When someone asks you in the future “What does a product manager do?,” instead of saying “he or she is the CEO of the product,” you can say they:
Wait a sec! That seems simple, almost like something my mother might understand.
Most of you have the ambition to get big. How do you do that? The only way to get big as a product company is for people to buy your product. Preferably a lot of people, for significant amounts of money at a time. Duh!
But why would people buy your product? We know there are products that people don’t buy. We don’t want to have one of those – because you can’t get big, or even grow at all. If you look at the revenue line for a product that no one buys – it’s nasty! We don’t like that line at all!
Compare it to our desired revenue line – up and to the right – and accelerating as it goes up. If our product sells like that, it means it’s solving an important problem for some people. Important enough that people will pay for the solution.
You may have a beautiful product, beautifully engineered and architected, and rocking in usability. But if it doesn’t solve a big market problem… Flat line.
A product can have some warts, not quite work as the user expects all the time, have some typos, use a 1998 style UI – but if it solves a big problem better than anything else… Up and to the right.
This is called, in Lean, “product/market fit,” or “finding a repeatable business model,” or other things. These terms suggest the product is at the center. But in truth the market problem should be at the center. That’s what drives your revenue up and to the right – a good market problem that only you solve, or that you solve better than anyone else.
There’s a person in your company, perhaps multiple people, who are responsible for finding these problems and figuring out how to solve them. If you’re a small startup, this is going to be one of your founders. In a larger company, that person is usually called a “product manager.” (Perhaps this role should be called “problem manager?”)
Apart from finding (and validating) the problem, there are two other important things product managers do as well – less important in some sense (doing a better job of building a zero-revenue product still leaves you with zero) – but still necessary for success.
One of these is to guide the creation of the solution. This happens differently at different companies – sometimes the PM creates a full spec, sometimes a tweet is good enough to guide the engineering team. But it’s the responsibility of the PM to make sure that what comes out solves the market problem.
The third critical piece is to get the product to market. This is often called, surprise, “go to market.”
Here are three things you can do today to use these ideas
Product management consists of three main activities:
While #2 is the most natural, for a lot of us, #1 is far more important. No matter how good your product is, if it doesn’t solve an important customer problem, it won’t sell. And if the market doesn’t hear about it, or hears the wrong thing (#3) then they won’t buy it either.
Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.
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