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It’s Time to Make Product Management Simple Again

make product managment simple

If you’re in the “make product management simple” camp, there’s good news, and there’s bad news.

15 years ago, the conversations across the product management community were all about awareness, getting people to understand the discipline and its value to an organization.

Here’s the good news. Today, product management is well-known and well represented in the C-suite.

Now for the bad news. As every industry matures, fragmentation is inevitable. Product management has arrived with a big fat exclamation point! That fragmentation is the culprit that’s making the discipline harder, not easier.

Why Has Product Management Become So Difficult?

For every possible aspect of product management down to the nitty-gritty depths of minutia, there are frameworks, best practices, metrics, analytics, training programs, certifications, tools and technologies, many of them claiming to be “the one,” as in the only one you need.

While all of these things bring value to the party, there’s such a thing as overkill. It feels like we’re past that point when you look at the ecosystem cumulatively.

Five Basics That Make Product Management Simple

The fundamentals of product management just aren’t that hard. Designing and building products that are addicting to your users? Now that’s hard!

But that’s not product management, that’s product design and development.

Here are 5 basics of sound product management. Get your team into a regular cadence of doing these things and you’ll consistently deliver value to the market, bring value to your own organization, and keep everything simple in the process.

  1. Round up a group of customers that are a representative sampling of your target markets. Target the VPs and directors responsible for the areas where your products are most relevant.
  2. Understand what’s driving their organizations from the top down and what they’re being asked to do as a result. In other words, find out what their top priorities are, why they’re critical to the success of the organization, and the biggest obstacles preventing them from executing on those priorities.
  3. Determine the obstacles you’re best equipped to eliminate, then build your roadmaps and priorities around eliminating those obstacles so that customers realize the outcomes. Socialize it to your stakeholders. It’s 100% defensible!
  4. Let your designers and engineers take the first stab at a few design options for eliminating the obstacles. Iterate, tweak and validate (with customers) your implementation of the solutions. It doesn’t prevent you from being agile. It prevents you from building throw-away features that you have to redesign later on.
  5. Execute whatever tasks are necessary to make sure your organization can deliver, market, sell and on-board customers to ensure they realize those business outcomes.

Sure, the devil is always in the details. But other than #4, those details are simply a matter of execution.

Dealing With Rogue Stakeholders

The most important thing to remember here is that you’re not trying to get stakeholders on board with product ideas. You’re getting them on board with items 2 and 3 above so that the solutions you’re proposing make sense from a cost, timing, customer value and market acceptance perspective.

Sure, there are rogue executives that think they always know better, and perhaps they do.

But here’s the thing. They don’t know better than a representative group of customers what’s most important to the success of their businesses.

What they might know better is how to deliver those customer outcomes with a different approach to the product solution.

If you have stakeholders in positions of authority and influence that can’t articulate the value of their product ideas in context of items 2 and 3 above, it’s OK to push back.

After all, product managers are asked every day, “WHY are we building this?” Turn the tables (without making a career-limiting move)!

Getting Engineers On-board

Remember, you’re a product manager. You’re not a designer. You’re not an engineer. It doesn’t matter whether you know how to write code or build wireframes. Stay out!

If your engineers are the type that want you to dictate every single move just so they don’t have to take blame for anything, tell them to put on their big boy/big-girl pants and start using the problem-solving skills that made them passionate about becoming engineers.

Your toughest assignment here is keeping the engineers from over-engineering simple solutions.

Play the role of the oversight committee to make sure engineering keeps the solutions simple. All they have to do is eliminate the obstacles in the simplest possible way technically, so that customers get their desired business outcomes, period!

It’s not hard! The biggest thing that makes product design and development difficult is the lack of clarity on what customers are trying to accomplish, why it’s critical to their success, and the obstacles standing in their way.

Keep your engineers focused on the value targets and it’ll keep the complexities of building the solutions to a dull roar.

It’s easy to design and build products that are difficult to use, and it’s hard to design and build products that are simple to use! Engineers need to make the effort.

Core Product Management

There are a whole lot of things that go with the job of product management. It’s a challenging role but it’s also a rewarding role.

Your core responsibilities as described in items 1-5 above are the lynchpin to keeping every other part of the job simple. Hearing your customers rave about the value your products deliver is what makes the job so rewarding.

Product management is only as hard as you make it!

If you want to learn the simplest and most direct approach to delivering guaranteed value to the market, visit our School of Product Management, then contact us about personalized training for your team or enroll in one of our on-demand courses and learn at your own pace.

by John Mansour on September 12, 2022.