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Creating a strategic product plan
Bill Thomson brings up an interesting point that despite how crucial a product is to a company’s health, a product strategy is often not in line with the overall corporate strategy. In response, he gives advice on how Product Managers can work more closely with executives in product planning.
According to Michael Seibel, the initial stages of development of Socialcam was a big mess. Decisions were made ad hoc by the founders, and team members found little reason to be excited about what they were building. In an effort to improve, they started approaching product development in a more structured way. Michael describes how this helped them predict development cycles more accurately, build consensus and achieve their goals.
Before embarking on creating a product plan, it may be useful to define your product in terms of two dimensions that Mary Cagan outlines. They are the distinction between serving unmet vs. unrealized needs, and customer-inspired vs. technology-inspired solutions.
The distinction between a product plan vs. a project plan is that the former answers the question, “what do we build” as opposed to the latter answering the question, “how do we deliver a complete and delightful new customer experience?”. So says Ron Yang, who then breaks down how the two differ in terms of purpose, timeline, components, and roadmaps.
Perhaps pre-echoing Shark Tank’s Mr. Wonderful’s comments that weak products should be brought out the back of a barn and shot, Marty Cagan wrote this enlightening post about why weak products are kept alive in 2009. According to Cagan, product planning is primarily about deciding which projects to invest in. So it’s crucial that you are aware of some of the reasons why projects may continue despite not being a worthwhile investment, including pride, denial, and hubris.
At INDUSTRY, Ken Norton delivered a talk that got everyone in the room talking. In it, he urged the audience to imagine what their product might look like in 30 years. Yes, 30 years. Norton assured us that in doing so, you can avoid being bedeviled with details of little consequence and instead come to terms with rapid technological change. Smart product people will ultimately then be able to take immediate advantage of this new perspective in their shorter-term planning.
Being proactive also means moving fast to get things done. Medha Ghatikesh gives us an example of how a ‘procrastinating manager’ can waste a whole day of a teammates productivity just by waiting to send an email. You must always think ahead and consider how your work, or lack of work, will affect things.
How to make sense of the firehose of ideas for your product
Oftentimes, being proactive means carefully not reacting to the firehose of feedback that will come your way each week. Instead, you must foresee the types of requests that you will regularly receive and have a plan to deal with them. As Maddy Kirsch explains, “you can’t afford to prioritize a specific set of feedback just because it appears urgent”. Instead, you should “ask yourself if implementing the suggestion or feedback will advance your product’s strategy”.
Being a good reactive manager is to be admired. It means that you can calmly deal with surprises and quickly come up with solutions (rather than getting stuck looking for root causes). On the other hand, a person who practices predictive management might have been able to remove herself sufficiently enough so as to be able to see the problems arise in the first place. Really, like John Reh suggests, it takes a solid mix of the two to be an effective manager.