by Patrick Tickle

A product management manifesto – what it is and why you need it, part 2

Feb 05, 2018
BPM SystemsIT Leadership

The 10-point product manager manifesto that will help you beat your competition to market and the next innovation.

In the first part of this series, an initial look at Planview’s product manager philosophy – the “product manager manifesto” – focused on many of the critical cross-organizational roles the product manager plays. There’s no doubt that product managers wear many hats, including evangelist, product champion, sales liaison, developer and marketer, just to name a few.

As a reminder from last time:

  1. You are both internal champion and external voice for your product/product area.
  2. You serve sales and development as primary customers.
  3. Your job is a combination of inbound (product management) and outbound (product marketing).
  4. You are responsible for defining the positioning of any new capabilities delivered in your product/product area.
  5. You are the expert on the competition for your product/product area.

In this edition, we’ll focus on what is central to the role – building great products. Elements 6 through 10 of the manifesto are all about building great product.

  1. You are the “Voice of the Customer” for your product/product area. This includes managing VoC programs for your product/product area.

Building great products is all about the customer – the actual users and the people that derive value from the solution and ideally “love” your product. The product manager has the ultimate responsibility for understanding the needs of customer, whether that represents current or prospective customers.

Oftentimes, no other member of a product team is truly chartered with knowing the customer as deeply as a product manager.

Without the product manager, customers could end up with the product-equivalent of the Winchester Mystery House – essentially all features, no purpose. Developers and engineers like to crank out feature enhancements to make customers happy, but without the vital product manager intermediary, this customer-to-developer pipeline can result in something more similar to the legendary house of endless and random additions. Put simply, product managers balance strategy and tactical enhancements.

The product manager must play “architect” for the product. Sure, not the technical architect (brilliant developers will handle that part), instead as a designer of sorts with a sense of direction for where the product is going. As with building a great house, the ability to balance strategy and tactical enhancements is core to the product manager role.

  1. You build product roadmaps with a 12+ month time horizon that explicitly support and drive Bookings (new ACV) and Retention (reduced churn).

Target weighting of 60 percent innovation and competitive differentiation drives new bookings versus 40 percent customer-driven enhancements that support retention.

Another core responsibility of the product manager is defining the product roadmap – the living artifact that defines what we are building. Many details are required to get to the actual product, but the roadmap is the guidepost and the product manager is its owner.

You’ll note that “balance” is a word that we continue to come back to in this manifesto, and the product roadmap again demands that the product manager balance factors that include vision, customer, internal stakeholder, and analysts, with each of these groups having their own granularity. In addition, the roadmap must balance growth and retention targets while accounting for competitors. All of these competing factors come together in the product roadmap.

The time horizon for the product roadmap needs to be in the six- to twelve-month range, with the idea of a three-year roadmap essentially dying out given the many swift changes in today’s markets. However, it is equally important to not fall into the sprint-to-sprint roadmap hiding behind the Agile moniker. Though that degree of short-term planning can seem easy, it lacks visions and can fuel the “Mystery House” effect.

  1. You ruthlessly focus on minimal viable product (MVP), particularly when delivering innovation or competitive differentiation.

Leverage MVP to establish first-mover advantage and let customer adoption drive incremental enhancements.

Product development cycles, customer expectations, and competitive market dynamics are demanding that we move faster all the time. The days of long-term roadmaps and major delivery projects are rapidly disappearing. Rapid iteration is the hallmark of agile development and has been a boon for customers as well as product teams. The”fast fail” concept minimizes risks in product decision making, allowing teams to move fast, get feedback, and iterate.

MVP is about knowing enough scope to deliver value without falling into the trap of over-engineering the initial solution. Product managers and developers instinctively strive to build something right the first time. MVP forces us to keep feature creep and architectural creep in check, and helps organizations move fast while demonstrating innovation and creating a virtuous cycle to build great products.

  1. You deliver great products that bring together use cases, analytics, and user experience.

Your product should engage users, meet their requirements, and enable them to make better business decisions every day.

At the center of building great software products is the principle of automating activities and processes to simplify jobs, increase productivity, and make organizations more effective. In short, to make people’s job’s easier. Historically, the design of software products has focused on the automation vector – if we effectively automate, organizations will deploy. For many years, especially in enterprise software applications, this formula sufficed, but that is no longer the case.

Automating the process is the easy part. Today’s organizations and millennial workforces simply will not use products because they are mandated. Driving value requires merging automation with great user experiences, combined with insightful analytics and visualizations that accelerate better decision making for leaders, all the way from the team to the organizational level. Never build a feature without defining the decision-making analytic that it will enable. This will ensure that every feature has value beyond just automation.

Build a great UX that engages users and that engagement will translate into high quality data. Surround that data with analytics that fuel new insights and smarter decisions. This model of engagement and analytics creates a circle that brings users tremendous value.

  1. You must be comfortable making tradeoffs, being the decider, and defending your positions.

Making decisions and tradeoffs, often with incomplete information and competing interests, is core to the role of a “product manager.”

Product managers can mobilize organizations to build great products and have a multitude of dimensions and priorities. Many days, the role feels like juggling all of these factors; however, there will always be too many things to do and too little time. Product managers should remember that as the center point where all of these competing priorities come together, they must be equipped to balance and make decisions.

The key to managing this environment and creating balance is the ability to make and defend decisions with imperfect information. It is always better to make a decision and move forward than it is to fret and overanalyze. I can assure you that as you languish, a competitor is moving faster or a customer is getting frustrated. Make decisions every day, stand behind them, and iterate as you learn more. No other skills are more critical to becoming a successful product manager.

And there you have it – a 10-point Product Manager Manifesto. Follow it and you’ll be on your way to beating your competition to market, and to the next innovation. Although no product manager is perfect, I can assure you that introducing this mindset into your technology organization will go a long way in getting to the other side of your digital transformation.

  1. Be the internal champion and external voice for your product/product area.
  2. Sales and development are your primary customers.
  3. Own inbound (product management) and outbound (product marketing).
  4. Define the positioning of any new capabilities delivered in your product/product area.
  5. Be the expert on the competition for your product/product area.
  6. Be the voice of the customer (VoC) for your product/product area.
  7. Build product roadmaps with a 12- month (or more) time horizon that explicitly support and drive bookings (new annual contract value) and retention (reduced churn).
  8. Ruthlessly focus on minimal viable product (MVP), particularly when delivering innovation or competitive differentiation.
  9. Deliver great products that bring together use cases, analytics, and user experience.
  10. Be comfortable with tradeoffs, being the decider, and defending your positions.