As a product manager you’re the monkey in the middle. You have multiple stakeholders, all with different and sometimes competing demands, and it’s your job to manage these. A successful product manager will remove themselves as a barrier, and bring people to a shared understanding through a customer mindset. In this ProductTank London talk, new product and market growth consultant Laura Scanga shares some thoughts on how best to do this and which tools and exercises can be useful.
Start With a Customer-first Approach
Typically C-suite stakeholders have a unique function or goal. The CEO champions the business vision and its people, the CTO questions value and pushes innovation, the CMO is focused on sales and has the customer front of mind, and the CFO scrutinises operating costs and ROI. Then there’s the Scrum team; developers, UX designers, and analysts. They all need clarity, direction, budget and quick decision making.
With so many directions and demands, a product manager can feel stuck in the middle. This can hinder them and their team’s performance. Success in aligning stakeholders comes from taking a customer-first approach to decisions, so that you provide the best outcome for the customer, and in turn, revenue.
Once you have a customer-first approach, it’s time to empower the rest of your team. By empowering stakeholders with customer knowledge, a product manager can release some of the gatekeeper aspects of their role.
Stop Being the Gatekeeper
As product manager you’re the closest to the customer, so bring their needs and problems to the table, don’t be the gatekeeper. Giving stakeholders direct access to the heart of the customer problem will ensure they have a shared understanding. This is key for quick decisions; if developers can look at a scrum board and understand what problems need to be solved, they won’t need to wait for you to prioritise their backlog.
Focus on Outcomes Over Outputs
Melissa Perri advocates lean product management practices and in particular a focus on outcomes over outputs. This means meeting customer needs rather than internal requirements, and solving problems instead of building features. If you can solve a customer problem without writing a single line of code then you have succeeded.
The simple exercise of building personas is highly effective in ensuring customers are front of mind when you make decisions. Map problems to these personas and discuss with stakeholders how these problems affect your outcomes. This process often removes a lot of technical detail from discussions and allows the team to arrive at a common understanding of whether what you want to build will be useful for the customer.
Develop Your Mindset
So what steps can you take today to empower your team?
- Get to know your customers. Talk to them daily. Get under their skin in order to understand their problems deeply. Organise visits and calls and go with your sales teams to pitches.
- Facilitate learning. Include your team in customer visits, bring them along, feed all the information back to the rest of the team, be passionate about their inclusion and the benefits this brings.
- Build ways for others to learn from customers. Ensure you remove any barriers to customers; if they are stonewalled by other teams, ask to be involved. It’s your job to bridge the gap between teams and the customer for the benefit of the business.
- Get customer validation with a variety of tools. Build demos and prototypes for customers or give them access to the platform. A/B test, test landing pages and pricing, conduct interviews. There are a variety of tools to get early validation from your customers – use them!