Market Validation is Product Manager’s only job
If a hiring manager is looking for one skill that Product Managers should possess, to evaluate their candidacy, hands down my suggestion would be to look at their ability to validate the market for their product.
Without wasting time in explaining the rationale behind my choice of skill let us develop some deeper understanding of what these two terms, “Market” and “Validation”, mean for a Product Manager.
In business sense a Market is place where both demand and supply forces operate to trade goods, services, contracts, products, for money or barter. From product management perspective this business definition needs expansion and contraction at different points to make adequate sense (Refer Paragraph “Complexities Involved”). Talking about the demand and supply most of the time Product Managers are shooting at stars while deciding what is to be supplied, to whom and at what price. The challenge in defining these core derivatives of a “Market” leads Product Managers to an important activity called “Validation”.
Validation means to prove or confirm the accuracy of something you believe in. Before doing any validation Product Managers should have in hand some facts about the market — understanding of the demand, nature of service or product or good to be supplied, a view of the customer persona and how much the customer is ready to pay for what is offered. With this understanding the PM should validate each and every assumption s/he has that would rationalize the design of the offering.
Also remember the core of the offering should directly address the key problem surrounding the day-to-day lives of customers and hence it is important to validate the problem itself in first place. Such a ‘Problem’ becomes the foundation for a Product Manager to build a vision for the product.
While it is a never ending process for PMs to keep building upon the facts and understanding about the market, through their interactions with market forces, all along their association with the product, it is also imminent to stay nimble and agile to start solving key market problems, one at a time in a way the Product pays for its existence. This should be the goal behind any validation exercise.
Now that there prevails some understanding about Market Validation exercise it will be interesting to see how iterative, vast and convoluted this whole process is, that demands a skillful Product Manager to be at the helm of this activity.
Though a Customer is the key proponent who can validate a Product Manager’s thought process no one wants to design an offering just for a few handful customers. For this reason Product Managers need to involve a lot of other players into the validation exercise including: The CEO — who also shares a vision for the product and has good understanding of the customer’s problem to be crazy enough to invest in solving the problem, Dealers, Sales and Marketing — whose job is to constantly keep in touch with customers directly and indirectly while selling the product and hence have a better idea about the factors that stop them from making a SALE, Support — who constantly hear to customers’ voice, Competitors — who constantly thrive to topple you and capture your market for justifying their own stakeholder investments, and finally the Media — which keeps monitoring the global and local market situation, change in laws and policies, technologies and new entrants that could seriously influence the next course of solution.
With such a big list of players involved each of these Influencers are capable enough to spring a surprise during any point of the product’s lifecycle. Hence a Product Manager needs to be constantly involved in validating the artifacts of their offering — including understanding of the problem, features, wireframe models, pricing, packaging, messaging etc., with all these players.
Tools that can assist
While there are a number of Product Management Software tools that provide ways to create ideas and set them out for feedback from stakeholders and market players, it is also possible to open a forum to the community of customers to get their feedback. Many of these tools offer ways to qualitatively and quantitatively validate the features and ideas and centralizing all feedback in one place for the Product Managers.