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Have You Been Bruised By Product Management

Product Management is a demanding job.  Without certain skills and laser-focus, a Product Manager can easily be bruised by the demands of the role.  As for myself, I have stumbled many times, received my fair share of bruises and I have even fallen on my face once or twice.  Confucius reminds us that, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.” 

I can attest that although the bruises of my learning have hurt, they have also helped shape my understanding of the product management role and keep me going. If you are a first-time Product Manager, or you are a Product Manager looking to enhance your understanding of this role, I have outlined a few things that will help and maybe even avoid a few bruises of your own.

Know That Outcomes Matter
In the past, I did not practice certain key rituals and as a result I missed out on a large revenue opportunity from a set of high-profile customers.  In a competitive marketplace, understand that successful outcomes drive your business and you have to be focused.  You will be measured by revenue, customer satisfaction and many other product outcomes.  To prepare for this, be diligent and manage your product pipeline like a successful sales person manages his/her sales pipeline.  To a product manager this means a few daily rituals:

  • Talk to customers to see what’s working and what is not
  • Refine your product backlog to reduce ambiguity by refining requirements and details
  • Prioritize your work and direct teams to focus on items that add the most value

These rituals need to be practiced every day to be truly effective, but you can’t stop there.

Demonstrate Commitment to Your Product
At a time when I was juggling multiple products, I was less than enthusiastic about one that was aging and going nowhere.  I let this attitude permeate the entire team, which ultimately made it to customers and they ended up leaving this product.  To counteract that, establish an excellent understanding of the product that you are managing, both the good and the bad.  Become familiar with the key customers and the market - learn to speak their language. Become the loudest evangelist for your product – it is infectious!  Establish true partnerships with the Developers, Quality Assurance Teams, User Experience Designers, Support Engineers, Trainers, Sales and Marketing.  All of these actions will demonstrate your commitment to the product.  A lack of commitment on the part of the Product Manager can generate a lack of commitment by the teams that you need in your corner.

Receive Training on Development Methodologies
As a result of my lack of understanding of the methodology that my team was using, I suffered from the pain of missing dates and miscommunicating with clients on projects when I did not understand how or when projects would be delivered.  Develop your understanding of common development methodologies – this includes Waterfall, the Agile-Scrum Framework and even Six Sigma Lean-Agile.  You will need to communicate effectively with all partners and stakeholders.  The more you know about what’s involved in the development process, the more effective you will be in planning your work and effectively communicating to get teams behind you. 

Become familiar with the Pragmatic Marketing Framework
I spent a good chunk of my career suffering in silence and completely stressing out, feeling the pressure to do everything myself – if I only would have asked the right people for help!  The Pragmatic Marketing Framework is a blueprint of practical activities to help plan and take a product to market.  Become familiar with the templates that they offer and take a training class from them.  While you may not be able to do each step yourself, it will help you understand and identify where you need help from other team members from your organization.

Develop Your 1-Page Business Plan
Too often, I would see stakeholder and executive eyes glaze-over as I began describing my solution rather than presenting a complete business case.  As a result, I wasted everyone’s time trying to explain why this was needed and never felt that they really understood.  Develop a one-page business plan for your product(s) by becoming versed in the concepts of the Lean Canvas from its creator Ash Maurya.  You can learn more from his website The Lean Canvas tool helps you to focus on why you should build a new product (rather than what you’re building) and helps you to communicate requirements and goals in a language that is familiar with CEOs and stakeholders.  I have also found that it is a quick way to advance ideas and to test those ideas with customers before you run out of funding or resources!  

The activities that a Product Manager plans, performs, and is involved in are vast.  It is easy to skip things and to get bruised by negative feedback from customers, difficulties with internal teams and criticism from stakeholders. We all stumble.  Dust yourself off and by focusing on the recommendations that I have outlined, it is possible that your bruises may only be superficial and not hang around very long!   

What have your Product Management bruises taught you?


About The Author

Principal Consultant

Mark is a Principal Consultant for Cardinal Solutions Columbus Office. He is a collaborative software product manager with over fifteen years of experience managing a portfolio of software and projects varying in size and complexity. He applies leadership, facilitation, mentoring, problem-solving, and decision making skills to accomplish projects with the help of distributed, cross-functional business and IT teams, and matrixed resources. Mark’s experience includes software development delivery using waterfall, the agile Scrum Framework and Lean. He enjoys helping teams solve difficult problems and collaborating to deliver successful outcomes.