One of the most challenging questions about product management has been – in my experience – “What is Product Management?”
In this post, I share a simple model or framework to answer this question. I talk about this model with lots of people, but I’ve never explicitly written it down in a post. I’ve found the model to be very powerful in my career, and I hope it’s helpful to you.
(And if you read all the way to the bottom, you’ll find a nice bonus!)
We’ll start with a box labeled “Product.” (It’s in our name, right?) This is the part of the job that’s most obvious. I suspect most of what you’ve learned about product management thus far has revolved around “the product.” By the end of this post you’ll have a much better context for thinking about “the product.”
“Product” involves things like:
And indeed, as a product manager “product” is where you spend a lot of your time, typically. But it’s not 80%. Maybe it’s 40%-50%, ideally. What do we do – or what should we do – with the rest of our time?
Here’s where things get interesting.
The most fundamental thing to remember is that successful products solve problems for customers.
Note: I’m using the term “problem.” Business applications and products literally solve problems. Products for consumers can solve a problem, or they can address a desire or need. A consumer product like the Swiffer solves a problem – dirty floors. A consumer product like the iPod addresses the deep human desire for music. 1,000s of different product categories have addressed this deep human desire over the millennia.
I’ll use the term “problem” in this post, but you can think “need and desire” if you’re working on a consumer product.
A big part of our job is finding these market problems, customer needs and desires.
Since what our product does is solve a problem I’m going to rename the “product” box. Let’s call it a “solution.”
And note that this process needs to happen whether you’re talking about the product or an individual feature of a product. They all should solve problems.
The other half of the “Problem” box is that we need to validate that the problems we found are worth solving. Will enough people pay for a solution that it’s worth our time to solve it? Indeed, can we solve it?
Finding and validating market problems is not a one-time thing. You need a continuous funnel of potential problems to solve with your product, or with a new product.
So you will constantly be out talking to “the market” to find and validate new problems. How much should you do this? Some product management experts say that product managers should talk to every one of their customers over the course of a year. And this is outside the context of a sales call!
Once you have this funnel of market problems coming in through this research, there’s a process of deciding which problems to attack. Which ones should you create solutions for. There are a lot of ways to prioritize, as I’ve described in previous posts.
Summarizing, we find market problems that need solving, then we create solutions to the best of those problems.
But that’s not the end of it, by a long shot!
There’s one other very important product management function.
“Go to market” is the part of the product management process where we:
The challenges you’re addressing in the go to market phase are:
And that’s the Secret Product Manager Framework:
Why is it “secret?” I’ve never seen product management described like this, so if anyone has done it, it was secret to me. Many people do talk about these components separately, but not tied together in this way.
One of the big strengths of this model is that you can use it to talk to non-technical people about what you do.
(Don’t say you’re the “CEO of the product” – they won’t know what you mean, and they’ll think you’re full of yourself)
Try this instead:
“I find market problems, create solutions to those problems, and take the solutions to market.”
Everyone understand problems, and solutions, and customers, whatever their background.
How can you start using this information right away?
For a longer explanation of the Secret Product Manager Framework check out the “What Is Product Management?” video, from my (still in production) Secret Product Manager Handbook series.
Let me know in the comments what you think about the Secret Product Manager Framework.
And don’t forget to sign up for my email list!
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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