While working as a Product Manager over the past 7 years, I learned that it’s important for all Product Managers to know to know the following five things:
- Know your customers: This is product management 101. You need to know who your customers are. What is their demographics? What traits and attributes do they have? What do they like / dislike about your product? You must understand the customer needs and the problems they are experiencing so you can design and build products to meet customer needs. Knowing your customers is an ongoing process. It is important for Product Managers to regularly listen and talk to customers who will provide A LOT of valuable information on how to improve your product and potential new opportunities. In addition to the direct feedback, you can also analyse behavioural data to understand customer behaviour. Sometimes there may be a discrepancy between what customers tell you vs how they are actually using the product so it’s important to know both. Customers told you they like feature A but are their behaviours showing that they actually use feature A regularly? Once you know your customers, you are able to make data driven informed decisions about your product roadmap.
- Know your industry: A deep understanding of the industry is one of the qualities that makes the Product Manager an expert in his or her role. While this is not mandatory like knowing your customer, knowing your industry definitely helps a Product Manager to make better product decisions. This includes knowing the industry trends, key competitors and their offering, any regulations / compliance requirements and so on. For example, if your product is in the fintech lending space, it’s definitely an advantage for you to know the innovative trends in the lending space and key regulations and compliance requirements that your product must adhere to. Knowing your customers and the industry will help you craft your product positioning and value propositions to ensure product is fit for purpose (product market fit).
- Know your numbers: I think this is what sets apart a Product Owner (who are often focused on delivery) from a Product Manager (who have both delivery capabilities as well as business acumen). A Product Manager with business acumen knows how to set key metrics for their product and understands the business impact. What makes your product successful and drives successful business outcomes? What are the target metrics and a realistic timeframe estimation to achieve this? Once the metrics are set, the ongoing monitoring of the numbers will guide the Product Manager to make decisions that will improve the product performance and business outcomes. For example, if the business has a product conversion target of 70% and the product is only achieving 50%, a Product Manager may decide to review the onboarding process to improve the UX which may improve the conversion rate.
- Know how to tell a story: Often great a Product Manager is a great story teller. Product Managers spend a lot of time talking to various stakeholders across the business including the senior executives. Product Managers must be able to influence the key stakeholders to get buy-in, sponsor an initiative, endorse a product roadmap etc. If you know your customers, industry and numbers, the chances are your product roadmap is on the right track but sometimes this is not enough. Just because you know what you are doing, it doesn’t mean everyone else will agree with you. It is important for a Product Manager to be able to tell a story about their product vision, value proposition and roadmap. In addition to this, you also need to be able to change the angle of your story based on who you are talking to. If you’re talking to a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) for a funding approval, you may want to focus on the numbers when you’re telling your story. If you’re talking to a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) for endorsement for your roadmap, you may want to focus on customer experience and acquisition when telling the same story.
- Know how to prioritise: In my experience, prioritisation is the hardest task for a Product Manager because there are no black and white guidelines, yet it is critical that the roadmap is prioritised appropriately to avoid poor product performance, customer dissatisfaction and development inefficiencies. So how do you prioritise effectively? Generally, anything that relates to the regulatory and compliance requirements are prioritised over everything else if it causes your product to be in breach of the law. Then there are critical bugs that impact large number of existing customers. Now this is where it gets tricky. How do you prioritise between a list of feature enhancements that customers have been asking for vs brand new features that will make the product sexy vs tech debts vs other non-critical bugs vs chores – just to name a few. We all know if we had unlimited resources, we will do everything at the same time but this is often not the case. Many product teams have limited resources and prioritisation is important. what I have used in the past is – sticking to the key product / business metrics. If you prioritise features that help you achieve your metrics, provided that your metrics is set out for success, you are on the right track.
Product Management is a complex field. It is definitely not a skill that you can learn from a university degree. It take practice and learning on the job. From my experience, if you know the five things I’ve outlined above, I think you are on the right track to be a successful Product Manager.