At the core of every business is a product. Sometimes this can be positioned as a service, but even firms that only sell consulting time have an offering dressed up as a differentiated package that can be bought.
This makes product management an important strategic role in any organization. And for software vendors who put products at the heart of their business, it’s vital. Doing it right can lead to success. A mistake can be catastrophic.
For the uninitiated, product management is the planning, development, launch and management of a product or service throughout its life cycle. From conception to retirement, it encompasses everything. It also creates a vital connection between the customer’s unmet need and the business’s ability to meet it.
As such, it touches every part of the company, acting as a communication hub between departments. And it must respond quickly to market behavior, technological developments, project timelines, commercial objectives – while keeping a close eye on vision and strategic direction. It’s hard work.
What to look for in a team
With so much on the shoulders of product managers, building the right team is key. There are five attributes to look out for.
The first trait to look for is business acumen. It sounds obvious, but there’s no point in creating a product that won’t increase profits and margins. Product managers need to be as comfortable with business strategy as they are with product development. This includes prioritizing the product portfolio, creating a product go-to-market strategy, understanding product pricing, and then managing product performance and financial metrics, including ROI.
Essentially, product managers must define and create product roadmaps that align with the business strategy. Features in the product roadmap should relate to the product’s value proposition and how it differs from competitors’ products.
The second core capability is market understanding. This means being able to identify market trends, understanding the regulatory framework, gathering information about competitors, identifying product differences, knowing the partner ecosystem and how to compete in a busy market.
The third core capability is a deep understanding of customers and the ability to design products according to their needs. This requires early customer engagement and proof-of-concept or a limited release program that provides a minimum viable product. It is critical that good product managers have user experience (UX) skills. In other words, the product must be built with users and the way they work in mind.
The fourth requirement is the technical skills of product managers. At heart, product managers at software companies must have a deep understanding of technology trends. For example, cloud solutions, artificial intelligence and open APIs. They should also be thoroughly familiar with architectural design, stack checkpoints, and enterprise architecture roadmaps.
Last but perhaps most important is the need for communication skills. Without it, it can be almost impossible to run everything else. It is essential to be able to lead, communicate at all levels and influence change across teams, organizations and sectors.
While each of these talents is vital, it’s unlikely that any individual team member will possess all of them – and landing the perfect product manager can be a challenge. With that in mind, product management isn’t about having one or two high-performing people, it’s about leveraging a high-performing team with the right structure to run smoothly.
Finding the right people
Achieving this means putting diversity and inclusion at the heart of the hiring plan. Leaders must be open to new ideas, look in unlikely places, and welcome differences. In fact, hiring from a non-traditional background can bring new insights and abilities that may be lacking in conventional places.
In this context, interviewing for the required qualities can be difficult, especially when candidates come from a wide range of backgrounds. This requires non-traditional methods, such as allowing prospective team members to play with and explore the products and platforms they will be using, inviting feedback as a way to explore their strengths and test their ability to challenge and offer feedback.
Also, it’s important not to be too picky about job descriptions, especially if you’re looking for variety.
Studies found that women would withdraw from a job if they did not meet most of the criteria, while men were more likely to withdraw if they met a few criteria. Creating long lists of required experience will certainly lead to a level of self-selection among applicants.
It can cause harm. In fact, it’s 2020 McKinsey report, found that companies in the top quartile significantly outperformed their competitors in terms of gender and ethnic diversity. It’s also worth keeping in mind the huge pool of talent available among neurodivergent workers, which can be very useful in some roles. It was defended high-profile employers investing in advanced technology in the UK such as GCQH.
Managing a dream team
With the right hire, the next step is to make sure the team stays focused without any toxicity. This can be difficult when the pressure is on the fast-growing market of technology providers.
Promoting the right culture is critical, ensuring that the tone set from the top of the product organization is set correctly accordingly. Addressing behavioral issues quickly and effectively is important to building a healthy workplace culture. This can be achieved by modeling healthy behaviors and teaching team members assertiveness skills and appropriate conflict resolution.
This will help with staff retention, which can be a challenge in the tech industry. In accordance with
Research LinkedIn before the pandemic, software firms had one of the highest turnover rates at 13.2 percent. This will no doubt get worse during and after the pandemic. Employees are increasingly looking for flexibility in work arrangements, including telecommuting.
To solve the retention problem, managers must empower people by giving them ownership and participation in what they are working on. However, employee turnover is inevitable, so businesses need a strong and sustainable culture that can withstand people coming and going. The team should be bigger than one or two big characters.
Communication is a key element in creating a cohesive and welcoming culture. But that doesn’t mean endless meetings and emails. While a lack of information and guidance can be disastrous, over-communication can quickly devolve into the realm of micro-management, time-consuming meetings, and over-the-top team building. This is a tightrope that managers themselves must walk, understanding how their colleagues will react.
Only when all these points are addressed can product management teams begin their work. And there are many methodologies and frameworks for this. These include Agile Scrum, Spiral, Rapid Application Development (RAD) and Waterfall. Choosing the right one will depend on product development strategy, team skills and capabilities, culture and customer expectations.
But none of that matters without the right people and the right culture. That’s why it’s so important to pay close attention to hiring, structuring, and maintaining your product management team. Because great product management is central to the success of any business. We cannot afford to be wrong.