I was lucky to start my career in product management on a team full of A-caliber product leaders at Aprimo, a leading marketing automation software company (acquired by Teradata in 2011). It was very product-centric company - the product management team was trusted with a capital T and had impactful influence throughout the organization. I took this for granted at the time, believing it was the norm. It wasn’t. We had something special going on, but it took me many years to fully understand what made it so unique.
Fast forward several years and dozens of clients later, and what I have realized is that it isn’t simply trust in a talented product management team that gives software companies an upper hand. Instead, the way you leverage product management to partner with and influence the rest of the organization is what makes product magic happen.
In this article, I’ll focus on three key business areas — design, development, and marketing — to understand how strong product management can impact each and set the team up to focus and do their best work. Whether you’re in the beginning stages of forming a product competency at a startup or scaling your team at a growing organization, this article will help you better understand how the PM role provides the backbone upon which great product is built.
Is there such a thing as a UX design that is too good-looking? Big. Resounding. Yes. We have a talented team of designers who craft better concepts than I ever could dream of, but without product management guidance in the mix, the designs can go too far. In the absence of the appropriate business and user context, designers tend follow their natural creative instincts, which can result in taking unimportant features too far, or not taking impactful capabilities far enough. If it misses the mark, it doesn’t matter how good a product looks.
Partnering product management with designers early in the process ensures that the end result/design is tied closely with business and user needs. Can it look amazing too? Absolutely! To me, the most beautiful designs are intuitive, concise, clear, and visually appealing. In that order. To set the team up for success, it’s critical to start the design conversation by representing the business problems, and user pains and goals, while also identifying key areas of focus. Establishing this foundation ensures everyone’s precious time and energy are respected, and that the end result is of high quality from both the design and value perspectives.
The most beautiful designs are intuitive, concise, clear, and visually appealing.
Without product management guiding and representing the product vision and business context to development, a few issues can creep up. First - prioritization. If there isn’t a deep understanding of the customer needs or the overarching product strategy, it’s nearly impossible to decipher the high impact items from the nice-to-have items. Second - the fuzzy future. Technical considerations can get over-weighted to account for “maybes” that could come up at some point in the future. Third - not understanding when good enough is good-to-go! It is possible to work on a feature for too long, to go too deep with the functionality, or to address too many edge cases. At some point, there are diminishing returns.
A strong product manager is able to focus the team and prioritize the highest impact work.
One of the great lessons I’ve learned over the past few years is that, “if you build it, they will come” is a sham. The last step in bringing the amazing product that everyone has worked so hard to create to the world generally belongs to marketing. It’s a sad day when I go to a product website and it speaks “features” to me. It’s a common pitfall to concentrate on the tactical elements of exciting new features while forgetting to talk about value when enabling marketing on what’s new. They are left with an ability to speak to the features and functionalities of a product, but will likely leave the buyers thinking, “so what?”
In order to answer the “what’s in it for me” question that is so critical to resonating with buyers and users, we must lean in to value over features. Effective product managers are masters of conveying value, pains being addressed, and market differentiation to those who are masters of resonating with buyers - marketers! Top this off with providing concrete use cases and expected customer impact, and marketers are able to harvest marketing gold.
Product managers generally manage no one, but are responsible for influencing many, and getting the right product to market along the way. They are context providers, focus creators, impact identifiers, translators, user champions, collaborators, and voices of value. While they are pretty awesome (IMO 🙂), they surely don’t succeed alone. Design, development, and marketing are three of their closest partners in crime, but building valuable, usable, marketable software is a giant team sport. Enabling strong product management influence throughout the organization will elevate the whole team and impact the success of your product, and ultimately, your company.