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How product managers can pull organizations out of the ‘feature factory’ trap with the right tools

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When features dominate product strategy, product managers have less influence over the direction of future offerings because quantity is prioritized over quality. Innovative, slow-developing products are replaced by hitting quarterly feature quotas.

With each iteration of the iPhone, consumers anticipate what new features Apple will unveil next. The company does a brilliant job of building excitement for bigger screens, better cameras, crisper photos, and other additions to its wildly popular product. In fact, very few companies roll out new features better than Apple.

Unfortunately, many companies take a cue from the iPhone and tend to go overboard. They become feature factories—organizations focusing more on adding new features to existing products than bringing new products to market. While new features are critical to extending a product's relevance and market life, over-reliance on features can kill innovation over time.

Organizations looking to regain their footing as new product innovators should look no further than at their product managers. The best product management solutions can help create innovative offerings that might never see the light of day.

Over-emphasis on features can stall innovation

Many companies begin with innovation as their North Star and invest countless cycles to create an innovative product that will either solve a new customer problem or address an existing problem in a new way. After establishing credibility with a market-disrupting product—or a series of them—it becomes critical to implement new features that will enhance the original product and keep customers interested, and their needs met.

Often, this is where many organizations place less emphasis on new product innovation. Features require less legwork than creating a new product from the ground up and can generate considerable revenue. The shift from new product development to feature development sometimes occurs during economic downturns when an influx of revenue is necessary to maintain market share. To be clear, features and product refactoring are important strategies, but they shouldn’t be the focus.

When features dominate product strategy, product managers have less influence over the direction of future offerings because organizations prioritize quantity over quality. Innovative, slow-developing products are replaced by hitting quarterly feature quotas. Many companies even incentivize product managers for how many features they push out on time.

At this point, you wonder if the role should still be called ‘product manager.’ They’re no longer dreaming up new solutions but instead managing v14.4. This conundrum plays a significant role in product manager burnout, as the job they were hired to do moves from a creative process into a succession of box-checking.

Empower product managers to spark new product development change

Organizations that want to move away from a feature-first model should shift the power to product managers and let them build and develop market-differentiating products.

These inherent qualities of a good product manager help move the output balance away from features.

  • They understand customer needs. Product managers are obsessed with solving customer problems, regardless of a solution’s ‘cool factor.’ Of course, new products must be innovative, but product managers understand that product success is directly tied to making a customer’s life easier—regardless of shiny new buttons.
  • They’re great persuaders. In most organizations, product managers don’t make high-level decisions, so they must present compelling arguments to get buy-in from executives. When looking to make a shift in product philosophy, a product manager will come to the meeting with the data and anecdotal evidence necessary to convince stakeholders of their vision.
  • They value collaboration. Product managers must be able to interact with many internal and external stakeholders. They are well-versed in speaking their languages, listening, and creating solutions that meet many needs. Product managers are equipped to lead the charge when a significant product vision shift is needed.
  • They have the company’s best interest in mind. The success or failure of a product output will fall upon the product manager’s shoulders. When products succeed, product managers will also succeed.

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With the right solutions, product managers can make the best decisions

While product managers have the skills necessary to lead a shift to a PLG-focused model, they can’t do it alone. It’s nearly impossible to manage all aspects of the product journey, such as monitoring product health, making data-driven decisions, navigating tradeoffs, and informing stakeholders of the latest updates.

When product managers are equipped with the right product management tools, they can leverage their talents, knowledge, and skills to optimize the new product development process and access the information necessary to gain buy-in from decision-makers.

Such tools give product managers the power to focus on:

  • Product health and progress: Product managers must have a clear line of sight into all deadlines, deliverables, and jobs to be done. This visibility allows them to respond to changes and resolve issues by staying on top of the key metrics, regardless of where a product is in its lifecycle.
  • Release planning: Product management tools should give users the power to manage products, organize tasks, and communicate statuses. Product managers can clearly understand what’s coming next and coordinate with product teams on future priorities and product plans.
  • The value matrix: Product managers must focus on the products that matter most. Tools that give them access to all the information they need in a central location and allow them to make faster, data-based decisions and respond to changing requirements.
  • Goals and KPIs: The right technology will assist product managers in tracking the progress of products and quickly determine if that progress is in line with stated objectives. And if a project is trending toward missing goals and KPIs, product managers can make changes to execute on strategy.

Creating a steady stream of disruptive products is certainly not easy, and there are many compelling reasons to drift toward a feature-first model. But companies that are intent on prioritizing innovation and consistently addressing emerging customer problems are putting more trust than ever in their product managers. And companies that do it best have the product management tools necessary to maximize their product managers’ many talents.

Product managers can drastically change an organization's success, but they need the best product management tools to do it. With Acclaim Products by Sopheon, product managers have the ability to diagnose product health, manage releases, bring greater value, and achieve KPIs.  Try a free version today and see for yourself.

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