Reflection — Process
If you are aspiring, struggling or purely browsing for learning material of product management and somehow land on this page by searching the Internet, please make sure to check out the first episode of this series. In this one, I would be sharing my learnings on process. To be more precise, the process of product development lifecycle.
In theory, each product development stage is well defined and clear cut.
The process that works for me needs to add a few more stages here and there and it also has different stage orders based on the conditions. Different conditions are implying not all projects have full disposal at resource including people, time and money.
In an ideal world, every stakeholder would hope to have every stage of the product development cycle to be backed by customer data. Translating that into real-world terms means forming a virtual team composed by product managers, researchers, engineers and others to discuss an idea based on supporting data, form a hypothesis of what customers may need, design a list of questions to validate the hypothesis; having an user research team to recruit potential customers with designed surveys and incentives (it is very hard to get customers’ interest without giving out something); having the virtual team to go through all customer interviews to figure out whether the hypothesis is close to what customers need, develop a product idea, design a list of questions to validate the idea; having a design team to mock up a prototype. After that, it is basically repeating the process of hypothesis validation but this time on the new product idea. This does not even include all the arrangements happening behind the scene. This could be one of the ways for resource-sufficient projects, in other words, well-sponsored projects. Those projects could be spending three to five times of resource than any other incubating ones.
In a resource-limited project, every stakeholder immediately faces the ancient philosophical question of chicken and eggs but with product idea validation. No one stakeholder in any project likes to go for an idea that customers do not need. However, where does the knowledge of customers do not need the product come from? This is an easy question that is extremely hard to answer, especially for products that do not exist in the market today.
So, with limited resource to dispose, how should the product development proceed? The answer is actually really simple, all stakeholders should bet on the product direction that has the best chance to be successful based on the full knowledge on market demand (the amount of customers that will potentially need the product), competitors’ products customer feedback, technical limitations and resource availability. The product prototype needs to be built before customers’ validation since it is always easy to discuss an idea with someone based on an existing idea. Just think about all the dishes you are seeing in a restaurant’s menu. Would you think of what you like to order or even how you like to customize the order if you have not gotten a rough idea what the dishes are at first? Since there is no dedicated team to help recruiting potential customers and no financial aids for interview incentives, product managers will need to leverage their connections and mediums to find appropriate interview candidates.
The stage of message creation varies in different situations but remains nonetheless crucial. If referring to the tasks associated with message creation by ProductPlan,
- Developing the product’s value proposition
- Creating tools and materials for the sales department
- Building marketing and advertising campaigns
projects that are only planning in preview releases should scale down to limited exposure and projects that are planning for general availability should do the opposite. The reason for that is marketing and sales departments have different goals in their respective function. Their performance is based on how broad of audience they could reach and how much revenue they could bring in to the company. Products that are planning for or in preview releases are not ones any stakeholder could say for sure that will be the same in general availability releases but marketing or sales people do not know that and they will probably just use their best knowledge when introducing the product to customers.
The well-defined and clear-cut product development stages (please refer to the beginning of this article for product development lifecycle) have little to no boundaries between them in reality. Starting from the very first stage, form a hypothesis, no one stakeholder in a project will ever say there is enough effort and time being spent in this one and things should move on within my limited experience and knowledge. Because at the end of the day, it is one thing to get the product out of the door as soon as possible and it is another that the out-of-the-door product is something customers need and at the same time being scalable and expandable for future potential customer scenarios. The common practice for product development to move forward is that product managers share product supporting data research, complex product concepts or solutions analysis, pick the most appropriate product direction and bring consensus to the majority of stakeholders. So many things have been mentioned in each stage and it is very easy to get overwhelmed and lost without a clear framework and guidelines at hand. Hence, I have summarized all information into texts and image below to hopefully help the people in need.
Product Manager’s Responsibilities (PMR):
- Collect product supporting data.
- Create pros v.s cons analysis on complex product concepts or solutions.
- Pick the most appropriate product direction
- Get buy-ins from the majority of stakeholders.
I will be skipping the stage of product building, product release and product iteration. For one, they are worthy of another article. Second, I am still learning in these stages. Let’s talk about the learning for people in the next article!