Why it’s Hard to Build a Product for Product Managers
In October 2020, we decided to do something challenging — build a tool for product managers to define, manage, and collaborate on their products at one place. This would be the last tool that a PM would need to take their idea to a finished product.
There’s GitHub for developers, Figma for designers, and HubSpot for marketers. What about product managers?
Zeda.io was born from this thought to help centralize product data and increase efficiency in product management.
Product management as we know it today started in 1931 with a memo (read PRD) written by Neil H. McElroy at Procter & Gamble. It was simply a justification to hire more people but became the cornerstone of modern-day product management.
If we had to define this role in simple language, product management is a job for tech-savvy individuals with an eye for good design and a lot of empathy.
But mind you, there isn’t a fixed definition for a product manager’s responsibilities. It tends to vary across industries and organizations.
This ambiguity surrounding product management also makes it difficult to create a one-size-fits-all tool for product managers to help them do their jobs better.
We’ll explain why by listing out the reasons.
1. Product management is not a well-defined role
Since the role of a PM is not well-defined, it becomes difficult to factor in all the variations of use cases that we should address with this product. And this is not an easy job. To make sure that we weren’t leaving out anyone, we made it a point to understand their day-to-day challenges and pain points.
So far, we have spoken to 500+ product managers and do not plan on stopping. There’s no such thing as ‘enough feedback’ in our books.
2. It varies across companies
Product management also varies across companies. There are two main methods that companies use when it comes to product strategy. One is a “bottom-up” approach, and the other is a “top-down” approach.
While Microsoft and Apple use the top-down approach, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Amazon use the bottom-up approach.
Companies with transparent culture lets every team see what every other team is working on. PMs may work on projects in different teams and there is more frequent cross-team collaboration. Companies that are more siloed have teams that focus on their projects and try to minimize interaction with other teams.
3. PMs do different things in different levels
The responsibilities of an early-stage PM would differ vastly from that of a more experienced one. This means that product manager is not just one target group — there are multiple segments here based on the seniority level. This further adds to the complexity of prioritizing features targeted at different segments.
Do we want to focus more on early-stage PMs or experienced PMs? Or should we rather try to make everyone happy? These are questions that we’re still trying to answer as we gather more user feedback. So chime in if you have any feedback. :)
4. Product management varies across stages
During product development, the job of a PM varies a lot. When the product is in early stages, a PM’s role is heavy on product definition and strategy whereas at later stages, it’s all about keeping the product afloat by continuously improving.
This means, if we wanted to create a product for PMs, it should solve their challenges at all stages.
5. Varies a lot across industries
Although B2B and B2C product managers share many of the same roles and use many of the same skills and techniques, their plans, priorities, and implementation, on the other hand, would be vastly different.
Some product managers find it easy to convert between the two approaches. Others might have a strong preference towards one or the other.
Another big thing to consider is the industry. Product management varies a lot across industries such as Tech, Ecommerce, Fintech, Data Science and so on.
As we build a tool for product managers, we must ensure that it is equally relevant to all these variations of product management. This is one of the biggest pain points that we’re addressing with Zeda.io.
6. There are different types of PMs
Product managers can be classified into 5 major types, and these are:
1. The Technical Product Manager
The Technical Product Manager was almost always a developer before they moved to Product. They also weren’t just a developer, they were one of your best developers. As such, the Technical PM understands what can be shipped quick as well as what is worth investing time on to have an efficient product launch down the line. This understanding has been carried over from their days as a programmer — making them uniquely qualified for this position.
2. The Analytic/Data Science Product Manager
The Analytic Product Manager is a close cousin of the Technical Product Manager (TPM). There’s an overlap between these two roles, but there are some differences. The TPM was almost always a developer before entering product management; while the APM had experience in data analysis or other analytics-related fields before joining as well. Not just any analyst though — they have to be one of your best analysts.
3. The Marketing Product Manager
The Marketing Product Manager has an innate understanding of the end customer. They know their customer’s goals, their personas, and even what makes them tick.
Often, MPMs have a background in advertising or PR — which is true to say they really understand how marketing works well with customers because that’s what they’re doing every day! It should be obvious for any product manager who can see features as either “selling” products or not relevant at all if it will sell more than drive away potential buyers.
4. The “Get Things Done” Product Manager
The Get Things Done Product Manager is a rare yet effective variation on the standard product manager. This PM doesn’t take no for an answer and gets things done. This type of Product manager is often only found at high-growth/high-intensity startups and the rare, still hard-charging, late-stage, private companies.
5. The Visionary Product Manager
The Visionary Product Manager is not like other product managers. They don’t spend their days in the trenches, but instead have an innate understanding of all facets of a company and its market.
These are the people who have a longer vision for their company. They’re not just focusing on one product release, but what it means to be part of something bigger than themselves. The way they think is very different from those in traditional corporate environments- instead of thinking about quarterly goals and targets, these PMs see how their work impacts the long-term growth and success of an organization.
7. They wear many hats
Product management is vast. It is the ideal job for those who dislike doing just one thing for the rest of their lives. PMs often wear the hats of Developers, Designers, Marketers, Managers, and the list just goes on.
A PM need not be the best developer, designer or marketer, but they should have a holistic understanding of each of these disciplines to be at the best of their ability. At times, anything that other teams do not take responsibility for becomes a product manager’s job. This again becomes a major factor to consider when building for PMs.
8. More about people management
While the consensus is that a product manager’s job is just to define and manage products, it’s also very heavy on people management. That’s why all great product managers are outstanding people managers. While building Zeda.io, we had to rank features enabling product management as well as people management to address this problem.
9. Product managers are hard to please
Finally, product managers are folks who know what’s good and what’s not. When building a product for product managers, there is no escaping their critical eyes. PMs will be quick to find gaps, bugs, and bad UX. There’s no doubt that they will also have many feature requests. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it simply raises the bar for our product’s standards, and we love that.
10. They are already using a makeshift solution
Product managers have a knack of finding their way around with any problems that they may be facing. While there isn’t a dedicated tool in the market that caters to product managers’ needs completely, smart PMs are already using some makeshift solution. This could be in the form of multiple tools connected using Zapier integrations or sometimes even their own custom-coded tools.
However, a robust solution would make things much easier for PMs and that’s why we exist.
If you are a product manager, just know that we are working on a product that factors in all the above nuances of product management while meeting the extreme quality expectations that PMs are known for.
And we must still say it — it’s hard to build a product for product managers, but we’re loving every bit of it.
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