What makes you a great product manager? 4 tips and one extra

There is a bit of truth in every joke. And there are quite a lot of jokes about product managers. Did you know the one above?

Yes, we know that being a product manager is one of the toughest jobs in business. Crushed between market demands and technical development, pressured by management, the product manager is responsible for the one thing that drives a company’s success and growth – its products. Lacking any instruction power, the product manager has to do whatever it takes to keep the product healthy and strong and has to make sure that everyone involved in the product development and marketing process pursues this goal. And sometimes it is not easy to stay focused.
For the past 11 years, we’ve worked with product managers and helped them to perform better. We know their challenges and we know their worries and needs. For this reason, in this article, we want to share some tips that make their life a lot easier.

Tip 1: Focus on the right unit (it is not the product)
Your job title might be product manager but putting the product at the center of your innovation and marketing activities, results in a myopic view of the market. As Rob Shade from Strategyn says: “Since a primary function of the company is innovation, this key role should have a broader orientation than just the company’s products. This role should take on a market perspective that fosters new thinking, discovery and development that extends well beyond today’s products (…) it should be anchored on the customer’s ‘Job-to-be-Done’.” A customer’s Job-to-be-Done (JTBD) always provides a higher perspective of a market and its participants, since the JTBD is more comprehensive and durable than any product or product category.

The car sharing providers Car2Go and DriveNow understood this perfectly when they created a joint venture that expands their car sharing services to mobile trip-planning, parking, and electric charging services. While focusing on the product would have led to better car sharing services, focusing on the JTBD results in a comprehensive solution that helps people in urban areas to get where they want to go.

Tip 2: Learn to understand how customers measure value in your market
As a product manager, it’s all about uncovering unmet customer needs and finding solutions to fulfil them as best as possible. The problem lies in a commonly fuzzy definition of what a customer need is. There are plenty of methodologies that claim to be “listening to the voice of the customer”, but very often product managers do not have a clear concept of what a customer need is, mixing up latent needs, wishes, ideas and problems. Even worse, they do not know which needs are underserved and to what degree, to what customer segment, and if there are overserved needs in a market.

There’s a methodology that brings clarity into this mess called Outcome-Driven Innovation® (ODI). ODI is an innovation market research and strategy process that ties customer-defined metrics to the Job-to-be-Done, making innovation measurable and predictable. Employing qualitative, quantitative, and market segmentation methods, the methodology typically identifies 100 to 150 need statements that are exhaustively defined, without ambiguity and free from solutions. These need statements (called “outcomes”) are then quantified through a large-scale survey to identify the level of satisfaction and importance for each single outcome. This level of granularity helps you to understand where to put new features and where there is room for disruptive innovation and cost reduction – in short: it helps you to create focused strategies for products and services that customers will love and buy.

Tip 3: Have a vision for your product
Every market is subject to natural development: products and services evolve to get certain aspects of a job done better, get more job steps done or get several jobs done on one platform. The first razors, for example, where not more than knives that had to be handled by a trained barber. The next product generation, the double-sided safety razor, made the job of “cultivating your beard” far easier, enabling everyone to shave their beard on a daily basis at home (= get certain aspects of a job done more efficiently). Next, electronic shavers eliminated the need for soap, shaving bowls, and foam, enabling consumers to get more job steps done without the need to cobble different solutions together. The latest generation of electric shavers, which include trimming and shaving functions, can be used wet or dry and they clean and recharge themselves automatically (= get several jobs done on one platform).

The ultimate goal of product development from the JTBD perspective is to get the whole job done on one platform. From today’s perspective, we can never know all aspects of the JTBD ahead of time (read more about this in my blog “Anticipate the Future“). But if you know the generic directions of product/market evolvement and combine them with the underserved needs of today’s solutions you can create a strong, inspiring vision that acts like a driving force for your product.

Tip 4: Engage a team to create products customers love
As a product manager, you have to engage a whole team around the target to develop and market successful products. Usually, the people you are working with are under the supervision of another manager and you do not have the formal authority to boss anyone around. So, you need to draw on other driving forces. A strong driving force is purpose. If people understand the reason why something has to be done, they are intrinsically motivated to do it. Get everyone that is involved in the process into the same boat, especially the engineering team. They will work harder if they understand why and how the new feature will create customer value. Another driving force is communication. If you can clearly communicate what has to be done to reach a certain goal, it is more likely that the person will do it.

Outcome-Driven Innovation® helps you to optimize your interface management because it generates a coherent data model to inform product development, market communications and the long-term R&D roadmap. This model will prevent possible misunderstandings or language barriers between the market-oriented departments and the technical engineering departments. Requirements for product development are defined clearly and without ambiguity – everyone involved speaks the same language. This will help you to make sure that all departments work together.

And last: Do not forget to care about yourself
You make a great contribution to your company’s growth and success. This is not easy and many times you will be the one that eliminates the chaos, cleans up after the others, and does things that are not in your job description. But on the other hand, you are the valuable link, you are the voice of the customer within your company. Be careful with your resources. Have a massage, take a short trip and even spoil yourself sometimes. Continue to educate yourself (read for example this HBR article or that one). Connect with peers (for example at the JTBD Master Class). Be proud of yourself!

JTBD Master Class , 24. Oct, 2019

1st JTBD MASTER CLASS - Growth Strategy

Advanced Strategy Workshop on Putting Jobs-to-be-Done Theory into Practice with Outcome-Driven Innovation ® to Formulate a Winning Growth Strategy.   Get to know …


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