As a new product development manager, I am often tasked with leading a team to develop a new product or service to address a problem and capture a market. It may be quite challenging to “see” one or more solutions at the onset. So how do I get from the obscure to the concrete?
Conducting market research
The best way to get going is to look out in the market for what has been done in the general area of the product vision. For example, if the vision is “we want to transport people to Mars”, you should begin by evaluating the different methods that have been used to get people into space and the conditions which has made it impossible so far to get people to Mars.
Narrow the market
What I find necessary early on is to push Executives to define the target market. Focusing on a target market makes it easier to narrow down the solution choices. For example, “we want to offer real-time online cooking classes”. In this example, it would help to define the persona (characteristics) of those who would be interested in such a concept and the “sweet spot” for a solution in the market. If the market is narrowed down to beginner cooks who have very limited online tech savvy, you can see how a solution suddenly takes shape. The development team can focus on course content for beginners and ensure the online user experience is simplified for non-techies.
However, Execs do not always agree to narrow down the market for fear of missing out on ”unknown” captive audiences. If we look at our cooking class example above, it may be necessary to develop various personas and evaluate each in terms of market size, then build a business case to determine which ones are most attractive. Eventually, you will need to segment the market and become very familiar with your personas in order to develop the most attractive solution for your market.
Good tools to get started with market research include a SWOT Analysis and/or a Porter Five Forces Analysis. These tools ensure you look at all aspect of the market, including the competition and your own internal capacities.
I have been a product manager for almost 10 years now. I have worked in start-ups and in more established organizations, in tech and non-tech industries. I decided to reflect on my career and share my top 10 lessons:
- It is impossible to manage a product with zero budget. No matter how great a product manager you are, there is not a whole lot you can do if your company has decided that they will no longer invest in your product. If the situation does not change soon and there is no other product for you to manage, then I would suggest you find another job.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the end-user. Imagine you were using your own product, what would you change? How would you make it better? Talk to end-users and get their feedback. The same themes/ideas will come up over and over. Prioritize all the ideas and focus on the top 3. Don’t let one large client drive the bus – make sure you get a good cross-section of end-users to gather feedback. Listen carefully and watch how people use your product. Think of ways you can make your product better by taking into account the environment/context it is used in.
- Push the envelope. When I know from data I have gathered that a new feature must be introduced or an issue must be fixed to greatly enhance my product, I focus on getting it done. The tech guys might complain or give me excuses; the project managers might tell me that what I ask is “out of scope” or that we “don’t have the budget”. I still push and almost every time I get my way because everyone in the organization should and does care about the product. It is just a matter of putting our heads together to find the best solution despite roadblocks. As product manager, you need to sell your product and engage everyone to be as excited as you are about making it the best it can be.
- Get technical. Learn as much of the technical jargon as possible. Read a ton about technology as it applies to your area. You need to know when the tech guys are blowing smoke at you and you need to be able to call them out. You need to be respected even though you might not be as technical as they are.
- Get financial. You must be able to use data to build business cases. It is the only way to show how your idea will work because, at the end of the day, you must bring in sales. Find out what matters to your CEO and your CFO. Learn their language and use it when you pitch to them.
- Get out. Go to conferences, visit customers and visit partners. Ideas come about from talking to a lot of people about what you do, hearing what they do, and sharing ideas. Product managers need to be very social.
- Preach and teach. People won’t support you if they don’t understand your product.
- Measure and Report. Establish a baseline before implementing any change. Measure the impact and report. It’s important you know what you are measuring, why and what results you wish to obtain. It is only through measuring that you will know if you have achieved your goals.
- You can take more risks in a start-up. If you are a true type A product manager and you like to work on ground-breaking/transformational ideas, you will have more opportunities to do so in a start-up than in a stable, more established organization. Large organizations have more capital at their disposal but they are less likely to want to spend it on brand new initiatives that do not closely relate to what they already do. Established organizations are usually not looking to take on too much risk – they are happy to grow slowly and consistently (the exception to this would be an Apple or Google-like organization who have incubation teams that can work on game changing ideas).
- Learn to work in a team environment and communicate a lot. This may seem obvious but I did not realize until probably too late in my career how important this is. You need to support others, listen to them and make them feel good about their ideas. Sometimes, it is best if you don’t have all the ideas but you try to communicate in a way that others believe they came up with the ideas. This may seem strange, but only when people think something is their idea, do they truly participate in the process.
Do you have any lessons you wish to share? Don’t hesitate to drop me a comment.
Some organizations have adopted project management methodology to develop products according to defined scopes, budgets and timelines. Once a project, such as release 1 of an application, is completed, the work on release 2 is planned as part of another project. For continuity-sake, the project manager assigned to release 2 gets appointed program manager and may manage related projects.
So, are there any issues with this approach to managing products and what can product management bring to the mix?
Simply put, project manager are not product manager; project managers cannot focus on the product itself and perform project management functions at the same time. Focus in the operative word in the previous sentence. It is not that project managers cannot develop the skills required to become product managers– sure they can – however, the role of project management is very important with its own responsibilities and to try to do both, although not impossible (and it does work in small or start-up organizations), it can be a challenge, especially so for complex projects with a lot of stakeholders.
The product manager’s functions, such as monitor changes in the market, gather information from users of the product, manage the product life cycle, interface with product marketing for positioning of their product, pitch their product at conferences, and so forth, are compromised when project managers attempt to perform them. In organizations without product managers, successes of products are at risk when only project managers are responsible for them.
Markets are in constant flux. New products are launched everyday and competitors are quick to copy a product or launch a new or a better version of an existing product. Product managers wake up every morning thinking about their products. On the other hand, project managers wake up every morning thinking about the project’s constraints, how to remove barriers for the project to move forward and the need to keep stakeholders informed on a project’s status.
The roles are complimentary but one cannot replace the other.
Do you work or have your worked for an organization where project managers perform product management functions? Your feedback to this post would be appreciated.
I was reading a great article in Harvard Business Review about managing your innovation portfolio. It made me appreciate that for most organizations, it is difficult to strike the right balance of core, adjacent and transformational innovation. As a new product development manager, I enjoy working on the real breakthrough ideas, but those are few and far between. There is only so much funding available for capital projects and only so much risk an organization can undertake. So what kind of new product innovation will your organization choose to focus on? There are three types:
Core Innovation –They are the successful products you have already launched to market. If they have been successful for a long time, they are often referred to as “cash cows”; they bring in the revenue that fund new initiatives. If you work for a low-risk organization, the CEO probably wants you focus on different ways to milk that cow (small incremental improvements) rather that rock the boat working on brand new initiatives. It can be reassuring to be the Product Manager for a cash cow because you know your market, you know what the customers want and you just bring it to them. The trouble is that one day, that cow will dry up and the organization too if it has not invested in adjacent and transformational innovations.
Adjacent Innovation – I have an example from my software days. I worked for a company that built Unix GUI tools. We sold them for thousands of dollars per license and our market loved them as we saved developers many hours of coding work – plus our GUI’s made our client’s software look good. However, the market changed as Windows and Java became popular and the market for expensive Unix environments declined. So we decided to develop our tools for Windows and Java but making that leap was not easy; we had to hire new talent and understand new markets (price points, features/functionality, platform requirements, competitors etc…).
Transformational Innovation- This is when you do something completely different from what you have done before. Building the capabilities for game-changing products typically requires a lot of funding and is very risky. The difficult part is that the customer is often not ready and/or has no knowledge of your offering so you have to spend a lot of time and money educating the market. This is why only 10% of all real game-changing innovation actually succeeds in the market place. For mature company, only 1% of transformational innovation succeeds. In my experience there are three key success factors for transformational innovation: (1) a strong Executive sponsor who can communication a clear vision, (2) funding (yes, let’s state this one more time), and (3) good metrics to make decisions – without metrics bad ideas are too slow to get killed.
As a product development manager responsible for new product ideas, I spend a lot of time educating and encouraging everyone from the C-Suite to the ground floor to look for and share ideas. I review a lot of ideas with my New Product Innovation Committee. It’s good to look for the really good ideas but we also need to remember that we have to manage our total innovation portfolio which means core improvements and adjacent innovations as well.
Project and Product Management represent two separate functions each with its own goals and reasons to exist. Having said that, the functions do have similarities but they also have important differences. At a high level, Project Managers ensure the work is planned, executed and delivered according to the scope, within budget and on time. Product Managers, on the other hand, are responsible for ensuring products are created, tested and delivered so that they meet customers’ requirements. The creation, planning, development and launch of a new product is one project or a combination of projects. Once a product is launched to market, the Product Manager manages the product through its life cycle whereas the Project Manager moves to another project.
In my opinion, here are the 5 main differences between Project and Product Management:
1) Projects have a clear beginning and an end – Products are an ongoing effort until their end of life.
2) Good Project Management does not need passion for the product to move the team to deliver what is required. Good Product Management requires passion and ownership of the product.
3) Project Management has clear methodology and a certification process. There are best practices for Product Management but no methodology.
4) Project Managers are concerned with staying within budget – Product Managers are concerned with cost to develop the product and/or feature (investment) as well as the potential revenue (the whole business case). Normally, Product Managers are responsible for the product’s P&L and must ensure the product is profitable.
5) Project Managers are not normally as intimate with a product’s customers as Product Managers are but there are exceptions to this. Some Project Managers manage the installation or customization of products for specific customers. In this instance, a Project Manager could become even more intimate with a customer than a Product Manager would. The Product Manager must look at the market as a whole and not single out one customer so the product must benefit the organization (profitability) and the target market(s) for the long term; the Product Manager should not be steered in her decisions by one specific customer.
Can you think of other main differences between Project and Product Management? Let me know!
- On Product Management Product Management Topics
- RYMA – Product Management View (PMV) Great blog on product management. Sign up on their website for insightful weekly webinars on product management.
- Toronto Product Management Association (TPMA) The Association facilitates learning, mentoring, & networking opportunities for Product Managers and Marketing Professionals in the High Tech Industry in Toronto
Read About Entrepreneurship
Some IPTV Resources
- CATA WIT Toronto Women in Technology Forum
- Women Executive Network Dedicated to the advancement and recognition of executive-minded women in the workplace.
- Getting from the obscure to the concrete through market research
- My top 10 product management lessons
- What Does Product Management Bring to a Structured Program and Project Management Run Organization?
- Striking the Right Balance to Manage Innovation
- 5 Main Differences Between Project and Product Management
- Product Management Is About Closing The Gaps
- Product Management in a Non-Technical Company
- Formulating a 90-Day Plan For a Product Management Role
- What’s Simplicity To You?
- Using Agile Principles in Project Management
Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.