In a recent Innovation+Talks podcast, I spoke with Steve Johnson about the process of product management and he shared some really great insights. The intersection of innovation and business is where product management lives. A product manager serves as the bridge between a customer pain point and a revenue-generating product. Unfortunately, there is often confusion and disconnect as to what product management should—and shouldn’t—entail. Let’s take a closer look at what we discussed.
Understand the buyer persona inside and out
For B2B companies, client relationships are typically viewed through a sales lens. Sales reps carefully navigate interactions with potential and existing clients and guard the relationship with extreme care. Product managers often only come face to face with clients during a pitch to display the company’s ability to innovate or its product roadmap.
While the guarded nature of the sales/client relationship makes sense, product managers also need to understand customers at a level that’s just as deep as sales executives. When product managers gain greater access to customers, they can more easily identify what motivates them and what barriers prevent them from doing their job.
This insight gives product managers the ability to harness the organization’s unique skill sets to solve customer problems. If you don’t know the people you’re selling to, you miss the nuances that distinguish disruptive products. The kind of products that make competitors ask, “Why didn’t we think of that?”
To learn more about product management, listen to The Process of Product Management episode of the Innovation+Talks podcast.
Make customer pain points your North Star
If you ask different people what product management is, you get different answers. In truly innovative companies, their product management philosophy is quite simple: Remove friction for buyers and users.
Take, for example, the snow shovel. People used traditional shovels to move snow off their driveways and sidewalks, but a conventional shovel doesn’t move things—it’s for digging holes. What they needed was a hand-held plow. That solved a problem. Moving snow instead of shoveling it proved to be a remarkable breakthrough. But it wasn’t perfect. In time, shovelers found that pushing large quantities of snow could often lead to back strain. So, again, a new problem to solve emerged. The curved handle design fixed it, allowing people to use their legs more than their back.
In short, a solid innovation strategy abides by the old adage: Necessity is the mother of invention. Identify the problem and you’re on the way to a transformative product.
Let developers develop
After identifying pain points, many product managers fall into a trap that impedes innovation—they attempt to ideate the product and ask developers to design their idea. In this approach, developers are trying to retrofit someone else’s idea, which often doesn’t match the product manager’s vision. As a result, time is unnecessarily wasted with revisions.
Let’s go back to the snow shovel example. In this scenario, a product manager would identify the need, then share their findings with the development team—not start designing a shovel. Developers are most innovative when they’re allowed to use their creativity and talents to create out-of-the-box solutions. This isn’t to say that a product manager shouldn’t offer input after being presented with a prototype, but it's a better idea to let developers do what they’re there to do.
Incorporate effective product management processes
Chaos is the enemy of innovation. When there are no uniform processes to guide the product management process, innovation is often the result of individual heroics instead of a clearly defined, repeatable process. As a result, the quality of a company’s products can vary depending on the product manager.
What organizations need are tools and systems to ensure that quality is consistently at a certain standard and that product managers can fit their best skills into that system. It’s also critical that everyone has access to the necessary data and tools necessary to communicate with each other. This allows for easier collaboration across teams and increases the likelihood that they’re meeting deadlines.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the methodology you use should be customized to reflect your industry, products and culture. Every company is unique, so there’s no single best practice for the industry. This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Product management isn’t easy, but it can be simplified by having a clear definition of what the process entails, identifying problems, sticking to defined roles and creating an environment where innovation can be unleashed.
To learn more about the process of product management, listen to this episode of the Innovation+Talks podcast.
Watch as our Chief Product Officer, Mike Bauer, explores how PPM - whether your portfolios are Products, Programs or Projects - needs to be an integral part of your overall Enterprise Innovation Management framework and toolset.