In a world with unceasing disruptions and constant technology enhancements, it is an art to uncover what a tailored solution or product really looks like for individual customers.
One way, one role, one personality?
To help bridge this gap is a Product Manager. IE sat down with Narelle Charity, Product Director at SEEK to discuss the Product Manager’s role in building and launching new products, and how to manage a product lifecycle successfully in the market.
It’s near impossible to define this role in a single job description. And whilst there are Product Management courses emerging, as far as we know there is no one formal tertiary degree. When we look at the market, it’s clear that Product Managers come from all different disciplines and backgrounds, with various skill sets and working history.
At their core, Narelle explains that the Product Manager role requires you to don all sorts of different hats and scarves and collared shirts and pants and responsibilities.
“A Product Manager needs to be the master of many domains across the organisation to bring something together to create a really coherent offering within an organisation. So you've kind of got to be a researcher, marketer, technologist, an accountant, a strategist and you've got to be able to bring all of those skills together to create a really meaningful solution for your customers.”
What has Narelle seen in people that has led them to become seriously good Product Managers?
They are entrepreneurial, they are able to manage the corporate matrix and convince businesses to invest in order to build new things. They search the market for new opportunities. Most of all, they’re obsessed with customer behaviours and psychology to find ideas and opportunities to solve customer problems. They know how to sell ideas, and are accountable for the end-to-end delivery and lifecycle of a product. They understand the measurement of success and when to pull the pin and fail fast.
Success is different in every organisation, every customer, every product - so it will look different every time.
But what sets them apart from other positions is their ability to manage ambiguity, drive prioritisation, empower a team and influence stakeholders.
First; the ability to drive prioritisation. Put simplistically; a product-led idea may start with one Product Manager who can identify a job that needs to be done. They turn this job into an opportunity, and then the opportunity into a motivated team. An inspired team who understands and supports why the product is being created then builds the solution into a successful BAU product. Rinse and repeat.
Then it’s about empowering a team.
The ability to influence a team without using an authoritative status is a unique skill - one that a successful Product Manager will harness.
“ A good Product Manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails...bad Product Managers have lots of excuses.” — Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz
While Product Managers don't always have direct reports, they do always need to recognise the unique skill sets of those around them. They are constantly bringing these people together to allow their knowledge and skills to influence one another. Without any particular hierarchical framework, everyone becomes useful to each other.
Do these things right and the Product Manager will influence stakeholders.
Furthermore, the customer influences the Product Manager and therefore the product roadmap. The Product Manager is obsessed with their customer - how they think, how they feel, how they see, how they do. Once this is achieved, they will maintain influence - by connecting with the customer’s desires and the gap the product will help fill.
The most important element of engaging a customer is via solving the pain point that they’re willing to pay for and the technology needed to get the job done. Irrespective of the problem the technology is solving, it is critical that the product is designed and built in a simple and intuitive way for the customer. If it’s too complex, the customer won’t buy in.
Right, so you’ve got the customer, the team and the product.
But a product lifecycle and strategy doesn’t stop there - it requires maintenance and nurturing once it’s in the market. So let the iterating happen - what kind of features can be further designed, built and launched in order to ensure development of (and interaction with) the product? As a Product Manager, you’ll be on top of this, too.
Product Management is a methodology that requires a long-term vision made up of frequent short term cyclical wins - which is why an Agile framework can be incredibly useful. However the capability of a Product Manager to be equally proactive and perseverant to deliver the right features at the right time will ensure the smooth sailing of the strategic process.
Narelle succinctly explains the accountability required by a successful Product Manager.
“If you don't have somebody who's accountable for the end to end...your product is only half there, and you'll have a whole bunch of issues that pop up and you're just not delivering on that customer ambition that you really want to deliver…the more [Product Managers] are thinking about their end to end accountability, the better outcome they'll have for their customers and for their business commercially.”
Ultimately, a Product-Led organisation will always have their ears and eyes closest to the customer. A product-led organisation is obsessed with understanding customer needs, then building, implementing and managing a solution. Great Product Managers are the vehicle organisations use to deliver great products from the ground up.