When I first started working as a Product Manager, I was amazed at how different PM’s built their products. Everyone had their own approach.
I quickly realized that the role of a Product Manager is more of an art than a defined set of responsibilities, and I began to consider how the most successful products are greenlit to be built.
The topic could easily be a series of books, but I’m hoping this offers a starting point for younger PM’s and folks considering the profession.
I’ll start by focusing on a few ideas that will help you become a better Product Manager — before your product is greenlit for development.
I. Know how to sell your ideas.
Think of yourself as an entrepreneur who is trying to get funding for your ideas.
You’re not pitching VC’s to get cash sent to your bank account, but your company will spend real dollars on your ideas. Be ready to sell.
You’ll sell every stakeholder who will influence the product, which means you have to sell your ideas to many personality types.
If you’re not a natural salesman/saleswoman, being armed with data and visuals will get people excited.
II. Become intimately familiar with the KPI’s and business goals at your company.
Talk to stakeholders who have been at the company for awhile.
Get access to your data and figure out how executives at your company speak about business goals.
Learn the language. Study the KPI’s every day.
If your product idea doesn’t directly impact key business goals, why are you pitching it in the first place?
I personally love building products that have a scoreboard to easily track success — it validates our wins and informs our iterations.
Your scoreboard should be your organizational KPI’s (growth, engagement, revenue, etc.). Make sure it aligns with the strategy of the company.
III. You don’t have to be a designer to design.
There is a difference between being a designer and knowing how to design.
As a Product Manager, most companies won’t expect you to design production quality screens. That’s the designers job.
But you should be comfortable with Sketch and prototyping tools, and learn how to create visual representations of your ideas.
If you’re not curious enough to design early versions of the products you’re imagining, why are you doing this?
Busy decision makers respond best to visuals. Teach yourself how to design, even if you’re not a designer.
VI. Prioritize your ideas.
If you’re a creative product mind, you probably have dozens of ideas floating around your head at any given time.
When evaluating ideas, focus on identifying your highest impact ideas.
Assign scores to your ideas based on a) potential impact to your KPI’s and b) difficulty to build.
I bucket my product ideas in five categories: growth, activation, engagement, re-activation, and revenue.
What do each of these categories mean?
Products that drive sign ups and have a significant potential branching factor.
You should think of product loops that encourage existing users to invite new users to join your platform.
Social products usually have the best invite loops, which makes sense.
Social products become more fun when your friends are on the platform, so you’re naturally incentivized to invite them to join.
You can also offer users incentivizes to invite their friends in the form of credits and rewards — these are called incentivized invites.
For incentivized invite loops to work, both parties (inviter & invitee) need to feel incentivized, and that they’re getting real value for the action.
A classic incentivized invite loop is the Uber “Give $10, Get $10” model. Give your friends $10 towards their first Uber ride and earn $10 in credits when they complete their first trip.
In the best examples, users don’t feel like an asshole sending incentivized invites because they’re giving friends money to spend on a useful product.
If your product sucks, few people will invite their friends to join even if you offer rewards. You should only build invite loops when you’ve nailed the core experience and have a sticky product.
Keep in mind that incentivized invite loops don’t always have to be involve financial rewards. Social validation is a great substitute for cash.
These are generally ideas that improve Day 1, Day 7, and Day 28 retention — but it’s deeper than that.
Every successful product has a “magic moment” that convinces new users to come back for more.
This idea has been well documented from Facebook (“get a user to reach 7 friends in 10 days”) to Uber (“get a user to take their first ride and realize how shitty a taxi cab experience is”).
If your magic moment isn’t obvious to your team, your product probably won’t work, so spend time figuring this out.
Once you’ve figured it out, optimize your onboarding experience so new users experience the magic moment as quickly as possible.
These are product ideas that make your existing users more active on your platform.
The most famous product innovation in the engagement category was Facebook’s decision to build the News Feed.
The original Facebook was just a collection of profile pages —and there were no real engagement hooks that made users addicted to the site.
Paired with notifications, the News Feed gave users a reason to interact with their entire social graph through content and constant updates.
News Feed is the single feature that changed Facebook forever.
Think about what the “News Feed” engagement feature might be at your company (hint: it’s probably not a news feed) and design the product.
These are product ideas that bring back dormant users. The most popular channels for reactivating dormant users are push and email.
By definition, dormant users aren’t visiting your platform, so you must bring them back to your product via communication channels outside of your core experience.
If you’re a mobile app using push notifications, focus on a) personalization, b) timing, and c) context — otherwise you’re likely being spammy.
Users who receive spammy notifications will delete your app or become dormant again soon after receiving the message.
The ultimate goal of almost every growing technology company is to earn money. Challenge yourself to develop product ideas that create revenue.
If your product ideas impact revenue while preserving the core user experience, I guarantee you’ll be taken seriously at your company.
And if they don’t take you seriously, you’re probably at the wrong company.
Thanks for reading. I don’t usually write articles like this.
If you learned something, I’d appreciate if you tapped on the heart below — more people will read the article and it’ll encourage me to write more.