existing products.
  2. Define the product vision: The product vision is a clear and concise statement that describes the product’s purpose, target market, and unique value proposition.
  3. Develop the product roadmap: The product roadmap is a plan that outlines the features, milestones, and timeline for the product’s development.
  4. Create the product requirements document: The product requirements document (PRD) outlines the features, functionalities, and specifications that the product should have to meet the customer needs and achieve the product vision.
  5. Work with cross-functional teams: Product managers work closely with cross-functional teams, such as engineering, design, and marketing, to ensure that the product is developed according to the PRD and meets the product vision.
  6. Test and iterate: Testing and iterating the product is an essential step in product management. This involves conducting user testing, gathering feedback, and making improvements to the product.
  7. Launch the product: The launch involves creating a marketing plan, developing sales materials, and coordinating with the sales team to bring the product to market.
  8. Monitor and evaluate: Product managers need to monitor and evaluate the product’s performance, gather feedback from customers, and make adjustments as necessary to ensure continued success.

These steps are not necessarily linear and may overlap or iterate throughout the product’s lifecycle. Effective product management requires constant evaluation and adjustment to ensure that the product meets the market’s evolving needs.

Four ways our tool won’t help you

Picture of a wrench and a screw

As a tool maker, Ken Norton’s latest post “The Tools Don’t Matter” stung at first. After a bit more reflection, I realized what he was saying.

In his post, Ken made the point that you won’t play like Serena Williams just because you use the same tennis racket. That’s true. But, that doesn’t mean Serena is going to show up to Wimbledon with any racket and win the whole thing. Similarly, a super talented product manager isn’t going to perform their best with just any tool. It’s more like the way Marc put it, Serena needed to be skilled to even know what the best racket was for her. Not the same as tools don’t matter, but Ken’s main point is still valid: If you want to be a great product manager, tools alone aren’t going to make you one.

In that spirit, we thought we’d take an opportunity to point out all of the ways our tools won’t help you be a great product manager. To put it another way, these are the skills you need to bring for the tool to be useful. Or, perhaps more importantly, these are the skills you need in order to know if our tool is right for you.

1. Upfocus won’t help you set goals

In Upfocus, you can assign a company goal to an idea you’re thinking about building. It’s helpful for your teammates to see that an idea aligns to a goal. But, just because you aligned an idea to a goal, doesn’t mean you’ll make a great product. There are at least two things that could go wrong outside of our tool:

  1. The goal might not be good
  2. Your idea may not achieve the goal

Melissa Perri offers some good insights about creating an effective product strategy. Based on the Unified Field Theory from Toyota Kata, she explains that a good strategy should align the team around desirable outcomes for the customer and business. The elements of a good product strategy are:

  • Vision: Where the company or business line is going long term.
  • Challenge: The first Business goal you have to achieve on the way to your longer term vision.
  • Target Condition: A smaller problem you need to tackle on your path to accomplishing the challenge. These are set in terms of achievable, measurable metrics.
  • Current State: This is what the current reality is compared to the Target Condition. It should be measured and quantified before the work starts to achieve the first target condition.

Some additional advice Melissa shared with me when thinking about how to apply this strategy:

  • For product leaders:
    • Challenges = Strategic intents
    • Target conditions = Product initiatives
  • For product teams:
    • Challenges = Product initiatives
    • Target conditions = Options

Even with tools to create the elements of a good product strategy, you’ll still need the kind of skill that comes with experience. So, if you’re not an expert at this, you should seek out someone who is, like Melissa. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time to watch her talk about The Build Trap.

Product Strategy Animation from MelissaPerri.com

2. Upfocus won’t help you form new habits

Upfocus allows you to turn feedback from customers and coworkers into dev ideas that can be prioritized. We give you a workflow to make it fast to group feedback into themes. We give you prompts to help with things like effective problem statements and estimates. We make it easy to connect releases all the way back to the original feedback that inspired it. But, if you’re not gathering and summarizing feedback today, starting is a behavior change. And, forming new habits is hard.

We offer concierge onboarding to help you get started. We can send you notifications to take action. However, some companies are going to need more help than that. It might not be because you have a lack of discipline. It might be because you need other team members to get on board. This is why there are coaches for frameworks like Scrum, EOS, etc. If you need help with implementation, let us know and we’ll share some referrals.

3. Upfocus won’t help you come up with good solutions

Upfocus allows you to capture your dev ideas in a well structured way. We can help you spot feedback trends. We can guide you toward writing effective problem statements. The solution description, however, is just a blank text area. It’s totally your canvas to fill. Coming up with good solutions takes talent, skill, and practice. We don’t help with that part at all.

We may be able to point you in a helpful direction. Have you read Shape Up? It’s from the team at behind Basecamp. It’s a quick read and free online. They have some insightful ideas for how to iterate on solutions using:

  • Breadboarding – A mash up of an outline and a flow diagram, which includes:
    • Places: These are things you can navigate to, like screens, dialogs, or menus that pop up.
    • Affordances: The things users can interact with such as text, buttons, and fields.
    • Connection lines: These show how the affordances take the user from place to place.
  • Fat marker sketches – A low fidelity mockup. Sometimes these are embedded in an actual screenshot.
Example of breadboarding from Shape Up

Even when you use Shape Up, it still won’t make you creative. It also won’t address your knowledge of what is technically possible/feasible. If you need help with that, consider taking online courses.

4. Upfocus will still let you make bad decisions

If feedback is scattered across help desk software, stuck in inboxes, and not summarized, you’re much more likely to satisfice, which is to choose or adopt the first satisfactory option that one comes across. People have all kinds of cognitive biases, such as recency bias, which over emphasizes the value of something we heard recently.

When we talk about the value of Upfocus, we say it helps you see your universe of options. And, since ideas are more systematically formed, it’s easier to compare them. The goal is that you’ll make better decisions compared to when the options aren’t clearly visible or comparable. You don’t even need to be perfect. You just need to increase your rate of good decision making. But, Upfocus is not an AI with decision making authority. So, making good decisions is still up to you.

Is Upfocus the right tool for you?

If are already experienced with:

  • Creating product strategies
  • Collecting customer feedback
  • Coming up with good solutions
  • Making good decisions when all options are in front of you

Then, you are in a position to know if Upfocus is your tool or choice or not. You can try it risk free for 30 days or schedule a demo with us.