Over the last 10 years I’ve learnt that every company wants the same thing. To move faster, to be smarter, to build the right things and ultimately to grow. But how do modern, product-led companies lead their way to success?
Here are my top 7 tips for product management success.
1. Measure the outcome not the output
It’s easy to lose sight of what success looks like. Specially when embarking on a complicated project. However, many teams completely forget about why they are building what they are, which causes teams of Product, UX and Engineering to lose sight of the outcome they are trying to achieve.
Start with what success looks like
For example, if a team was tasked with growing sales, then it would be important to know the answer to 3 key questions:
- What are the sales figures today?
- What do we want the sales figures to be?
- What impact will this have on the success of the business?
Working your way backwards from a desired outcome, the product team can take the responsibility to align the product roadmap and feature development towards achieve this outcome.
Success can be clearly measured. “How close did we come to our desired outcome?”
Objectives and key results
OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results) are a great way to focus a team on outcomes they are working towards.
“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.”Earl Nightingale
2. Focus on solving problems
Many companies do well to focus on solving a clear problem for their users. My favourite stories of companies that are intensely focused on solving problems are Google, Uber and AirBNB.
Structured approach to problem solving
Using the Teresa Torres’ opportunity tree is a great way to navigate your way through the many problems you have to be solved.
Starting with the desired outcome helps to drive the alignment of every opportunity and solution to your team objectives.
3. Have a regular cadence of customer research
At Moonfruit, we were talking on the telephone to customer’s every week. That was great as it gave Product valuable insights into some of the struggles users were having.
Customer research is important to Product Managers as it helps answer key questions.
Things Product Managers can do with customers over the phone and in person
- Test new product ideas and prototypes
- Understand why customers use our product
- Understand what issues our users have
- Understand what your product does well
- Understand what your product doesn’t do well
Recruiting a customer research list
The initial approach I had at Moonfruit was unorganised and I wasn’t actually sure what I was looking for when asking asking questions. That led me to think about more of a structured approach to customer research. I implemented an email program, where customers who had churned within 3 months of buying a subscription were automatically emailed and asked if they could help us by being part of our research program.
We’re sorry we didn’t quite meet your expectations. Can we call you to find out what didn’t work?
In addition, I put a survey (a simple Google Form) on a page of the website, where users could be part of “Moonfruit Labs” – the customer research program.
This was enough to give us a huge base of users to be able to talk to over the phone, as well as to invite into our office for face to face interviews.
Questions to ask customers
Tell me about the last time you built a website
What did you struggle with? Why do you think that is
If you could improve one thing about the product, what would it be?
4. Agile is for the entire company, not just software development.
Most people think Agile is only useful for software development teams. This is by far from the truth. The whole premise of agile, is to help organisations move faster towards their goals. With that being said, agile ways of working can be spread into different parts of the company.
Agile mindset for the entire company
Eliminating waste is one of my favourite pillars of the lean startup. Have a continuous flow of delivering measurable value
Everyone side the company should focus on the return on investment for what they are doing
Expect uncertainty in most things that go on in the company, and manage it through iterating on the product in more frequent, testable releases.
Develop personas to ensure you know who your activities are directed towards. These are usually useful for marketing teams, but can be useful for all parts of the company to help drive a customer centric culture.
5. Hire the right people
If you’re in more of a management position, then you’ll intrinsically care about building a team and hiring staff. Finding the right people to fit your company culture, team and desired outcomes is essential.
Hiring a freelance product manager through a marketplace such as TopTal is one way to find the right people, faster. That’s because most of the hiring process is done by TopTal who have already sifted out those that don’t quite have the right level of skill.
I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.Lee Iacocca, Ford
Alternatively, if your budget permits, use a recruitment agency to help find the right Product and UX people.
Questions to think about when hiring a Product Manager
Does this person have the right experience to solve the problems we’re trying to solve, and achieve the outcomes we’re trying to reach.
Will this person fit the culture we have
What motivates this person? Will they get bored after a few months?
What can we offer this person that other companies can’t?
6. Don’t be too process heavy
In product management, it’s easy to get sucked into the process mindset – where following a rigid process is mandatory. For example, if your team work in 2 week sprint cycles, then you’ll probably have retrospectives, demos, and refinement sessions.
What do you do with the time if you’ve got a backlog that’s healthy and doesn’t need much more refinement? Be flexible and either give that time back to the team, or use it for things like customer research or blue sky thinking.
The same can be said with other areas of the product life cycle. It’s important to realise when things just get in the way, and when things are there for a reason.
A good example is GDPR. It’s probably a good idea to follow protocols as the risk of not following the protocols are high and the impact to both the customer and company could be significant.
7. Use the right tools for the job
There are so many things that can slow you down, or even outright prevent you from doing your job properly. It’s important to remove these blockers and to create an environment for teams to do what you need them to do – deliver success.
Product Managers should drive the conversation about using the right tools
Do you have access to the data you need?
Is Google Analytics enough if you are working for a SaaS business where understanding user behaviour is possibly more important? Mixpanel or Amplitude are my go to analytics tools when I need to go deeper into understanding what users actually do on a product.
Do you have a good way of sharing your product roadmap?
I personally love to use Trello for product roadmaps. It’s lightweight, easy to share and simple to keep updated. Here’s a great example from Elegantt. Prod Pad and Product Plan are great paid alternatives and have a wider range of views (e.g. Gantt Charts).
How do you communicate with your team and stakeholders?
Slack is my number one tool for communication. It’s instant and simple. However there are times where you need to go into more depth.
I usually follow this rule of thumb – anything piece of comms that can be consumed and understood by the person receiving it within 30 seconds, is probably best on an email. Otherwise it goes on slack.