When I tell people I’m a product manager, they often ask what that really means. I used to struggle with an answer that wouldn’t put people to sleep! But, I recently had an epiphany. Now I can give a short, understandable response: my team and I work on solving market problems. Through better product management, we come up with solutions for business people to move their businesses forward.

But saying that is one thing – doing it is another. Whether you are a product manager, business owner or IT pro, I’ve found these 4 guiding principles of product management apply to businesses of all shapes and sizes.

How to Manage Products - Tips for Product Management

1) Listen to the voices – of your customer! 

Successful products are invariably built to solve problems or enable capabilities for customers. When you manage products responsibly, you’re responsible for looking beyond what any one person thinks your customers should have. Having the insight to know for certain which product will fill a need comes with knowing your market.

Not surprisingly, acquiring that knowledge takes work. It is not just a matter of talking to one salesperson about the buying habits of his or her best customer.

Genuinely listening to the interests of customers is challenging for a lot of businesses out there.

Instead, it's about comprehensively evaluating sales reports and industry trends for the kinds of things your target customers have been asking for over time. Interview everyone in sales and support. Talk with customers, prospects, friends and colleagues in your network. All of these people have amazing insights into what makes them happier humans at work! Read news and analysis of your industry and your customers’ industries.  Digging in deeply here may help you identify a need the customer doesn’t even know they have…yet.

Then, take all those data points and look for the broader story they’re telling you. What you will likely notice after doing this work is that you have a clear picture of the product buying interests across your business base. From there, you can come to a reasonable, evidence-based conclusion about features or products that you think would do well on the market. 

Genuinely listening to the interests of customers is challenging for a lot of businesses out there. I’ve seen (and done!!) what many companies will often do — somebody somewhere in the company has a great idea, so the organization pursues that idea because everyone in the business thinks it's cool. Then the product hits the market, and customers ignore it…or worse, they think it is makes life harder for them. Remembering you are not your typical customer really helps to develop successful products. 

2) Have a process – and make sure everybody knows what it is. 

A business process is no good if only a few people know about it. Ensuring cohesion across product management boils down to having a process in place where everyone knows not only what it is, but also the role they play. A lack of an organized process is a recipe for a lack of productivity, because even if ideas are tossed around, the lack of a synchronized, aligned process means they won't be actionable. 

3) Get data. 

If you're running a 10K competitively, do you look at the ground and listen to music? Of course not! You’re tracking the people next to you, ahead of you and behind you. You’re taking that information and using it to form a strategy to surge ahead or achieve a personal best. After the race, you evaluate your times and ranking.

Apply the same principle to product management. Remember, you respect what you inspect. If you want to launch a successful product, know how you’re doing all along the deployment process, especially with respect to Customer Experience spectrum (that’s a topic for another post!), and dig into data about your competition. Use your successes and failures – and those of others – to plot your path. By assembling and analyzing data before during and after launch, you’ll have a far better chance of getting ahead of the pack.

4) When you're ready for “Prime Time,” take a moment to make sure you ARE ready. 

OK, so you have your product ready to hit the market. The excitement within the company has reached a fever pitch, and everybody can't wait to see this product out there in the big wide world, anticipating how successful it will be among your target customer segment (or even better – an extended customer target segment).

But hold on a minute.

Just take a breath. Go back over everything you have already done and make sure there isn’t something you've overlooked. Is everyone trained in how to use the product? Has it been tested to its fullest extent? Is it in its most polished form? Are marketing materials ready and websites ready to be updated? Checklists seem like overkill, especially in firms with small Product teams, but having a good yardstick ensures you don’t overlook the elements that make for a polished release.

There is nothing worse than rushing out something with flaws because you could not wait anymore. With a product launch, careful thought about how it will perform is important for success in the market.  

Approaching product management through the lens of these four factors has helped my team and I launch and improve upon many of our Fonality products.

How can they help you?