The life of a Product Manager – Learning by Doing
Osama Hanif (Digital Solutions Manager at Telenor) launched the first digital agency in Lahore and went on to join Telenor Digital. Last summer he and a brand new team were challenged by Telenor to tackle smartphone users, especially in Asia, who don’t use data because of a fear of large unexpected bills. Osama’s talk is a personal summary of what he learnt through the process of launching this and other products. He calls this talk “a note to self for my future endeavours” but is packed with insights to help you hack your own output as an effective product manager.
Plan for improvisation
To tackle the problem faced by the “billshock” customers, Osama’s team developed a pay as you go experience based on application usage. This app aimed to give the power back to the consumer and help them feel in control of their data usage. Osama and his team had planned absolutely everything in advance and had a detailed and gradual roll out plan. Unfortunately, none of the eventual outcomes turned out to be in the plan. When launching their MVP app to their internal employees in Thailand, only three people used it-one of which was Osama. Not only did they have to challenge themselves why this was the case but they were also planning on using their internal employees as beta users to test their algorithms. The team had to throw their initial plan out the window and improvise by reaching out to the online community to find their guinea pigs.
Launch as soon as possible
Osama’s biggest regret: “I wished we’d launched a couple of months earlier than we did”. He describes how they were delayed by improving smaller aspects of the product or adding little tweaks which cost them time in discovering bigger, more important issues. They had tested MVPs but in safer environments and so faced unexpected challenges in Thailand. Launch when you’re still uncomfortable to launch because otherwise it will be too late.
Marketing should not be an afterthought
Originally Osama’s team had less than 1% of the money and time going into the marketing plan. For example, whilst they were fixing the bugs and making the user interface as simple as possible they had neglected the pricing. When they reduced the price for certain apps, their product uptake went through the roof. The product is the whole experience including the marketing, not just the software.
The launch date is not the final goal
The launch date was not even a major milestone for the team but because they treated it as a final project goal, all the momentum that had carried them up until that point dissipated. This led to wasted time. Osama wishes they had kept the momentum and energy that they had before the launch and reminds us releases are a marathon and not a sprint.
When the team first launched the product they focused on acquisition but as they grew and started paying attention to their cohort analysis they could see the holes in the funnel growing bigger and bigger. Osama’s recommends looking at retention and repeat use from day one as the biggest indicator of the health of the product.
Test acquisition channels
Before you focus on growth, you need to think about how your product will travel. Which segment of customers really like this product? By testing different channels, you begin to identify the levers of growth and their costs. Once you’ve identified these you can put more money into it to efficiently increase growth rather than wasting time and money on customers who are not interested.
Measure both quantitative and qualitative data
Use your funnel analysis to identify the weakness to work on. Osama describes their work on the onboarding flow for their app. In developing markets, literacy and digital literacy is low so they wanted to build a product that is very easy to use. If a customer is installing a software Osama’s team assumed they would already be sold on the idea and had removed the sales pitch in the onboarding flow, taking them to the first screen straightaway. When they checked their funnel data, they spotted a decrease between download of the app and sign up.
Using this quantitative data, Osama did qualitative research: customers didn’t understand what the app was after downloading it as they didn’t read the app store description. The team re-introduced onboarding and made it more visual and quicker. This led to improved sign up rate and retention. One lesson learnt here is to avoid over-simplifying user experience and a second even more important lesson is how Osama used data to realise this.
Don’t promise something in your communication that you can’t deliver on
Osama also used data to identify customers with high churn rates and interview them. He found that, as the rhetoric in the marketing communication described “unlimited internet”, many customers thought this would mean “unlimited speed”. The app had increased churn because customers were expecting a faster internet speed which it didn’t supply. Osama’s team decreased churn rate not by changing the product but by removing the reference about the experience of the internet from the marketing communication.
Ultimately, the hardest and most useful lesson for Osama was that it is okay to fail. Most of us have had some success with traditional ways of doing thing and changing our methods exposes ourselves to vulnerability, to the unknown and to something which might cause us embarrassment. It’s easy to see why it is so difficult to do- Osama discloses “even today I’m still afraid when I try something new”. But for Osama, recognising and acknowledging his fear of failing allowed him to embrace it, think through the worst case scenarios rationally and then make an active, courageous decision to try something new. The first most effective way to learn new things is to learn by doing. The second to discover what other entrepreneurs, like Osama, have done.