Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Three practices of successful product managers

At the most basic level, a product’s success is measured by how well it sells in the market and the profit it brings to the company. A company’s success is ultimately a roll-up of all products and services selling for a profit. This seems straight forward, and yet in my experience company leaders too often lose track of this important goal. They focus on this marketing campaign or that new technology, and lose track of what’s most important. Granted, sometimes they focus too much on profit at the expense of other important directives, but that’s a topic for another post.

In most companies product managers have a lot of products and significant responsibilities. It’s easy for them to get bogged down in the countless tasks that are thrown their way every day. With all the meetings, floods of email, and requirements to manage, the thought of focusing on a product’s profitability can be illusive. It’s not impossible, however. By focusing on three simple, yet powerful, practices, product managers can channel their products toward profitability:

  1. Know your market: Get a clear understanding of the market where your products compete, and work diligently to stay in front of new trends and technologies. Make customer calls and customer visits often. Work with the sales team; understand how they sell your products. Know what works. Know the weaknesses of the products (and take action to correct them). Understand why people pay (or don’t pay) for your products. Be the voice of the customer to your company.
  2. Provide clear direction: One of the key directives for products managers is to provide clear direction to the engineering/development teams. Good product managers write understandable and timely requirements and prioritize them effectively. They provide solid product design (most effectively with the help of good designers). A key to giving clear direction is for product managers to project their confidence and full support to the work engineering is doing. Earn their trust. Inspire them to do great things, especially when developing your products.
  3. Launch successfully: A successful product launch depends on a coordinated launch plan involving many different groups. Product managers are in a unique position to facilitate successful product launches. Start with a tight, focused beta program; learn from the testers and change accordingly. Help product marketing set the proper tone for the launch by understanding the new product’s strengths. Work in tandem with the customer support teams to monitor product acceptance and make changes where necessary. Work with the sales team to make sure they understand the new product and hit the ground running when it releases. After a successful launch, monitor the product’s uptake and financials and make sure it continues to succeed. This, of course, loops back to knowing your market and making sure your product meets the needs of the people in your market.

These three practices cover the most important bases for creating successful products. You should plan time to focus on these elements on a daily and weekly basis. If you are in a leadership position in product management, take time to evaluate your team and make sure they are focusing on these key practices that will lead to profitable products.


Three P’s of business success

What is required to create a successful business? The answer to this question varies greatly depending on experience, industry and many other factors. Achieving business success seems highly complex at face value. However, the principles that lead to success are not necessarily complex or difficult. When you focus on the right areas and create a culture to support them, success comes naturally. Lee Iacocca, a business executive best known for his revival of Chrysler Corp. in the 1980s, put it this way: “In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. People come first.” With the right ‘business operations’ in place, your company will achieve success:

  • People: In any company or organization, the real assets are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization. When you regard the people as the true assets of the company, and treat them accordingly, they will respond in ways that will surprise and delight you. As the leader of your company, put the people first and you will reap great benefits.
  • Products: Compelling products (or services) create success. To the extent you create great products, that people want to buy, you will achieve success. Creating compelling products comes back to the people. You need people who focus on getting the right products to the right market at the right time. Successful companies establish a product management/marketing role (or group), empower them with the ability to make decisions, and hold them accountable for their actions. This role is critical to the success of any company and according to Steve Johnson should have a seat at the executive table.
  • Profits: Without profits, nothing else (in your business) really matters. The efforts to hire the right people and create convincing products and services lead to profits.

Whether you are starting a new business or working to improve your current company, focusing on people, products and profits will lead you to success.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager, do you feel responsible for the success of your company? You no-doubt spend a lot of your time focusing on your products. You work with different people every day and have found some easier to work with than others. How much effort do you exert in building relationships of trust with the people on your team? These relationships are key to your success.

Of the three P’s listed above, the one that typically receives the least focus by product managers is profits (or perhaps more clearly stated, revenue). Too often we leave the worries and cares about money to the CFO’s office. We worry about getting requirements in place and making sure products releases meet their schedules, but we neglect the most important reason we create products…to gain profits.

Do revenue and profits factor in to your decisions as a product manager? How would your product requirements change if you focused more on profits? Please leave a comment and share your experiences.