An engineering candidate asked me why a product development services company like us has product managers. I loved the candor and directness of the question. Here is an expanded version of my answer.
Without Product Managers the product becomes bloated with features no one uses. Closely monitoring and responding to metrics, the market and changing customer needs a must for any successful product and it takes skill, discipline and excellent communication skills.
Product strategy doesn’t live in a deck or long-winded document. It’s in the roadmap and a prioritized backlog. Every two-week iteration is a bet and the stakes are that we lose time to market and/or waste money. Constantly making sure the team meets business and user goals is a must.
At a national education nonprofit a product manager and team worked with 35 students over 33 days through five rounds of testing. Our understanding of students’ needs guided us in making tough decisions about what would make it into the first release. We went from idea to market in seven months with a product ready to serve one million students.
Another product manager and team helped a financial services company take advantage of a $35M market opportunity with a product that allowed fund managers to simulate portfolios 60x faster than before.
You can’t win a race if you go off course or don’t know where the finish line is. When the leadership or sales team send requests directly to Engineering. Engineers have to spend time figuring out what people want and how to prioritize and reprioritize these requests instead of writing code. It makes for teams that are confused, frustrated and slow.
With product managers on the team you can get a lot more done like iPad application for a major insurance company in three months. Another product manager helped a startup adopt Agile practices and integrate an off-shore team so they could increase visibility and output.
Deep understanding of the customer, business and market is a double-edged sword.
Product people need to seek answers in data, conversations, feedback and testing. We need to make decisions based on the best information we have at the time knowing we’re going to get some of it wrong and we’ll need to adjust. This seeking and learning can never stop if we want to be successful. We need to ask questions that customers think we should know so we can get to meaningful answers.
When a product manager deep domain experience it’s dangerous because they might think they are experts. They have to overcome their own biases and assumptions. An outsider who works in different industries and verticals can bring new ideas and new energy. They can challenge the conventions and constraints that hold us back from innovating.
A major regional bank we worked alongside a key member of the client’s team so he could learn our lean practices. The product we validated will reduce loan approval time by 30% and 70%.
We have more than 60 teams working at any given time and so we see lots of different practices, processes and tools. We’re constantly learning and experimenting so we can provide advice on real-world experience.
Making the right full-time hire can take time and you shouldn’t rush it. While you are looking and getting them up to speed, you can air drop in a specialist.
Many PMs are putting out fires every day, they need to ensure existing products continue to generate revenue and meet changing customer needs. If companies want to bring new products to market or target new customers they need extra firepower and sure would help if they came with the ability to get to market fast.