Product Management Ideas - Part 1 [Ever-Growing Free PM Book]

Disclaimer. These ideas are not mine. A lot of great people share their thoughts about different aspects of product management. I’m gathering the ones I find the most useful.

  1. Set your product vision
  2. Lean Product Roadmap
  3. Build-Measure-Learn
  4. Dual track agile
  5. Experimenting on a lean roadmap
  6. Validating on a lean roadmap
  7. Disrupt yourselves before someone else does
  8. Recognise Your Leadership Bias
  9. Elements of an Effective Business Strategy
  10. How much discovery should we be doing?

1. Set your product vision

Growing up Lean: Lean Strategies for Maturing Products

Set your product vision

2. Lean Product Roadmap

Growing up Lean: Lean Strategies for Maturing Products

Lean Product Roadmap

The future column is less about specific initiatives, but more around outlining the problems that you think need to be solved in order to fulfil your vision, but still need to be validated.

And that’s key: your roadmap is for validation. Your roadmap is a prototype for your strategy.

Just as you might validate a feature by drawing up some paper prototypes and showing them to your customers and then starting again based on the feedback, your roadmap is a starting point for conversations around what needs to be included in your strategy.

By putting these three elements together – your vision, your objectives, and your time horizons – you can build a Lean Roadmap.

The value of this roadmap format is that it takes the focus off building features and hitting delivery dates, and helps your team strive towards solving problems.

3. Build-Measure-Learn

Growing up Lean: Lean Strategies for Maturing Products

Build Measure Learn

The key thing that’s often missing is simply creating the time and the space to validate the work that’s being done. It’s not that people in the team don’t understand it’s important to make sure that the right metrics are moving, it’s that they often don’t have the permission and time to stop building, and actually do the measurements.

4. Dual track agile

Growing up Lean: Lean Strategies for Maturing Products

Dual track agile

There are a lot of ways to interpreting dual track agile, but the essence is that you give figuring out what to build as much importance as the building process itself. You start with a discovery track to find out if a product idea is good and if it makes sense to build. Successful findings from the discovery track are added to the backlog of the delivery track.

Having a dual track approach gives you permission to spend the time in discovery, instead of feeling the pressure to constantly deliver. Done well, this gives you the best combo of speed and learning.

5. Experimenting on a lean roadmap

Growing up Lean: Lean Strategies for Maturing Products

Experimenting on a lean roadmap

Each card is a problem to be solved, and is tied to an objective.

Each card, will in turn, be connected to a list of experiments that could be run in order to solve that problem, and impact that objective.

You can use your roadmap to give you an overview of progress on ongoing experiments.

6. Validating on a lean roadmap

Growing up Lean: Lean Strategies for Maturing Products

Validating on a lean roadmap

The purpose is to give you a space to track what was released and when, and then outline the results. Did it solve the problem and move the metric you were hoping it would?

By making the Completed section of the roadmap a part of your process, it provides a space to show off the value of the work done.

7. Disrupt yourselves before someone else does

Growing up Lean: Lean Strategies for Maturing Products

The shift from nimble to slow is pretty much inevitable for any maturing product, but the most successful companies have found ways to compete with these upstarts.

The Google: Google is famous for its 20% time. It gives staff the equivalent of one day per week to work on whatever they like. It might seem like a waste of resources, but some of its core products, like Gmail and Maps have come out of this. Now, 20% might be too much for a lot of companies. Perhaps you can try to carve out just 2%, or even 0.2%, and see what comes out of it.

The Hackathon: The Hackathon is just as good for building disruptive products as it is for team building. Give your team a time-boxed week of freedom to put together a simple product. It could very well be the start of a new, profitable business line!

The Lab: The Lab is an approach used by a lot of large enterprises, usually trying to go through some “digital transformation”. The lab is a small division of a large company that looks and acts like a startup, but has the backing of the corporate parent to fuel the growth of any prototype that shows interest.

The Facebook: Facebook has one of the largest user bases in the world. But it never releases something to everyone at the same time. In fact, it can segment its users into tiny groups and test and release new features to just one group at a time. This removes the risk of launching something to everyone, and allows it to experiment way more readily as a result.

All of these are tactics that can help your company disrupt your own maturing product before it enters the decline stage.

Your goal is to breathe new life into your maturing product, by adding more value or expanding your market.

If done right, you can extend your product’s life and expand your revenues even further.

Disrupt yourselves before someone else does

8. Recognise Your Leadership Bias

Be a Balanced Product Leader, Not a Feature Broker or Product Dictator

Feature broker and product dictator are extreme leadership styles, of course. But it seems that most of us, including myself, gravitate towards one of the two extremes and are inclined to act as a feature broker or product dictator. If that’s the case for you, then don’t feel bad. Recognising your leadership bias is a key step towards becoming a better, more effective product leader, as I explain below.

If you are new in a product role or if you have just taken on a new product, and your knowledge about the users, needs, business goals, and competition is still weak, then you often end up asking the stakeholders and dev team for suggestions and are more likely to accept their requests. Similarly, if you work in an organisation where product management is not recognised as a function in its own right, or if you look after a bespoke product for a customer, you may get pulled towards the feature broker style. Additionally, if you find it generally difficult to say no to others and want to please people, or if you suffer from imposter syndrome and believe that others know much more about the product than you, then this trait will draw you towards the feature broker style.

If, however, the dev team and stakeholders are less experienced than you, or if you hold a senior position in the company, then people may well expect you to decide and tell them what to do. Even when you involve them in the decision-making process, people may require encouragement to speak their mind and think out of the box. Moreover, if you find it hard to trust others, if you are critical of yourself and other people, if you are a bit of a perfectionist or control freak, then you are likely to lean towards the product dictator pattern.

Be a Balanced Product Leader

Once you understand your leadership bias, you can take the next step and address its causes. This will help you become a more balanced and effective leader grounded in the middle of the leadership continuum shown in the picture below.

Leadership Continuum

If you gravitate towards the feature broker style, then empower yourself. Acquire the relevant knowledge and learn as much as you can about the market; and consider improving your people skills and virtuous qualities. This will earn you trust and respect, and help you lead the decision-making process. Additionally, you might have to overcome people-pleasing or imposter habits. You may also have to practice saying no—even if it is difficult initially—and accept that difficult conversations belong to your work. At the same time, take advantage of your strengths, such as connecting with people and appreciating their ideas.

Additionally, organisational impediments might have to be overcome to help you be a more effective product person. If you lack management support or if there is no established product management function in the organisation, then you may want to work with your ScrumMaster or coach on addressing the issue and lobby for more authority. Similarly, if you create bespoke products, a customer makes the key product decisions, and you end up being a proxy between the individual and the dev team, then you may require senior management support to change the situation. In some cases, you may have to accept the setup for now, and try to change your level of authority on the next project.

However, if you are biased towards the product dictator style—if you are good at making decisions, but not so good at appreciating other people’s ideas—then empower the development team and stakeholders. Coach the individuals and help them acquire the relevant knowledge. Actively involve people in the decision-making process, and show them that you value their input. Invite the stakeholders and development team representatives to collaborative product strategy and roadmap workshops; involve the dev team in the product backlog work; and write user stories together, for instance. This might increase your workload in the short term, but it generates support and buy-in, and it allows you to delegate work in the future, for example, some of the story refinement work to the development team.

If you have some perfectionist or controlling tendencies, then bring to mind that none of us is perfect, cultivate compassion for yourself and others, be grateful for the work other people do, and decide to trust the development team and stakeholders, once you have agreed on shared goals. At the same token, don’t forget your strengths including being decisive and not shying away from difficult conversations.

Great leaders are made, not born. Therefore, develop yourself, leverage your strengths, and work on your weaknesses. Don’t forget that change seldom happens overnight. It takes effort, discipline, and self-compassion: Learning new skills can involve setbacks, and some habits die hard.

9. Elements of an Effective Business Strategy

Why Product People Should Care About Business Strategy

What is your winning aspiration? Why does your organisation exist? What is the company’s vision? State the purpose of the organisation that provides continued guidance and helps identify the right strategic objectives. Think, for instance, of Google’s vision “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

Where will you play? Clearly describe the areas in which the company will compete to fulfil its aspiration. Who should benefit from your offerings? Do you intend, for instance, to address existing markets? Or do you aim to create new markets (also called blue oceans). Which geographies or regions do you want to address? Which product categories and channels will you require? Note that answering this question requires making tough choices—saying yes to some options, and explicitly discarding others.

How will you win? What is your competitive advantage? For example, cost leadership (low prices), differentiation (uniquely desirable products and services), or focus (niche markets)—three options originally suggested by Michael Porter. Answering this question requires you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your business and the competition you face.

What capabilities must be in place? What do you need to be really good at? Which new products or services do you require? Which existing products you should enhance, and which offerings you should remove? In other words, decide how you should adjust your product portfolio thereby creating the context to allow the product people to make the right strategic choices for their individual products.

Which management systems are required? Which processes and structures are necessary to build the appropriate capabilities and reinforce your organisation’s strategic choices? This might involve creating or strengthening a product management organisation and hiring or developing product people who have the right skills to professionally manage digital products.

Note that there is no perfect business strategy—just like there is no perfect product strategy. Instead, strategy is about increasing the chances of being successful. Bear in mind that strategy is not fixed: as the market and competition change, your business and product strategies have to evolve. It is therefore important that you regularly review the business strategy, as well as the product strategy—biannual reviews for the former, and quarterly reviews for the latter, as a rule of thumb.

10. How much discovery should we be doing?

How Much Time Should You Spend in Product Discovery?

Don’t think about discovery as a finite, discrete chunk of work. Discovery should be continuous. Instead, ask, “How can we best integrate new information while still maintaining momentum?”

Momentum is everything. If you aren’t shipping software, you aren’t creating value for your customers. But if you are building the wrong software, you aren’t creating value for your customers either.

If you aren’t shipping software, you aren’t creating value for your customers. But if you’re building the wrong software, you aren’t creating value for your customers either. – Tweet This

Balance discovery with delivery by continuously doing both. Use the opportunity solution tree to map out the potential routes and two-way door decisions to move fast. Make sure you have the right feedback loops in place to know when you got it wrong, and don’t be afraid to course correct when needed.

How much discovery should we be doing

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions.

But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.

Go to Part 2

Comments