As product managers our job description is pretty simple: to ensure every of our software development projects succeeds. I would go so far as to say any failures or successes of the team are failures or successes of product management.
While the product manager is not the manager of the team per se, he/she is in charge of all critical elements that lead to a team’s success and need to own that responsibility. Here are five simple things that product managers should do to ensure success every time:
1. Define Success
It is important to set your definition of success at the very beginning so everyone is working towards the same goal. Without defining success, it is quite likely the team may work towards different objectives. Defining success also means it is possible to create metrics and improvement plans, which means the team is clear on how to succeed.
2. Make no Concessions
One of the most common mistakes product managers make is yielding to outside forces. This happens on various levels: giving in and allowing a feature in your SaaS that only a handful of users need, adding to or modifying a design to make a VP or project sponsor happy, or lowering the success bar because of team shortcomings.
3. Eliminate Risky Assumptions
Success is really about outcomes. You can launch a product exactly as you conceived it and it could still be a total failure. Product managers need to be mindful of making assumptions and run user tests to eliminate risks.
User testing doesn’t have to be expensive as you can use Lean UX validation technique. Sites like respondent.io can quickly help you find people to interview (remotely). Many people will do these interviews for a stipend, providing you valuable feedback on your designs, a better understanding of your users, and the problem you’re trying to solve. Running a simple landing page test can get you more quantitative data and can be done for a couple of hundred bucks in ads.
4. Stop the Storming
It is normal for teams to have some spin. There are new libraries to try, new technologies to learn, new team members we don’t know how to talk to, and a host of other potential issues that can slow down teams. There is a lot a product manager can do to make things go more smoothly:
- Include developers in product sessions – Developers love to have input. They need to understand why decisions are made and you should consider their opinions. They often have valuable insight, and their inclusion in these meetings makes them more capable to build the solution.
- Make sure roles are clearly defined – A lot of confusion in young and dysfunctional teams arises because they’re not clear on who they should go to for different needs. Be clear with what you can provide and where they can go if they need assistance in other areas.
- Protect your team – The team and its objectives are the most valuable asset you have. Spend your time and management capital ensuring that they have everything they need: licenses, work-life balance (burn-out kills), technical support and anything else that comes up.
- Don’t set unreasonable goals or deadlines – While it is important to have a drive, missing dates, overwhelming developers, relying heavily on estimations without weighing uncertainties, creates an environment that is not conducive for success.
5. Provide Vision and Clarity
In conclusion, the product manager should always provide the product vision. Most team members are busy with their project, and it is up to the product manager to look constantly towards the finish line and make sure the team arrives there.
Take the time to inspire your team with the final results. Remind them of the importance of their work. Update them with roadmaps. Share results from your research. All of these actions remind everyone that their work is important and keeps everyone on the path to success.
The product manager can make every project a success but they need to define what success is, avoid making concessions that don’t improve the product, eliminate risks, keep the team on point and keep a clear vision of where everyone is headed.