A deep dive into the product management process
April 12, 2023
Creating a product is risky, with a staggering 95% of new businesses failing due to either poor execution or a bad idea altogether. However, don’t let that discourage you. With the right product management process, you can significantly increase your chances of success and turn launching a new product into a rewarding and profitable experience.
While there’s no one method for getting it right, most companies follow a general process. There may be variations from business to business, but the overall method remains the same. We won’t lie; it’s a long, complex journey that usually involves multiple departments and internal and external stakeholders. However, with a good project manager leading the way, you should all make it to the finish line in one piece.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of product management. We’ll share definitions, steps, tips, and tricks for getting it right. Let’s begin!
What is product management?
The product management process involves developing and managing products from idea to launch. It’s a complex process that requires understanding customer needs, creating solutions, and working with different teams to bring the product to market.
Ultimately, the goal of product management is to create products that customers love. This requires a deep understanding of their needs, pain points, and preferences. To achieve this, product managers conduct extensive research to ensure their products meet customer expectations.
What do product managers do?
As a product manager, you’re responsible for guiding a product through its entire lifecycle. Here are some common tasks you might tackle on a typical day:
- Conducting market research and gathering customer feedback
- Defining the product’s vision and strategy, including setting goals and identifying key success metrics
- Working with cross-functional teams, such as design, engineering, and marketing, to develop and launch the product
- Prioritizing features and requirements based on customer needs, market trends, and business goals
- Creating product roadmaps and timelines to guide the development and launch of the product
- Keeping stakeholders — including executives, customers, and team members — updated on the product’s progress
- Analyzing product performance data and using insights to make data-driven decisions about product development and future iterations
- Continuously monitoring and improving the product to ensure it remains relevant and competitive.
Product manager vs. product owner
While the roles of product manager and product owner are often used interchangeably, they are actually two distinct roles with different responsibilities. Let’s take a closer look at the differences.
A product manager is responsible for defining the product strategy, setting the product roadmap, and identifying key features and initiatives to drive business success. They are the person ultimately responsible for the product’s success.
In contrast, a product owner is responsible for managing the product backlog, which is a prioritized list of tasks and features that need to be completed. They work closely with the development team to ensure that the backlog is properly prioritized and that the team is working on the most important tasks first. Additionally, the product owner is responsible for communicating updates on the product’s progress to stakeholders, such as the product manager, executives, and customers.
While there is some overlap between these two roles, the key difference is that the product manager is responsible for the overall product strategy, while the product owner is responsible for managing the day-to-day details of the product development process.
Another way to think about it is that the product manager is responsible for the ‘what’ of the product, while the product owner is responsible for the ‘how’. The product manager sets the vision and goals, while the product owner ensures those goals are met through development.
In some organizations, these roles are rolled into one, but it’s important to know the differences and make sure you clearly define responsibilities in any job specs. No one wants an overworked, confused employee heading their big product launch.
What happens if you neglect product management?
A strategic product management process helps ensure your products meet the target market’s needs and drive business growth.
Without a product management function, you’ll struggle to define vision and strategy, leading to inefficiencies. And without a dedicated product manager, the responsibility for product decisions may fall to individual team members, such as engineers or designers, who tend to have competing priorities or lack a holistic understanding of the product and its user needs. This can lead to inconsistent quality, with features and improvements being developed piecemeal rather than as parts of a cohesive, user-centered product roadmap.
It doesn’t end there. Without a product manager to run market research and analysis, you’ll miss key opportunities to innovate or differentiate your product from competitors. A product manager plays a crucial role in developing a winning product and helping it reach and retain its place as a market leader.
Finally, lacking a proper product management process can lead to increased costs and delays. Without a dedicated manager to coordinate efforts, development may be prone to delays and wrong turns, hurting the bottom line and damaging the company’s reputation.
The product management process
Step 1: Begin idea management
Idea management is a multi-step process.
First, identify potential sources of ideas. This could include customer feedback, competitor analysis, industry trends, or internal brainstorming sessions. It’s the manager’s job to organize the collection process, record and organize the data, and then evaluate and prioritize those ideas. Popular techniques include brainstorming, SWOT analysis, market sizing, and cost-benefit analysis.
Once you’ve evaluated all your ideas, select the most promising ones and develop them into more detailed proposals. This may involve creating product concept documents, which outline the key features and benefits of the proposed product, as well as analyzing the potential risks and challenges.
Step 2: Create a business case
Following this is the business case. This involves developing financial projections, such as revenue forecasts and cost estimates, to determine whether the product will likely be profitable. The business case should also address the potential market size, competitive landscape, and regulatory environment. Once you’ve developed a business case, present it to senior management for approval.
Top tip: Don’t waste the ideas you don’t take forward! As a product manager, it’s your job to collect and archive the team’s work (like with an online whiteboard tool). Save the ideas that don’t make the cut rather than delete them. You never know when they’ll come in handy.
Step 3: Define your product specifications and refine your vision
Next, you need to translate the product concept into a detailed set of requirements that will guide the development team. These will be short and answer key questions like:
- What are the most critical problems or pain points our product solves for our target market?
- What are the biggest opportunities in the market that our product can address?
- How does our product compare to the competition regarding features, price, and user experience?
- What are the key metrics we need to track to measure the success of our product?
This stage of the product management process will typically involve conducting user research to understand the needs and preferences of the target market, as well as analyzing competitor products to identify gaps and opportunities. You’ll then turn these insights into detailed requirements.
In addition to functional requirements, product specifications may also include non-functional requirements, such as performance, security, and usability. Record these clearly and concisely, using a format easily understood by both the development team and other stakeholders.
Once you’ve set out all the specs, it’s time to get approval. You’ll typically include the development team, project managers, and senior management in the sign-off process. This gets everyone on the same page and helps you identify any risks that could lead to big problems. It also gives you a rough idea of the time and effort it’ll take to launch this project.
How to think objectively about your product
Sometimes it’s really hard to see the wood through the trees when it comes to your own project. When you really, really want something to work, it’s easy to miss glaring issues — something you’ll kick yourself for later on. Here are some tough but important things to consider as you define your product specs:
- Define clear goals and metrics: Having clear metrics will help you stay focused on what matters and ensure you’re making data-driven decisions that support your product vision.
- Conduct thorough market research: Understanding your target market, including their needs, pain points, and buying behaviors, is undoubtedly the most important part of product development. The more you learn about your audience, the better you’ll see whether your product is a good fit.
- Analyze your competition: Dig deep into your competitors to understand their strengths and weaknesses. With this information, you’ll be able to identify opportunities for differentiation and position your product effectively.
- Use data to inform decision-making: This may involve analyzing customer feedback, usage data, and market trends to see what’s working and what’s not. It also takes subjectivity out of the equation, which means fewer arguments based on speculation.
- Evaluate risks and trade-offs: Evaluate each product decision, considering cost, time, and impact on the user experience. This will help you balance the needs of the business with the needs of the user.
- Collaborate with cross-functional teams: You’ll need to collaborate with the development, design, marketing, and sales teams, ensuring everyone is aligned on the product vision and is pulling in the same direction.
- Continuously test and iterate: This may involve running user tests, analyzing usage data, and gathering stakeholder feedback. Use this feedback to make strategic adjustments to your product roadmap as needed.
Step 4: Create a product roadmap
A product roadmap is a high-level visual representation of your product strategy. It outlines the features you plan to deliver over a specific period, usually six to twelve months.
Once you’ve prioritized your features, group them into themes or releases. From here, you can develop a timeline. The roadmap should include a high-level view of the major milestones, such as alpha and beta releases, as well as specific dates or time frames for each release.
Here are some additional questions to consider in this phase of the product management process:
- How can we ensure our efforts are aligned with overall business goals and objectives?
- What are the key market trends that may impact our product in the future?
- How can we improve collaboration across cross-functional teams?
- What are the most critical decisions we need to make about our product in the next 6-12 months, and what factors should we consider when making those decisions?
Two ways to create your roadmap
There are two different ways to create a product roadmap: the theme-based approach and the North Star approach.
The theme-based approach organizes product initiatives and features around a set of themes that align with the product vision. The themes may represent different focus areas, such as improving user experience, increasing revenue, or expanding into new markets.
The North Star Framework, on the other hand, helps teams align their efforts around a central, long-term goal or vision. Start by identifying a North Star Metric, which is a single metric that represents the ultimate goal of the product. The metric should be meaningful, measurable, and aligned with the overall business goals. The team then identifies initiatives and features supporting the North Star Metric and product vision.
Both are good options for keeping the team focused on the big picture — which approach is up to you and your preferences.
Step 5: Prioritize features according to impact and risk
Your product roadmap is in place and ready to start working on your product initiatives and features. But how do you decide which features to prioritize first? That’s where feature prioritization comes in.
Feature prioritization is the process of determining the order in which to build and release product features based on their importance and impact on the product goals and user needs. It involves creating a product backlog, i.e., a list of all the product initiatives and features the team plans to work on, and then prioritizing them based on various criteria.
There are different prioritization techniques to choose from, but we will look at two of the most popular today: RICE and Kano.
The RICE approach
RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. With RICE, you assign each feature a score for each of these criteria and then calculate an overall score by multiplying the scores together.
Reach refers to the number of users who will benefit from the feature; Impact refers to the level of impact the feature will have on the user experience or business goals; Confidence refers to the level of certainty you have about the impact and reach scores; and Effort refers to the amount of time and resources required to build the feature.
The Kano approach
Kano is about categorizing features into three types:
- Performance; and
Must-Have features are basic requirements customers expect from the product — for example, an eCommerce app with a checkout page. Performance features are things that provide additional benefits and differentiation — for example, the ability to save products without buying them. Delighters are features that exceed customer expectations and provide a significantly positive experience — for example, the ability to create product mood boards or see video demonstrations.
By categorizing features into these groups, you can prioritize the must-have features first and then focus on adding performance and delighter features later.
When using either RICE or Kano, involving stakeholders from different teams is important to get a well-rounded view of the features’ importance and impact. You should also regularly review and update the product backlog based on feedback from customers and stakeholders, as well as changes in the market and business goals.
Step 6: Handover for delivery and prepare for data collection
Now let’s talk about the final stage of the product management process — delivering the product and prepping for data analysis.
First, let’s focus on delivery. This is the exciting part, where you get to see all your hard work come to fruition. But delivering a product isn’t just a one-time event, it’s a continuous process. That’s where continuous delivery comes in. It’s a methodology that emphasizes frequent, small releases of software, rather than infrequent, large releases. This approach allows teams to get feedback from users more quickly, and make adjustments and improvements based on that feedback.
Another methodology that’s often used in product management is Agile. This approach prioritizes collaboration, flexibility, and rapid iteration. It’s a way of working that values responding to change over following a plan — and when it comes to delivering a product, this means that you’re able to adapt to user feedback and changing market conditions more quickly, and ultimately deliver something that lands well.
Next, let’s talk about prepping for data analysis. Before you analyze, you must ensure you have the right data. This means setting up tracking and analytics tools to collect the data you need. It also means defining key metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to help you measure the product’s success.
Once you have the data, it’s time to start analyzing it. Look for patterns and trends that can inform your roadmap. For example, if you notice that users are spending a lot of time on a particular feature, that might indicate that you should invest more resources into improving it. How are users interacting with it? Are there any areas where they’re getting stuck? What features are they using the most? Data analysis can help you answer all of these questions.
Step 7: Get started with continuous improvement
This is where you take the insights from data analysis and use them to make iterative improvements to your product.
Analytics is a great way to do this. By tracking user behavior and engagement, you can identify areas where they’re struggling and where they’re most engaged. Armed with this information, you can make smart decisions about what to prioritize in terms of features to build/improve.
You’ll also want to get involved with user testing experiments like A/B testing. This is where you test different hypotheses about what will improve the product, implement the change via a Beta version, then measure whether users respond better to that version or your original. For example, you might try changing the wording on a button to see if it increases click-through rates. Or you might experiment with different pricing models to see which drives the most revenue.
But continuous improvement isn’t just about making incremental changes to the product. It’s also about being open to feedback and making bigger changes when necessary. This might mean pivoting the product in a new direction or even sunsetting it if it’s no longer meeting user needs.
Ultimately, the product management process must be agile and adaptable. It’s about using data and user feedback to inform your decisions to improve the product over time. And by doing so, you can create something that truly meets the needs of your users and drives success for your business.
Tips for seamless product management processes
There are lots of moving parts to keep track of, from product strategy to development to marketing. Here are a few tips to help you streamline your product management process and stay on top of everything:
- Prioritize ruthlessly: One of the biggest challenges of product management is deciding what to focus on. There are always more ideas than the time or resources to execute them. That’s why it’s important to prioritize ruthlessly. Focus on the features or initiatives that will impact your users or business the most, and put everything else on the back burner.
- Keep communication open: Clear communication is key in product management. Ensure everyone on your team is on the same page about priorities, timelines, and goals. Regularly check in with stakeholders, from developers to marketers to executives, to ensure everyone is aligned and working towards the same objectives.
- Embrace agile methodologies: Agile methodologies like Scrum or Kanban can help you break big projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. This makes it easier to track progress, identify roadblocks, and adjust as needed.
- Continuously seek feedback: Don’t forget to seek feedback from your users, team, and stakeholders. This will help you stay on top of what’s working and not. By understanding what your users like and don’t like about your product, you can make informed decisions about what changes to make.
- Use the right tools: Many tools can help you manage your product, from project management software and analytics platforms to communication tools and virtual whiteboards. Find the ones that work best for your team and your workflow, and ensure everyone is trained to use them effectively. Once you’ve got the right tools in place and a process to guide you, there’s nothing standing in between you and launch success.