The ABC of Product Management

The struggle

You just started doing product management and you like your job a lot, even if it still feels a little daunting. Congrats, you’re on the right track!

Now it’s time to prove yourself, but as you well know, being a product manager is not a simple feat, and there is a ton of knowledge you need to acquire very fast. Questions like “How do I know we are on the right path?”, “What am I accountable for?”, “What do I need to worry about to ensure a successful product?” may stay in the back of your head and not find a clear answer. You know you want to become a pro and do the job the right way, but how?

Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

The product manager role

The internet is doing its magic to offer you literally thousands of articles, podcasts, videos, and classes on everything product management. But you might already have noticed that there are overlapping and even contradictory messages, and also a lot of advice not backed by real experience.

So from where to start? If you google “top product manager skills” you can compile a couple of pages of what is considered standard product management knowledge. But how can you fit everything together? What’s the recipe to do your job as a product manager in an efficient repeatable way?

We thought about this too, and the best answer we found, was in one of the must-read product management books – “INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love”, by Marty Cagan. In this book, Marty analyzes and clearly states the specific set of essential responsibilities that a product manager should master, and then proceeds to detail and explain all of them in more detail.

“The honest truth is that the product manager needs to be among the strongest talent in the company. If the product manager doesn’t have the technical sophistication, doesn’t have the business savvy, doesn’t have the credibility with the key executives, doesn’t have the deep customer knowledge, doesn’t have the passion for the product, or doesn’t have the respect of their product team, then it’s a sure recipe for failure.”

Marty Cagan. “INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love”.

We took this as a starting point and put together a comprehensive training plan for starting a product manager.

Listen to Marty in this How to Web Live Episode #6 – Building Products Customers Love.

The perfect training plan for a Product Manager

As we saw in the previous section, there are 5 key domains that are in the PM responsibility: 

Let’s analyze each one in more detail.?

1. The customer

Every business depends on its customers. You can build the coolest product in the Universe, if nobody needs it or wants to buy it, all your (and your company’s) effort was in vain.

You need to know everything about your customers – who they are, their problems, pains, desires, how they think, and how they work. 

A lot of your day-to-day decisions are based on this knowledge. 

Jobs-to-be-Done Theory provides a great framework for defining, categorizing, capturing, and organizing all your customers’ needs. More specifically, JTBD helps you to understand both the customer’s specific goal or “job” and the timeline and processes that would lead that customer to “hire” a product to complete that job.

The most effective way to become an expert on your customers’ needs is to talk with them. Customer interviews should always be on your weekly agenda. And yes, we know talking with unknown people can be hard, but this is what you signed up for. The good news is it gets easier as you practice it. 

Customer interviews are an efficient way to learn, as long as you are asking the right questions. For example, you should not ask anyone whether your business is a good idea – that’s a bad question. The key to idea validation is to learn more about them, their lives, and their motivations. 

The Mom Test, defined by Rob Fitzpatrick in the book with the same name, is a way to structure your idea validation conversations (i.e. “customer development interviews”) so that they lead to facts versus lies (if you can do this the right way, you should even be able to interview your Mom without allowing her to try to lie to you, to protect your feelings).

So here are a couple of advice for efficient customer interviews, according to the Mom test:

Learn more:

2. The Market

Understanding your market’s context is crucial. You start with your competitors but then you also need to know the trends evolve, how customer behavior and expectations change over time; then how you can reach them, and what distribution and communication channels you should employ.

It’s very unlikely that you won’t have any important competitor in the market you activate, with more established products, so you need to be aware it will be difficult to “steal” customers from the competition. Feature parity is not enough – you need to be substantially better and understand perfectly how your product fits in the ecosystem your prospective customers already use.

You can break this big problem down into 3 smaller ones:

  1. Customer-Problem Fit – ensure that you address a need that matters to customers enough to move them to pay for a solution; you need to prove the existence of a problem.
  2. Problem-Solution Fit – you need to ensure you have a value proposition that addresses your customers’ jobs, pains and gains.
  3. Product-Market Fit – ensure that your value proposition is actually creating value for customers by alleviating their pains and creating the gains they desire.

The Continuous Innovation Framework, perfected by Ash Maurya, combines both Lean and Jobs-to-be-done methodologies and offers you a strong tool to determine if your product is viable, feasible and desirable on the market.

Learn more:

3. The Data

Hand in hand with the customers comes the data they generate using your product. This data is what will help you understand how they use your product. 

You need to pay attention both to qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative data is more concerned with understanding a certain concept, customer behavior, or problem. Quantitative data gives you information about the quantities involved. For example, you collect qualitative data to validate the existence of a problem by doing customer interviews and then validate the size of the market by collecting quantitative data about how many other customers have that problem.

Most product managers start their day by looking at data analytics to understand what happened in the past 24 hours and verify the result of their A/B tests and other experiments.

A good system to adopt here is a Core Metrics Set, comprising of a North Star Metric (a number that best reflects the amount of value that your company brings to your customers), 1-3 Key Drivers (metrics supporting the North Star Metric; changing them directly influence the NSM), and lastly some Nuance metrics (important numbers to watch and maintain in range, but not to maximize).

Learn more:

4. The Business

Even if it’s your internal kitchen, it can be difficult to deeply understand the business aspects of your company and product. Your main job is to deliver value to your customers through your product, but ultimately, you also need to bring value to the company. There are various stakeholders in the company, besides your CEO – sales, marketing, finance, legal, business development, and customer service. Each of them can have constraints they operate under, that you need to understand and handle before you can put a product on the market.

Everybody in the company should be aligned and know the business context in which you operate. This is provided by:

  1. Your product vision and strategy. Product vision represents the big picture, what your entire company is trying to accomplish. The strategy is the plan for achieving that vision (this can be a series of prototypes, different versions of a product, or even different products).Ultimately, all of the above aspects are reflected in the business model of your company, and subsequently, in the pricing strategy you’ll employ to monetize your product.  
  2. Business objectives – the breakdown of the strategy into specific goals and priorities for each product team, together with the right metrics to measure success or failure (this is actually the bridge with the last and most important domain in our recipe – the product.

Learn more:

5. The Product

We left the product to the end, not because it is the least important, but because you need the learning from all the other domains to be able to make knowledgeable decisions about what to build. 

This is the part where you need to act and transform the product vision, strategy and objectives in specific activities for your team. Now it’s time to deliver. 

There are a couple of different systems based on business objectives, such as OKRs, or outcome-based roadmaps, that will help you build products focused on outcomes and not features (output). An Outcome is a measurable change in customer behavior, so the goal of any feature you ship should be to change the customer’s behavior in a measurable and positive way.

Be aware that the eternal question you need to ask yourself is not if you can build a feature or a product or how much will it cost (in time, resources and money), but should you build it?

The trap in which a lot of product teams fall is starting to focus on outputs instead of outcomes. They lay down roadmaps freezing the product specs and setting hard deadlines. This is not a linear process – you should always talk with your customers, analyze the data generated, validate your learnings with the market, analyze and update your business objectives and adapt or even reboot your product delivery process when necessary.

The roadmap is therefore a strategic communication device used to communicate to our leadership and teams:

Learn more:


May 3 – June 17, 2022

Our mission here at HTW Institute is to deliver first-class product management education. We were happy with our perfect plan of training, but what would be the next level? Partnering with world-class experts to create a complete Product Management Foundation Course, with online live sessions to learn directly from the best. This course helps junior & middle product managers to level up their skills and have a bigger impact on their teams

Learn more

All the Resources

The customer

The Data

The market

The business

The product

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