Reflection — Product
I have procrastinated for a very long time whether or not to write down my learnings after becoming a product manager and there are reasons. For one, there are just so many experienced product managers out there that have already shared their learnings for aspiring product managers; another one on top of my mind is self doubt, who am I to share this after just being in the space for a little more than a year? After countless debating and analysis with myself, I decide to still put down what I have learned, what I am learning and what I will want to learn to you all. I hope if this is not useful in the perspective of providing guidelines and directions for people aspiring to be or just get into the product space, it can at least serve as a reassuring reference that whatever challenges or hard time you are going through, there are also people going through the same with you.
As you can tell from the title, I am planning to write a series of articles and the first one will be reflecting back what I have done as I have just reached my 1-year mark. In summary, not all of my days in product management have been bright. In fact, for the first 6 to 8 months in this role, I have doubted myself multiple times whether I am cut for the role and whether I should be looking for something else in my career. I am glad I did not give up even in the darkest days so I can share how I pull myself up, even from time to time right now, to people in the same situation.
I categorize my reflection into 3 areas, product, process and people. The reason behind the categorization is that I realize missing any piece of the 3 will lead to outcomes that are hard to accept, for myself, for all stakeholders I am working with and for the company.
If you happen to be familiar with the product you are managing, you are in a very good space because you are halfway to success! However, like many of us joining different companies, we might be familiar with 1 or 2 products in the big product line but definitely not every product and junior product managers often just get assigned to a product based on the team bandwidth or growth opportunities. So, what if we are not familiar with the product we are assigned?
I believe if we go search for frameworks for understanding products, we could get a handful. However, I truly believe the one that works for me is the one that is logical and inferable. In my definition, logical means things fall into their places without using force and inferable means every product aspect can be deduced by the previous step in the product development process and is deducible for the next product aspect. Let me provide an example. Since I am a big fan of Pokemon, I will imagine myself as one of the product managers working on the next release of one of its products, the next Pokemon game. Without knowing much industrial details of the product development process, I start from the facts that can be collected by customers.
The research process starts from collecting data. Only with sufficient data can one start looking for patterns and that is universal. One thing to call out is that the amount of data that represents sufficiency is different in each product. With a basic search, we would see there are multiple Pokemon games being released. For data relevance and searching easiness, we can start from looking the games that were released in the past 5 years. The fact is that you are still overwhelmed by a lot of data. From here, we can start put together the logical and inferable framework, the 5 W and 1 H. Yes, that is what I have been using so far and the good thing is I never forget it.
- When- We have determined this before searching and this can always be adjusted based on the requirement.
- What — What are the games? What is the content of the game? Are there games that are similar? Are there games that are remotely related to the rest of the games?
- Where — Where are the games being played with, on a phone, a dedicated handheld device, a console or a computer?
- Who — Who are the customers? Are they mostly students? Are they majorly in elementary schools, middle school, high school or college? Are they mostly adults?
In this example, let’s pick
- What — The mainstream Pokemon games such as Pokemon Scarlet/Violet, Pokemon Arceus, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Peral etc.
- Where — A dedicated handheld device such as Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 2DS, Nintendo DS etc.
- Who — This is hard to determine. However, based on the bundled price of the handheld device and games not being a burden to parents and adults, the audience could be aging from 7 (1st grader) to 35 (working).
After determining 1 to 2 directions to go in the 4W , the process comes to the hardest part, WHY.
- Why do we pick data in the past 5 years? Is it “sufficient”? Does it tell all history we want to find out? Does it have enough data for us to determine what was working and what not?
- Why do we pick the mainstream Pokemon games? Do we think the last version has been promoted and played enough? Is there selling data to support that? Another direction could be the game is not getting enough traction and maybe it is the time to stop the bleeding.
- Do we want to stick with handheld devices? It is one thing that previous Pokemon mainstream games can only be played in dedicated handheld devices, it is another that if we choose to go another direction. Maybe it is time for mobile devices, computers as it removes customers’ burden on buying things in bundles.
Surprisingly and not surprisingly, as you have already noticed, HOW comes at last and it is by no means the least important. It is extremely important when it comes to execution . However, if the previous 5Ws are not well-researched and answered, the supporting data will be a weak foundation for execution. As a product manager, a huge portion of the job is to get buy-ins from different stakeholders. The more experienced the stakeholders are, the more difficult the persuasion will go.
That will be a very high-level flow on an in-house product research but do not forget there are competitors in the market. Once 5Ws are determined, research all existing competitors that fall in the criteria. All information here will be great supporting data for execution as well.
In the next episode, I will share what I have learned in the area of process and people.