A little more than a year ago, I got really ambitious. I restarted this blog, started another one on "Strategic Product Management", and kicked off a few other personal projects. Unfortunately, it was also a bit unfocused, and the breadth of work on top of work, coaching and spending time with my family ended up with all that set off to the side. I've decided to relaunch this blog as a consolidation of those efforts, so you'll see some older posts focused on Product Management.
It can be easy to get caught up in the role of a Product Owner: gathering feature requests from stakeholders (internal and external), prioritizing them in your team’s backlog, and working with your development team to make them a reality. Don’t get me wrong, these are all critical responsibilities of a good Product Manager. And critical components of Strategy, because Strategy without Execution is just dreaming. However, we need to be asking the following questions of the feature requests we receive:
Once we have a good understanding of Strategy and Vision, we can begin understanding how the two work together. Neither Strategy or Vision is stagnant. At least, they shouldn’t be. Instead, they should be part of a constant mutual refinement. Let’s walk through a simple example: Determine Where We Want To Be Above, we’ve identified where we are currently at with our product (blue dot), and the vision for where we want to be (orange dot).
When we previously talked about Strategy, we brushed upon the topic of Vision, or the goal of what we want the product to be. Unfortunately, in many organizations this often boils down to mission statements like “Excalibur helps businesses cut through the red tape of regulatory compliance”. Effective vision is typically the result of viewing the product from different perspectives. While the customer need should weigh heavily on vision, it cannot be the only factor.
One of the great challenges as a Product Manager is gathering meaningful feedback. While I recently wrote to encourage users to Please Speak Up… about their experiences with a product, I want to take a look at the flip side of that coin and talk about approaches Product Managers can take to help gather feedback that can be put to use. Most of these are from my direct experiences in working with B2B software, most recently with eBillingHub, but many apply to products across the board.
Let’s face it, providing feedback can be a tricky wicket. While we all have opinions on just about everything in the world around us, we tend to put a voice to very few of them. And, ironically, we tend to express most loudly the opinions that impact us the least. Think about it: When was the last time you vocally questioned a sports coach’s decision? Or criticized the inability of your favorite artist to live up to their quintessential albums?
Like most Product Managers, I have a passion for crafting great products. However, “great” is a subjective term, especially in crowded marketplaces. Because of this, oftentimes the product, or even a single feature, becomes too central to the business decisions being made. The Product Is Too Central? As a Product Manager, it can be easy to forget that the product is only one piece of the larger puzzle. It’s easy to get customer feedback on a feature and think “We need to add this.” without considering if:
It might seem that this question isn’t even worth asking, but what seems simple on the surface quickly grows in complexity. Wikipedia defines strategy as “a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty” which highlights three of the four key components: a plan, a map, goals, and uncertainty. We’ll touch on each here, and then dive deeper in future posts. Let’s start in the middle and address the map.