Product Management Ideas - Part 5 [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. Product Management Mistakes
  2. Mastering the Problem Space for Product/Market Fit
  3. Take Action Today With These Product Management Tips
  4. How to ask better user research questions: A guide for startup Product Managers
  5. Saying “No” when you want to say “Yes”
  6. What Product Teams say and What They Really Mean — 10 Tips for Diagnosing Team Issues
  7. Establishing an Effective Product Strategy Process
  8. The Best Continuous Discovery Teams Cultivate These Mindsets
  9. The Tool that Will Help You Choose Better Product Ideas
  10. Crafting Stellar Product Process

41. Product Management Mistakes

Product Management Mistakes

What is it we do anyway?

As in, how does the {company|business unit|division|product} make money. On the surface this would seem obvious, but if you ask any 10 people in your local group what the “it” is, they will answer wrong. Sure, they might say “we sell XYZ product”, and that is sort of true. The “mistake” here is assuming that everybody knows what the company does.

Results matter more than the process

“The process gets in the way” or “it slows us down”, or “ain’t got time for that” are common and Agile doesn’t require up front requirements so we stopped writing the PRD or MRD. Yet, at the end of a program that failed, or failed to yield the expected results, it is clear that in the post mortem that there were ample signs along the way that it was off track, and still, nearly 90% of all products fail in the market place.

Thinking you are the “customer”

It is a mistake to literally substitute your desires, needs, views for that of the customers. Partially this is the trap of hiring a product manager that is a deep SME (subject matter expert), or a power user. The temptation to overlay their thoughts, views, expectations is too great.

Removing an esoteric feature that doesn’t seem to be used

It can be archaic, it can be a use case that is no longer applicable, it can be a feature that should never have been added, especially if your product went through a phase of “feature farming”, but once it is in someone, some important customer, someone who has the phone number to your CEO, uses that feature, and more importantly, depends on it.

42. Mastering the Problem Space for Product/Market Fit

Mastering the Problem Space for Product/Market Fit by Dan Olsen

Product market fit problem space

Each layer in the pyramid is a key hypothesis that you need to get right in order to build the next layer and ultimately achieve product/market fit.

  1. Target Customer – who are we trying to create value for?

  2. Underserved Needs – for that target customer, what are their needs?

  3. Value Proposition – your hypotheses about which customer needs your product addresses, how the customer benefits from your product, and how you meet their needs better than other products

  4. Feature Set – the functionality that conveys those benefits to the customer

  5. User Experience – what the customer interacts with in order receive the benefits

The first two layers – target customer and underserved needs – are the market. You don’t control the market – you can choose which customers and needs to target but you can’t change those needs. What you do control are the decisions you make at the next three layers in the pyramid – the product.

As we all know a lot of new products and companies fail because they don’t achieve product/market fit and this is because too many teams focus too much on the top two parts of the pyramid while ignoring the foundations of the problem space. It’s all too easy to get stuck in the solution space, after all we all love designing products and jumping in to building things. But our job as product managers is to focus on the problem space, explore it as much as possible, and make sure that what we build is actually solving a customer problem.

Having a clear picture of your problem space also lets you understand who your competitors really are – what other ways your customers can solve the problem you’re solving. Often you’ll find it’s not the other startup in the space but something as prosaic as pen and paper or Excel spreadsheets.

Exploring the Problem Space

Because our goal is to explore the problem space as much as possible, it’s key to open up to divergent thinking and embrace new ideas. Based on our customers and their needs – what are the benefits of our product for them? You’ll soon start to find clusters of product benefits that ladder up to higher-order customer benefits like empowerment, saving time, or saving money.

Bearing these higher-order benefits in mind through the rest of the product/market fit process ensures your value proposition and product solutions always tie back to the problems your customers have.

Defining your Value Proposition

Your Value Proposition needs to answer two questions: Which customer needs will your product solve, and how will your product be better than competitors? A great way to start defining your value proposition is to use the Kano model.

By using the Kano model it’s easy to start mapping out possible solutions to customer problems against three axes: must-haves, performance benefits, and delighters. And one of the key lessons built in to the Kano model is that these change over time – what starts as a delighter often quickly becomes a must-have – so this job is never done.

In order to find product/market fit you shouldn’t try to compete on must-have features, just make sure you have them and do them well enough. Where you need to spend time and effort is on your product’s unique differentiators, and the combination of a benefit that outperforms the competition and a unique delighter can be incredibly powerful.

43. Take Action Today With These Product Management Tips

Take Action Today With These Product Management Tips

  1. Your prospects are consumed with worries about the risk of buying your product. What can you do about that? Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. What are the risks, change management costs, and opportunity costs they perceive with your product? Be specific. You should be able to come up with ten or more items. Then come up with three ideas for reducing their perceived risk.
  2. What does your product do? It solves a problem for someone, a problem that’s so bad that your prospects are willing to pay real money for the solution. Make sure you can articulate that problem, and why it’s so important to your ideal prospects.
  3. Your customers don’t want to buy capabilities, they want to buy solutions and knowledge. Look for situations in your product where most users take the same steps in the same order, most of the time. Make this the default and make it a single action. You might want to leave the other options available, but if most people are doing the same thing most of the time, make it very, very easy to do that thing.
  4. The most important activity we have as product managers is finding market problems to solve. Are you doing enough of that? Calculate how much time you’re spending today finding market problems.
  5. You should be making sure to get emotionally compelling stories from your customers.
  6. Many executives have a hard time understanding “agile” (actually, many people at all levels of the organization do). So, when you talk to your execs about agile, don’t talk about agile, talk about delivering value to market faster.
  7. Being able to ask good, probing questions is one of the most important tools you have for finding and validating market problems. Create a set of questions for doing customer interviews about the topics you need to learn about, and practice them so you’re natural when talking to customers.
  8. Observe how the sales team sells your product – are they focused on the customer’s problems and how your product solves them? Or are they focused on the product’s features and functions? If the latter, you need to start giving them better information. Make sure you provide the four key pieces of product knowledge: value proposition (including the problem you solve and why your solution is better than alternatives); segmentation and qualifying questions; objection handling guidance; and competitor information.
  9. Handling product-related sales objections is one of the most challenging parts of a sales person’s life. You can help them out with better customer-oriented product information.
  10. Are your company’s processes and methodologies no longer providing the value they once did? If your methodology or process is hindering your ability to get value to market, come up with one change to make immediately to align it better to your goals.

44. How to ask better user research questions: A guide for startup Product Managers

How to ask better user research questions: A guide for startup Product Managers

It is helpful to conduct research by keeping in mind the summary you would share with the team in the end. The research summary looks like:

In order to _____ (goal), users _____ (action).

Today, they achieve this goal by using ____ (current approach).

The challenges with this approach are:




Ideally, they would prefer a solution where ____ (ideal solution).

Let’s take the last time you did this task. Could you walk through how you would do that task using this design?

The last time you did this task, how did you do it? Is that representative of how you typically do it?

As a researcher, your goal is to uncover problems affecting your users. The sign of a valuable problem is that it’s common across different teams. Solutions suggested by users are often unique to their circumstance and rarely get to the root of the problem. Don’t expect people to tell you exactly what they need — instead, observe and reflect with them to tease out the challenges.

Paraphrase new insights and echo them back to people so that they can confirm or clarify. This ensures that you have the correct takeaway. As an added bonus, paraphrasing forces you to evaluate whether you truly understand their needs.

It seems like you had some concerns about this. Could you tell me more?

Explain what the product does, but don’t try to convince people of its value. When people see you being defensive about the product, they stop giving honest feedback.

I know different teams approach this differently; how does your team do it?

When people don’t understand the purpose of a question, it’s easy for them to get frustrated. Ask for their patience when you get in trouble and explain your motivation. For example, I often explain that I’m trying to understand how common a problem is, or how frequently they will need to use the feature they requested.

45. Saying “No” when you want to say “Yes”

Saying “No” when you want to say “Yes”

Respect all Ideas

People don’t like to hear “I already know it”. It might cause them next time to not come to you because you already “know it all”. Always listen carefully as if it is the first time you hear this idea and thank the person who brought it to your attention. You may hear a new aspect or it may pay off next time.

When it is “No”

Respecting and hearing any suggestion does not mean you have to say “yes” to everything. Most of the times you have to say “no”. Of course, there is no need to say anything if people aren’t asking you for a timeline. Many times, people know that there are important things on the backlog and just want to tell you about their ideas so you may consider them sometime in the future.

In other cases, someone may think this is the most critical thing that need to be developed. The easiest cases are those that are a clear “no”. After you made sure you heard everything you may say things such as, “it’s a great idea but it does not fit the product strategy” or “it’s an amazing direction but at the moment it will de-focus us and we should reconsider it next year”.

People respect you when you have a clear vision and strategy and do not yield to whoever yells loudest or has the most authority. As long as you hear them, ask smart questions to help them form their needs, show them the data, and give a reliable answer when it is not the right thing to do, you will be respected.

When it is “Not Now”

The best way to say “not now” is to actually share your priorities. If you remind your customer that what they request is indeed important, but you are actually still working on something else they also requested and ask them what they perceive as more urgent, they will usually agree with you.

The same goes with sales or support. Don’t be afraid to share the things that stand against their request and ask them what they perceive as more important. Usually they will agree with you. And if they don’t, it is definitely a time to reconsider if your priorities are correct and possibly change them.

When it is “Must”

It is not always possible to say “no”. Sometimes what you need to do or what a customer asks you for is really important. It may be because it is something that can take the product a big step forward or a customer that is very important.

Such cases require out of the box thinking. You can think of how to minimize the work on the task needed and on other tasks to efficiently handle all requests. You may also consider bringing resources out of the team if it is possible (e.g., bring a freelancer for a short time), and any other creative way.

Priorities are Everywhere

Make self-aware decisions and do not let these decisions be taken for you. It is definitely fine to decide that this month you do not update the documentation because it is more important to visit some customers. If you say you do not have time it sounds lame.

If you consciously check what you spend your time on and make hard decisions what not to handle, this is being a good product manager of your time. And it does not end at work. As long as you consider what is more important for you and what are the constraints you are operating under you are improving your life and being more content.

46. What Product Teams say and What They Really Mean — 10 Tips for Diagnosing Team Issues

What Product Teams say and What They Really Mean — 10 Tips for Diagnosing Team Issues

1 – “Our Client is a ☠️, They Don’t Understand What we are Trying to do”

Get to know the client, learn to ask the right question and be patient. But most of all don’t be a promoter of negative views in the team.

2 – “Let’s Push Back This Next Check Till we Have More to Show”

When you or the team are nervous of meeting with the client or major stakeholder, ask why and then go talk to the client about that thing.

3 – “Wow, I’d Never Seen That Document Before”

By taking time to discuss where specific groupings will live, how insights will be surfaced, and an agreement on nomenclature, you will save time and pain later.

4 – “Our Meetings are Long and Have no Outcome”

The simple rules: set a goal, take notes, assign tasks, agree on next steps AND leave the tech out the room.

5 – “What did They go Into a Meeting Room for?”

Try to be absurdly transparent. Spell it out. Tell the team at standup what’s going on and then say it again later. And where possible don’t hide in a meeting room.

6 – “I Just Don’t get Enough Time at my Desk”

It’s worth evaluating the need for a meeting. If you are a manager, is this meeting more about your peace of mind than anything else? Could that be achieved in another way?

Could you mark out safe spots in the week for the work to get done? I have gone as far as a traffic lights system in the past – I even had a traffic light on display. Parts of the week are green, free to chat and collaboration. Parts are red, please don’t disrupt, it’s deep working time. If this is planned in advance it gives the team a firm grounding to build out a week of work and know when they will be able to focus on the deeper thinking.

7 – “We Have a Presentation Today!?”

Make time at the end of the day to plan your following day, confirm the meetings, and make adjustments. On the day, use a short team alignment like a standup meeting to get calendars aligned, and reconfirm all the key activities. Things change, people’s life commitments pop up. That’s all fine so long as the team are aware of where they are supposed to be ahead of time.

8 – “The Sprints Just Feel Relentless”

One tactic is to have a break – a sprint every X sprints to focus on the little bits that have been sidelined, like process and documentation. This is especially useful for developers to jump on any technical debt.

9 – “Did you Take Notes? No, but it’s Cool, [Insert Firefighter] has it”

How you know if you have one one person taking all the weight? Maybe the client said: “Where would we be without [Insert firefighter]. Don’t ever let them leave”. But what if they leave? Use the firefighter to set process, but then plan the day they move off the project with them. Let the team and client know.

10 – “Best not Disturb the Team, They Have a big Mountain to Climb”

It’s time to get back to building the space to reflect. Gather input from the team on issues. You’ll probably realise they have a deep understanding of what is going on and that they have some ideas to fix it. Find a forum for discussion as a group. Empower team members to take action from those discussions, and always allow time for them to succeed at the tasks by building time into the plan.

47. Establishing an Effective Product Strategy Process

Establishing an Effective Product Strategy Process

An effective product strategy process should ensure that a valid product strategy and an actionable product roadmap are always available—that a shared and valid approach to achieving product success is available at anytime, as the picture below illustrates.

Product strategy process

Timeboxed Strategizing

Whenever you create a brand-new product or make bigger changes to an existing one, you will benefit from creating and validating a new product strategy. This is best done as part of a dedicated product discovery period that also investigates crucial user experience and architecture risks. This results in an innovation process like the one shown in the picture below.

From idea to product discovery and development

In addition to allocating enough time for focused discovery and strategy work, I find it helpful to adopt a collaborative approach. Bring together the right people and form a product discovery team. You will need development team representatives like a user experience (UX) designer, developer, and tester, key stakeholders such as a sales rep, marketer, and support person, and a Scrum Master, as the following picture shows.

Product discovery and strategizing team

Make sure that the people involved in the discovery work continue to be involved as the focus shifts to developing the new product or features. The development team members should remain on the dev team; the stakeholders should continue to play their respective roles and be involved in reviewing and adjusting the strategy.

Continuous Strategizing

Block at least one hour per day in your calendar for strategic work. Schedule collaborative strategy reviews on a regular basis—once per quarter, as a rule of thumb.

Making It Stick

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there is,” Yogi Berra once said. Many organisations are great at the tactical level but not at systematically creating, reviewing, and adapting the product strategy. This has two common causes:

Lobby for more management support and educate yourself. The more you know about product discovery and strategy, the easier it will be for the decision-makers to trust you to own strategic product decisions.

You should ensure that you focus on your actual job, say no to other duties, and free up enough time for strategy work. Don’t allow urgent tactical tasks to take up all your time but make strategy work a high priority.

48. The Best Continuous Discovery Teams Cultivate These Mindsets

The Best Continuous Discovery Teams Cultivate These Mindsets

Historically, we’ve asked product teams to deliver a fixed roadmap typically defined by leadership. We’ve defined success as shipping a set of features on time and on budget. As we evolve toward outcomes, we are asking product teams to deliver performance. It’s not just about shipping features, but about creating value for both our customers and our businesses.

Successful continuous discovery team

While you do want to cultivate a collaboration mindset, you can’t include everyone in every decision. You’ll move too slowly. But you do want to include the right people for any particular decision. Use your best judgment.

Collaboration is not consensus. It’s about getting the right people in the room so you can move quickly while still leveraging the right expertise. Collaboration doesn’t mean advocating for your point of view. It means exploring everyone’s points of view and using those disparate perspectives to create a new combined point of view.

We let the product manager be the voice of the business, we let the designer be the voice of the customer, and we let the engineer be the voice of what’s possible with technology. Instead of combining our knowledge, we argue over which voice gets precedence.

Collaboration requires that we integrate this knowledge and integrate these voices. Collaboration is hard because language is vague. It’s easy to think we are aligned when really we each walking away thinking something slightly different.

What is continuous product discovery

Continuous product discovery process

As we explore solutions, our understanding of the opportunity space evolves. As we learn about new opportunities, they inspire new solutions. And as our understanding of the opportunity space evolves, we learn more about whether or not our desired outcome is feasible. The links on the tree move both directions: up and down.

3 parts of product discovery

As you return to work, these are the three mindsets that you’ll want to cultivate:

49. The Tool that Will Help You Choose Better Product Ideas

The Tool that Will Help You Choose Better Product Ideas

ICE score is a prioritization method invented by Sean Ellis, famous for helping grow companies such as DropBox and Eventbrite and for coining the term Growth Hacking. ICE scores were originally intended to prioritize growth experiments, but can also be used for regular project ideas.

You calculate the score, per idea, this way:

ICE score = Impact * Confidence * Ease

The three values are rated on a relative scale of 1–10 so not to over-weigh any of them. Each team can choose what 1–10 means, as long the rating stays consistent.

There is only one way to calculate confidence — looking for supporting evidence. For this purpose I created the tool shown below. It lists common types of tests and evidence you may have, and what confidence level they provide. When using it consider: what indicators do we have already, how many of them, and what we need to get next to gain more confidence.

Common types of tests and devidence

1. Stop investing in bad ideas

It is risky to bet on a high-effort features based on gut-feelings, opinions, themes, market trends, etc. Most ideas are more like the chatbot than they are like the dashboard — they underdeliver on impact and cost much more than we think. The only real way to find winning ideas is to put them to the test and reduce the level of uncertainty.

2. Worry about outcomes, not output

This may seem like a laborious and slow way to build products, but it’s actually much more efficient than the alternatives. Not only does confidence testing eliminate most of the wasted effort spent on bad ideas, it also focuses the team on short and tangible learning milestones with immediate measurable results, which improves focus and velocity.

Through the process we learn a lot about the product, users, market, and end up with better end-product that has already been tested by users. We are therefore rarely surprised at launch day and need to make far fewer fixes post-launch.

3. Let a thousand flowers bloom

In reality we often need to choose not between two ideas, but between dozens. By limiting the effort we put into each idea based on our level of confidence in it, we allow ourselves to test many ideas in parallel, avoiding the pitfalls of traditional big-bet development— see my post on GIST planning for more on this.

4. Get your managers and stakeholders on board

What is weak or strong is of course subject to opinion, unless you show up to the review not just with a polished pitch deck, but with real evidence and clear confidence levels. You might be surprised how much easier the conversation gets.

On the flip side, the next time your CEO surprises you with a new must-have pet idea, try to show her how her idea is evaluated— how much impact, effort and confidence we can give it, how its ICE scores stacks up against other ideas, and how we can test to gain more confidence. Most reasonable folks will agree that that’s a good way to go about it.

50. Crafting Stellar Product Process

Crafting Stellar Product Process with John Cutler

Evolution of product team tasks

Why isn’t your customer joining you in your office for a week?

I don’t care how smart you are, you can’t spend 4 days at an off-site dreaming up an 18-month product strategy, and just have that be your roadmap for the next 18 months.

Assume we don’t do this, what will look differently on a financial report?

It’s easy to think of continuous improvement as a management problem, but I propose that there’s a high upside if teams engage in a tempo of continuous improvement every 2 weeks.

Process experimentation has to be a first-class citizen. You don’t just do it for kicks. The trick is how we get to a situation where we can add team members or teams and have them actually contribute to your overall productivity.

Go to Part 4

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