“Make the product for your users, not for yourself,” Kurt Biesemans advises aspiring product managers. In our interview, we spoke about his work in omnichannel healthcare and how he has evolved as a product manager.
Kurt is a healthcare-focused product leader based in Brussels who is working to improve patient/provider relationships through technology. The healthcare industry has a reputation for being slow to adopt new technology. But the coronavirus pandemic is adding new steam to universal digitization. Information technology is coming to healthcare faster than ever.
There is much to do as healthcare adapts to modern technology and user expectations. Kurt explains, “More and more people are aware and interested in their health. They want this information at their fingertips.”
Kurt works on a particular dilemma facing the healthcare industry. On the one hand, people have become more tech-savvy in their everyday transactions with a variety of services. On the other, healthcare providers are late to the party with antiquated systems. As healthcare moves to a more consumer-friendly model, they are empowering their end-users to access information while also protecting sensitive patient data.
“Good product management can craft ecosystems that bring patients and healthcare providers together.”
The core of the strategy is “omnichannel.” The idea is to interact with consumers across a variety of communication mediums — web, mobile, social media, and more — in a consistent and patient-centric way. Omnichannel is not just adding more channels (dubbed “multichannel”) but preferably multiple coordinated channels. Not just more ways to communicate with customers, a consistent one.
This 360-degree style of interaction is standard for other consumer-facing industries like retail. Kurt said, “As we are consuming other goods and services through omnichannel, healthcare needs to follow.”
From Developer to Product Manager
Like many product managers, Kurt’s education was in information technology, and he began his career as a developer. Over time, he was attracted to the business side and found this to be a more effective role for him. Since he has a technical background, he was able to navigate both sides of the organization so he could have a bigger impact. He didn’t even realize he was a product manager until it was too late, “during one of my projects, I discovered Product Management, not realizing that I was already doing it.”
He describes himself as a “decathlon” product manager as he has attempted to master many different skills. He said, “The most difficult part, but also the most adorable, is the multidisciplinary aspect of the role of Product Manager. From strategic thinking to hands-on problem-solving. It’s difficult to be the best in all aspects.”
Misconceptions of Product Management
We discussed the discipline of product management and how Kurt applies it to his work. There is a common misconception in his industry that product management is the same as project management. Kurt draws a distinction, “Product Management is ongoing and involves managing the whole product lifecycle. Project Management completes a fixed project from beginning to end on time and under budget.”
He went on to say that product managers need to keep, “the vision and roadmap visible and transparent to stakeholders and the product team.” Kurt also thinks aspiring product managers shouldn’t overthink their role. Instead, focus on the essentials and do them well: “Don’t forget the basics: Define a product strategy first, communicate this to your stakeholders together with your roadmap. Involve users in your product development. Make sure you have good processes but also make sure that people and their interactions are before the processes. Keep it agile.”
Discovering Product Success
Much like the omnichannel product strategy, Kurt advocates a 360-degree view of a successful product and team. It’s not enough to measure the team based on common external factors like adoption and customer onboarding. He asks if internal “teams love to work with and on your product.” He also considers “the speed you can develop new features,” a strong indicator of a healthy product.
“We developed a digital product that could serve multiple customers. That was the birth of me as Product Manager.”
Beyond making sure a product delivers its value proposition and works appropriately, Kurt believes that a “smooth product experience” should be on every launch checklist. Too often, clunky user experiences make it out the door because they work “as designed.”
Communicating Priorities, Even Remotely
For Kurt, the goal is to understand and empathize with your end-users and communicate this back to your team. Recently, due to COVID-19, communication between teammates has moved online, which poses new challenges for product managers. “In a remote setting, having roadmap and vision documents available in the organization is a must,” he explains and adds, “you need to evangelize it.”
He encourages product managers to look far afield to understand the reality of what customers and stakeholders need. A common mistake he sees early product managers making is confusing their own experience for facts about real customers. “Don’t see yourself as the ideal user for your product.”