Why is product management important?
Whether or not they employ product managers, companies make daily decisions about how to develop, market, and sell their products. As they make these decisions, companies typically face - or are trying to overcome - four general problems.
Products that don't deliver value generally don't succeed in the marketplace. Value comes from solving problems that prospective customers face. "Cool" technologies and feature-laden products, if they don't help customers solve or avoid compelling problems, don't provide value that lead to usage or sales.
Effective product management identifies a set of prospect problems that drive an overarching value proposition, and it empowers the entire product team to deliver and communicate that value.
Developing a great product requires a shared understanding, not only of what the product should do, but why it should do it. In some cases, developers field varying - even conflicting - feature requests from sales and other colleagues and aren't equipped to prioritize them in a sound manner. Moreover, when developers don't know the motivating reasons for implementing product features, they are unable to fill the "gaps" and make the best judgment calls when questions about appropriate product behavior arise. Some developers aren't as motivated to work on products or features unless they recognize the value to buyers and users.
Great product management works with designers and developers to create a shared understanding of the product requirements, which are the least stringent conditions that must hold to solve or avoid the problems.
When sales and marcom don't have a thorough understanding of buyers and users and the problems they face, it makes it difficult for them to generate and convert leads. In such an environment, sales and marketing messages lack the clarity and consistency needed to foster brand awareness and perception of value.
The best product management develops crisp value propositions, consistent with timeless marketing principles, that sales and marcom can use in messaging prospects.
The initial business model for a product is a set of hypotheses. For any particular product, some of these hypotheses almost invariably turn out to be wrong. Guesses about what will appeal to the market may reflect our peculiar personal preferences and not rest on a solid foundation. In other cases, prospects themselves lead us astray, requesting features they'll never use. The marketing tactics or sales channels we thought would be the most effective don't meet our expectations.
Companies learn these lessons over time, but often in a painful and expensive manner. Great product management immerses itself in markets and employs iterative feedback loops to test and modify business model hypotheses, thereby producing more educated hypotheses and quickly discovering mistakes.
These problems have many manifestations. Moreover, as with all problems, we can ask "Why?" and determine problems further up the problem chain. These four problems ultimately lead to less revenue, wasted time and money, and frustration.
In the next entry, we'll explore the ways that companies make product decisions as they experience, or attempt to address, these problems.