Product Management Philosophy

rodin's thinker

Adam Bullied has thrown down a “manifesto” to start a conversation on product management – and to try and help drive our community to a common definition or understanding of product management.  And he’s asked for feedback.  Using idea seeding, we’ll see what we can come up with in 30 minutes.

The Philosophy of Product Management

Adam wrote the following:

Product management is the function of serving as a proxy to a defined set of markets (or market segments), in order to be able to ensure appropriate product creation, and ongoing product health and quality for those markets throughout a product’s entire lifecycle, until end of life.

To me, it’s important just to get this out there and then start to gather some feedback from others (yes, readers, I’m talking to you) and then tweak based on the collective.

The Product Management Manifesto

I find that to be generally accurate.  I really like that Adam has stressed the entire life cycle of a product.  But when I read it, I don’t think “that’s what I aspire to do” and I don’t think “that’s what I look for in a product manager.”  And Adam did ask for feedback :).

It is always easier to criticize than to create.  Especially when you look at something and say “it just doesn’t feel right.”  So how do you improve it, when you have no idea how?  You can use brainstorming to come up with new ideas or related insights.  But brainstorming works partly because of the dynamics of the people in the room.  Another approach to invention is idea seeding.  You constrain yourself to a fixed time, and force your brain, under pressure, to come up with ideas.  Pretty much the opposite dynamic of an “anything goes” brainstorming session.

I’ve spent 15 minutes writing so far, quoting Adam, getting an image on my server and getting ready to go.  I’ve got 15 minutes left.  I’ll use 10 of those minutes to write down – sort of stream of conciousness – things about product management that I think either define it, or are important, or frankly, that just come to mind.  Then 5 more minutes to wrap it up and click “publish.”  Maybe these ideas will trigger someone else to chime in and continue to refine.  Maybe even throw out their own 30-minute-improvement-cycle.

Ten Minute Thoughts on Product Management

  • Steve Johnson (I think) describes product management as being ‘president of the product.’  That’s exactly right.  It is more than just defining the product, there’s a sense of ownership and responsibility.
  • Product management has to have a strategic focus – on markets and problems and value.
  • Products, to be great, need to be designed for the people using them, for the tasks they use them for.  You are either intentional or accidental.
  • The business of developing products is one that is based on value – problems have costs, opportunities have returns.  ROI is the key to a successful product.  Yes, I want a Tesla, no it is not a good investment.
  • Product managers are not passive proxies for markets.  That almost implies that customers define what the product should be.  Customers are always right, but they are rarely product managers.
  • A product is never “done”, it just keeps getting better, until the remaining problems are too small to justify solutions, or are better solved with other products.  It’s pareto meets opportunity cost.
  • Ongoing product management is about feedback loops.  The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.  Thanks Nicki!
  • There’s more power in active verbs than passive ones.  “Be a proxy” and “ensure stuff happens” don’t have the power, drive, or relevance that I think define a product manager.
  • We listen, understand, elicit, analyze, synthesize, extrapolate, interpolate, interview, canvas, survey, study, eat sleep and breathe our markets – and by extension, our customers and their problems.
  • We value, prioritize, triage, assess, and measure the value, size, or return of those problems – and ultimately, of solutions to those problems.
  • We are the translators – think “universal translator” not Rosetta Stone – active, not passive.

Time’s up.  Drat, was just getting on a role.

Five Minute Philosophy

Spending five minutes to turn the above into an alternate philosophical statement about product management.

Product Managers understand markets and the problems faced in those markets.  Product managers choose the problems to solve, prioritize those problems, and communicate this knowledge to the people who build solutions.  Product managers engage customers and learn from them, continuously improving their products, as long as it is valuable enough.  Product management is the job of being a product manager.

Out of time.

No idea if that’s enough, or even better.  But it is a series of ideas.  Who’s next?  Someone jump on board with your thoughts, either in the comments here, on Adam’s article, or even better – in your own blog.

3 thoughts on “Product Management Philosophy

  1. Man, you are like the Mozart of product management…did this seriously just stream from your mind as you typed it?
    Thank you for your consistently clear, challenging and valuable posts. I enjoy reading them immensely and have a feeling many more in my company will as well.

  2. Brent, thanks very much and welcome to Tyner Blain!

    Yes – streamed from my brain. I give credit to the idea-seeding technique (linked in the article), not any kind of Mozart-caliber thinking. But thanks nonetheless.

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