Lessons from 40 months of Product Management

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

As of July 2018, I completed 40 months of product management and I’ve been reflecting on some of the lessons learned. Some of these are worthy of their own posts.

Have a vision

Crafting a strong vision is the task that has the highest leverage for a product manager. To develop a vision, first deeply understand the problem that your users are attempting to solve by using your product. The vision is a world in which this problem has been solved.

Apart from inspiring the team, a vision also helps you define the team’s North Star metrics which in turn tell you if you are solving user problems or merely shipping the next feature. A strong vision will enable you to ignore distractions and focus on what’s important.

Writing is thinking

When I first started as a PM, I read a lot on the lean methodolody and got the impression that writing PRDs was a waste of time. I learned the hard way when shipping a new search feature. Midway through implementations, the team had questions like the one below

  • What languages should the search support? What do we do if someone searches in a language that the overall product does support but our search provider does not?
  • Should we support search suggestions? After how many characters should the suggestions show up? How many of them?

I tried my best as I went along, but we ended up with a suboptimal feature. I don’t know if this applies to everyone, but for me, writing is thinking. Today, I spent the first few hours at work (when I’m most productive) writing.

Building Roadmaps

When I started out, I made all the mistakes described here by Marty Cagan. I rather enjoyed tracking feature requests in a spreadsheet, collecting ideas from sales, competitors etc and then applying weighted formulas to come up with a prioritised roadmap.

The problem with the above is that you are likely to end up with a inchorent set of features. It’s also very susceptible to HIPPO and recency bias.

To build a roadmap, start with a strong vision and a product strategy. The roadmap should align with the vision and strategy and should describe the top user problems that you plan to tackle.This way, if a feature does not solve the problem, you try again rather than moving on to the next feature.

Over Communicate

Communication is something that I initially took for granted, but it’s importance at every stage of the product lifecycle.

Once you have a vision, you must communicate it to your team and everyone else until they are sick of it. When building the initial version of a product or featrue remember that until you ship, communication is the deliverable.

Write good PRDs, they help you think. These can be shared with customers to validate the solution and are helpful to the engineers, QA, and marketers. They are also useful to help new hires understand the features you have built and the tradeoffs.

Another mistake I initially made was to think about marketing a week before the release. Ideally, you should write the press release or the customer letter before starting on a any major feature. This really helps you focus on the user personas and the narrative.