I have been a Product Manager (PM) and Consultant for almost 15 years in the Supply Chain domain. There have been a lot of challenges that I have faced in building successful products. I was also able to solve those challenges by learning from failures and course correcting, reaching out to leaders and getting advice, and working closely with my fellow teammates. As a result, I was able to overcome the challenges of not only building great products but also successfully launching them on time and delivering customer value. Here are the 8 things that helped me a lot in becoming a great product manager.
1. Determine, define and communicate scope precisely
As product managers, we often get into several rounds of discussions with stakeholders, customers, and dependent teams during the discovery and definition phase. As a result, we assume that the scope is clear to everyone. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Clarify the scope by writing it down clearly and sharing it with the stakeholders and team. Define the dependent systems and subsystems, their interface and integration requirements, and assign boundaries. Communicate and collaborate with Program Managers to manage the related agreements. This will help the development team to focus on what they need to actually do.
I once had the opportunity to work on a project that involved collaborating with four different product teams: Quotation Management, Order Management, Customer Promise, and Supply Chain. Each team had its own unique set of business logic and rules that needed to be tailored to meet the specific needs of the customer.
To effectively manage this complex process, we began by having extensive discussions to define and establish the project scope. The scope was then documented in great detail, with each team taking ownership of their respective responsibilities, input requirements, and output expectations for the next product in the sequence. This approach ensured that everyone was clear on their role in the project and helped facilitate seamless communication and data exchange between the teams.
2. Spend initial effort on laying out a detailed plan
Now the scope is clearly defined and everyone in the team understands it, the next step is to focus on planning. Planning answers the question “What should we do to complete the project on time?”. List out the steps, user stories, and work-breakdown structures. This will help in anticipating potential challenges, risk and issues and their mitigation steps.
In the example outlined previously, the product teams began by creating a comprehensive list of tasks required to successfully finish the project. During this phase, they were able to determine the necessary skill sets, required resources, possible obstacles, dependencies, and other relevant details. Furthermore, each team identified the critical path to ensure a smooth and efficient workflow.
3. Create a schedule with your team’s inputs
This is the phase where we add dates to the plan. Involve the team in giving the dates instead of forcing them. All the product launch/release will have a target launch date, which the entire team should try to achieve. However, dates should not be forced on the team to just achieve the target launch date. It’s important to get a clear understanding of the lead times from the team. Start with what you know and look for opportunities and avenues. Again, this will help the development team to reduce the lead time. By this time we will have a fair idea about which step needs research and further deep dives. Separate those research hours from the development hours. This will make the team feel committed to the schedule. But keep in mind that the schedule is still the best estimate and there can be situations where there are deviations.
4. Set realistic quality assurance expectations
Not all products are defect free when they are launched. Hence, all defects need not be fixed before the launch. But we need to clearly state what is a launch blocker, critical, high, medium and low severity defects. Establish a clearly defined critical path, the features and functions that are absolutely necessary for launch. Any quality deviations in this path should be treated as blockers and resolved. For all the others, prioritize and fix as much as possible keeping in mind the bandwidth in your development team.
5. Empower the team
The execution phase is owned by the entire team and not just by the managers. It’s important to have an empowered team that doesn’t hesitate to reach out when they are faced with blockers. Make them understand the different control techniques and escalation mechanisms if needed. Make them feel comfortable about escalating (or getting escalated) and build an environment that understands these are done to launch the product successfully and are not reflective of the individual’s capability or ability.
In the aforementioned project example, we established a Slack channel to promote collaboration among all teams involved. Given that Slack is an informal communication platform, developers began collaborating and reaching out to one another for assistance when needed. Additionally, they came to the realization that raising issues led to people discovering creative solutions to resolve blockers, rather than simply complaining about them.
6. Establish an oversight council and define its role clearly
The purpose of having an oversight council is to provide assistance with obstacles that developers and project managers are unable to overcome. This includes addressing barriers within the organization and managing critical issues such as resource constraints, budgetary concerns, and resolving conflicts with strategic partners or suppliers. The oversight council should not get involved in helping the product team with its day-to-day activities or should not be probing how the work is getting done.
In our example project, the oversight council’s main responsibility was to report the project status to the leadership and actively find ways to mitigate risks and prevent missing any deadlines.
7. Plan for frequent demos and document the feedback and outcomes of it
Demonstrations are an effective method for keeping the team and stakeholders informed and engaged. It is also a great mechanism by which the product team can get early feedback and course correct if necessary. Hence documenting the feedback and outcome is of great importance.
For our example project, we organized four demonstrations where each team presented their accomplishments. This approach ensured that the dependent teams validated the deliverables in terms of quality and completeness. Furthermore, an end-to-end demonstration was conducted for the leadership and pilot customers to ensure that the integrations were functioning as intended. All these presentations were recorded and used as a reference to plan for the launch.
8. Celebrate wins
Development can be a challenging and laborious process. It requires the team to persist through failures and setbacks. It also involves spending extended periods to ensure that the design is effectively brought into production. So celebrating a win, how big or small it is, keeps the team motivated in achieving the goal and launching the product successfully.
In conclusion, becoming a successful product manager requires discipline, dedication, and attention to detail. By following these eight tips, you can improve your chances of building successful products that meet customer needs and deliver value. Remember to communicate clearly, plan ahead, empower your team, and celebrate your successes along the way. I wish you the best of luck on your journey as a product manager. I hope that these tips will help you achieve your goals.