Definition of product management
How do you create successful products and new businesses ventures through effective use of product management?
Let me start with asking the following questions:
- How do you define product management in the broadest terms to encompass all facets of the role and address why the product manager role exists to begin with?
- How should we envisage the role so it can have a meaningful impact in today’s rapidly evolving landscape?
I’ve spoken with tens of people in multiple industries and have determined that there isn’t a unanimous understanding of or answer to the these questions. I’ve seen skills varying in both meaning and application that tend to get associated with the role. Examples are product strategy, product ownership, product marketing, product development, product delivery.
The terms product agilist, product architect are also being used synonymously , especially in newer tech oriented startups.
While none of these are inaccurate because most product managers are directly or indirectly responsible for these aspects, they don’t truly do justice to what the role can accomplish.
Revisiting how we define product management
I like to think of product managers as Opportunity and Innovation Managers instead.
In order to appreciate this, we need to define the following terms.
- Opportunity: Potential to address unmet and underserved customer needs and therefore create value.
- Innovation: Imagining an end state for an opportunity/problem and creating an offering (product or service) that is valuable, feasible and commercially viable that helps reach that state.
There is usually an element of creativity involved. However, in most real world cases, there are constraints in place in terms of resources which are crucial to consider so the creativity is channeled in a realistic , useful way.
The above definition helps creates a different mindset altogether. No longer is the focus only creating products. Instead the product managers (or innovation managers) start to think more about identifying and creating value.
How to start applying this thought process in a practical way
It all really kicks off with the creation of an opportunity hypothesis.
We need to ask ourselves a well directed yet broad question that creates the basis of the problem definition.
- For a company like Uber, an opportunity hypothesis could be something like the following:
“Is there potential to disrupt how people commute locally? ”
Or “Is there potential to change the way people use taxi/transportation services?
- For an airlines struggling due to the impact of Covid in 2020, it may be drafted as:
“Is there an opportunity to create a safer and more enjoyable shopping experience for customers?”
- When Apple created the iPod , they had hypothesized the opportunity as following:
“Can we put 1000 songs in people’s pockets?”
4 guidelines to consider while drafting an opportunity hypothesis:
- Ask a question which is broad enough so it doesn’t limit the scope of what can be created as a solution, but focused enough so it creates at least some useful boundaries.
- Don’t include a proposal or a solution. It should only help create a path towards identifying a potential problem.
- It can continue to evolve or refine over time , especially if the domain and subject matter is new.
- A well drafted opportunity hypothesis will eventually describe the vision of the product or maybe even the company itself.
The above definition can apply to all levels of product management. It is not just applicable for creating a new disruptive business or product from scratch.. You can use the same method and principles even if you’re working on iterations to an existing product or solution. E.g. if you operate an existing ecommerce store, but have witnessed a high cart abandonment rate you could hypothesize an improvement opportunity by asking “Is there a potential to improve customer buying experience”
What company, product, or industry are you passionate about? Create opportunity hypothesis for it and comment below?
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