Product Management - Simplified

What is product management? At its core, it is defining a need, working to develop a solution to fill that need, and then making sure that people who need can get it

Product Management - Simplified
A captured still from South Park on the Underpans Gnomes - Classic episode

Or: Product Management in a nutshell

Tons of ink has been spilled on the art (and science) of product management. About methodologies, strategies, and the like. Grumbling about how the role varies, depending on the organization. Yada yada yada.

Let’s simplify this.

Product management at its very core is:

  • Identify a problem for some market segment (also known as customers)
  • A problem that is causing some form of pain (inefficiency, inability to accomplish a goal, etc)
  • That enough customers have this problem that is worth solving
  • And that those customers will be willing to pay for your solution, and …
  • Pay enough to fund your development, and provide some profit

Simple, but not easy. That 90+% of all products fail (fail to return on their initial investment) is testament to this difficulty.

Plenty of “models” for how to do this. More on that later.

The challenge of the role is that depending on where you are in the lifecycle of the product, you have very different skills that are crucial to your ability to even do the task at hand.

At the start, you need to be able to take the idea (your own, submitted by a colleague, or – most likely – by an executive) and validate it. Research, digging, quantifying, interviewing potential customers, market segmentation, et cetera. Lots of skills

Then you need to draft the business plan, the requirements, the attributes that are required to address the need. Validate your plan, present the business case, get approval from your governing body to begin development.

From there, you switch into “head down, full product development” mode. Backlog, stage gates, progress reports, product owner, QA concerns, mapping to segments, working close with the development team. Providing leadership and guidance, shoulders to cry on, running interference to protect your team, managing up, preventing sales intrusion. And so on.

As you get close to “done” you go into launch mode. Beta test or early field trials, get early feedback, bug scrubs, all nighters with the team (you buy the pizza and beer.) Collateral, go to market plans, website updates, is the documentation ready? How will it be delivered? How will it be sold. Sales training, direct? Partners? Working with your product marketing team (please, hope you have that function), marketing, lead generation, reference accounts, white papers, case studies, yada yada.

Post launch. Monitor the ramp, check early feedback, talk to the support team, any early warnings? How is the regional adoption? How does this map to your original projections, and business case assumptions. Work on the roadmap, and future improvements and development, manage the iterative development.

Each, and every phase requires different skills, and a product manager must shift their hat to accommodate what is needed. If you are fortunate, you have dedicated market research teams, product marketing is staffed, you have competent marketing (communications, lead generation, pubs) to leverage. However, if not, or if there are deficiencies you get to fill the gaps.

The image is a still from an early South Park episode, The Underpants Gnomes, where they teach the foul mouthed third graders about corporations and business. A true classic.