© 2011 Martin Eriksson

Love what you build. Build what you love.

10 things Product Managers must do

I love being a Product Manager.

Hunter Walk defines product management as being where Science meets Art. He's right. It's a unique role in that it touches on all aspects of a business. Ty Ahmad-Taylor elaborates further, explaining:

“Product lies at the intersection of business, design and engineering. It is your role to educate business people about design and engineering, engineers about business and design, designers about engineering and business.”

Throughout the process you read a ton of email, look at many screens, and create relationships with a lot of awesome people. Yet through it all, there remains one constant: the product.

The product is your baby. You must keep its interests at heart, make it look nice, ensure it grows and matures, and (of course) tell the world how great it is.

Everyone can keep learning and improving; I strive to do so every day. But in my time working in the profession (building software specifically), here are 10 things I believe Product Managers must do:

1) Own the story.

Products need a story and the PM is the Chief Storyteller. All product strategy depends on the story you’re trying to tell. It informs what you build, when you build it, and how you go to market. In support of the story, should be an elevator pitch. Be able to describe and sell your product's value with one sentence.

2) Know your user.

Inside and out. Beyond testing and generally speaking to the user base, you should be one. Constantly play with the product and understand every different use case.

YouTube’s growth is a case study in knowing your user.

Of even greater importance is to go where your users are. After being acquired by Google, YouTube famously prioritized Facebook features and an iOS app over integrating with other Google products internally. They understood, that for the product to be successful, they had to be everywhere their users were (on Facebook and iPhones).

3) Help your team.

As Ty Ahmad-Taylor’s quote above alludes to, it’s extremely important to help your product team. That means everyone: engineers, designers, QA, sales, marketing, leadership, business development, support, legal, etc.

It’s up to the Product Manager (otherwise known as the “product owner”) to create and communicate a unified vision. And more importantly, to motivate each individual to achieve the goals of the greater team.

“Here’s where we are. Here’s where we are going. And here’s how we’ll get there.”

4) Be a curator.

Having a role that deals with all aspects of a business, naturally lends itself to collecting tons of product feedback. With such a position comes the responsibility of prioritization.

All things considered, how do we rank these opportunities and investments?

This means looking at the existing strategy combined with direct user input, ideas from the development and design teams, market demand and feedback, and the competitive landscape. That all creates a backlog of features that the PM must spec out and prioritize based on the time and resources available.

5) Be the decider.

The PM is often referred to as the “CEO of the product”. I agree with this, to an extent. It’s really the job of the PM to ensure collaboration, although not consensus. For the betterment of the product, it’s important to listen to all opinions and allow everyone to be heard.

But in the face of disagreement, there needs to be a decider. A tiebreaker. As the product owner, the PM is the person to say “yes”, “no”, or “not just yet”. Whatever the verdict is, be sure everyone understands the decision-making process. That creates transparency, trust, and a more collaborative environment.

6) Focus on design.

The famous quote from Steve Jobs says, “Design is not just what it looks like. Design is how it works.” He couldn’t be more right. Design is massively important at an aesthetic, as well as a functional level.

A product team should work backwards from the user's goal. It should focus on solving complexities on the back-end, in order to make things incredibly easy on the front-end. Minimalism is beautiful and simplicity wins.

7) Execution.

Simple. Lay forth the goals and features that allow you to attain the aforementioned strategy. Write the requirements for those and, based on time and resources, execute them with your team.

There will be edge cases that come up along the way, and it’s important to work with the dev team to iron those out together. Get their input, see what they think, but ultimately be the decider. Make a neutral decision. Whatever is best for the product.

8) Ship!

This is huge, and yet, understated. It is kind of assumed that a product team will ship, but that’s not true. It’s crucial to set a release date because it truly reinforces all of the above. When there’s a deadline, suddenly it becomes easier to prioritize the backlog… what is really needed for version 1? The team focuses and creates realistic estimates they can deliver on.

Ultimately, it’s your job to get the product to your users. Speed counts. Build fast, release quickly, and…

9) Test & Measure.

Building fast and releasing quickly is only valuable if you’re measuring the results. One form of measuring is what I alluded to earlier. What are your users saying? How are they responding to new features?

However, it’s essential to measure not only what they say, but what they do. How do they respond to a specific screen? Are they doing what you hoped? Does a change in copy or design influence their behavior? Test. Measure. And build accordingly.

10) Love what you build. Build what you love.

This ties into all of the above. You need to be passionate. You need to love it. Live it. Without that, there’s not much else. Without that, you won’t build anything great.

If the product is truly going to be your baby, then you need to love what it is. Yet, strive to make it better. Take joy in doing so. Place your name on it. Put your reputation on the line. Love what you build, and build what you love.

To me, that’s product management. That’s the epitome of the profession I love and live every day. Over time, I’ll continue to learn and get better at it. But these are the principles I will continue to guide myself by.

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About Me: I’m Adam, a product manager turned founder. I write about my journey as an entrepreneur (building Moved) and a lifelong learner. Subscribe here to receive new content as I publish it.

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