So, what is Product Management?

Tips for following the blog:

Question: A tormenting yet very insightful and purposeful question asked by a super-boss

Answer: A painful yet honest answer given by a product manager

Cloud: The imaginary bubble in one’s head that doesn’t have a voice in the physical world and hence goes unheard

Question: What is Product Management? So that you may know. I am your boss’s boss and I hired you. So, I need a straight answer. ha…ha…(cloud: Don’t give me rubbish. I have an MBA and I know how to ask great questions)

Answer: Well, it is a cross functional role that sits between the various business teams and IT technology. It acts as a gatekeeper of what business initiatives need to be developed, across what timeline (time-to-market decision) and how best to deliver (trade-off decisions) (cloud: and why the hell did you hire me for a role you don’t know about!?)

Question: Oh ok, so if I have technical requests to make on the website, I give it to you and you get it done for me!? Right? Umm….(cloud: I’m already starting to hate this guy. What happened to straigthforward answers in bits 1 and 0!)

Answer: No, I don’t take technical requests (cloud:….from you just for the heck of it). I understand two things – business opportunities and business problems. I try to solve for both through initiatives in different product areas. I then submit these initiatives for the technology team to deliver according to their release cycles.

Question: So, you probably belong to a business team then! Hmm…So what is the “product” you are working on!? I don’t think you sell any products on the site? My Merchandising Manager does that for me.

Answer: Mine is a cross-functional role. I don’t necessarily sell products. But, I make products sellable on the website. My product is the website itself and its inherent back-end operations. For simplicity, each core area within the website from a user standpoint can be considered as a product. E.g. checkout. I also look into the backend operations like say a world-class WMS.

Question: Oh yeah, I helped build a great WMS when I was a consultant. Once you get the basic right, things are simple for us to use after that. So, tell me, is it correct to say that your team is responsible for managing the look and feel of the website and everything that goes into building the right experience for the customer?

Answer: bingo! you got it. Yes, you can say so. Although the look and feel department is something I co-own with a user experience designer. (cloud: and what’s with that WMS stuff you just blurted. Do you even know what it means!?)

Question: Ah! my friend. You have brought one other character into the story. You know this dilutes the need for you in the company. I have business owners who take care of business opportunities, I have Operations Managers who solve business problems and I can have technology teams just do things for me. Why do I need you in the middle?

Answer: You are right. But, they all don’t coherently bring the voice of the customer together. They have a P&L to manage and a target to hit. What a customer likes to see, how they discover products on the site, what pain points they have with the overall purchase all need uniformity in execution of a solution. It is true that I help and work with all these business teams to deliver results. But, I do it from a customer centric viewpoint. I bring all the teams together on customer initiatives and eventually help technology solve the final puzzle by breaking down requirements into meaningful chunks for architects/programmers.

Question: All right, you sound more like a project manager to me. So, what “business” intelligence do you use to make decisions that my other business teams cannot do on their own? (cloud: Boy! am I running out of questions or am I getting confused!)

Answer: Well, I do act like a Project Manager at times to get things out the door in a timely manner. But, maintaining Gantt charts is better left to an expert who has done it as his job. Coming to business intelligence, I look at site metrics, I look at customer orders, I look at customer returns, I look at information that is hidden within them. While everyone can look at data and make decisions, I use it build what is called as a “Product Strategy”. I also look at the competition and understand consumer trends in the industry. All this also goes into what strategy I employ (cloud: Hmmm…I think I got him this time. But, this conversation is getting uncomfortable)

Question: My friend, if that is the case, where is your Product Strategy? I haven’t seen anything from you except for some features you seem to keep adding to the pipeline of work that technology needs to do? (cloud: If I only had a gun…)

Answer: Sorry, but I don’t build a Product Strategy without knowing what the overall business goals are and what we want to achieve as a business and where we want to go as a company…I’ve asked for it but we have never had closed door meetings to understand those goals.

Question: What do you mean there were no meetings? I said weeks before that we should increase our conversion rate. It should in fact be doubled. I know for sure that it can be achieved. Isn’t that enough information for you? (cloud: If I only had a gun that is loaded…)

Answer: Yes, but conversion rate can be increased by increasing our products, by increasing relevant flow of traffic or by providing incentives. What is our strategy to have our customers shop more or come back more to the website?

Question: Isn’t it your job to come up with answers on that?? (cloud: …the trigger should work…)

Answer: Yes, it is. But it has to be linked to an overall strategy that every business team in the company is aligned with. For example, Increase market share by X% in next two months by leveraging our ability to deliver products faster within a promised delivery timeline. If I had this in hand, my focus would purely be on what I should be doing to achieve this goal as part of my Product Roadmap.

Question: So now you have moved from a Product Strategy to a Product Roadmap! I guess your roadmap is a list of inititatives that the technology team can help deliver, thereby generating measurable results for the business?

Answer: Yes (cloud: I knew you were smart. People don’t get to do an MBA by just practicing brain teasers and vedic mathematics problems after all!)

Question: You are creating processes after processes, while I want to be nimble and just get things done. There is so much to fix on the website. I haven’t seen anything in your so called roadmap to address that. What is the high impact stuff that I can do sooner!? Last night, my grand mother was searching for a toothbrush and it took a while before she realized we don’t sell them. We should list out things we don’t sell on the website my friend.

Answer: Well, we only fix things that don’t work for our customers. For that, we need to know who our target customer segments are? Who transacts higher? Who can contribute more to the bottomline? Who buys the products we sell? If we know who they are, we can find what they don’t like and see if anything needs to be changed. I cannot change the website for a few customers or users who didn’t like what they saw. (cloud: ok grandma. You should have sent your grandson to the nearby store to get that brush…)

Question: So, if there is nothing to fix on a priority, you sit idle and don’t do anything then. Why can’t you fill a backlog of things that can still be done? (cloud: Is he arguing with me or providing mere answers? He should know that I always won noisy group discussions in business school)

Answer: No, we do build what is called as a Product Backlog. It can be thought of as a low-level roadmap. I need to get my backlog cleared, measure the outcome of the initiatives and see what else can be done to make things better based on the target that has been defined. Right now, my backlog is still pending halfway with the technology team. (cloud: why do people always look at the website as something that needs to be fixed!?)

Question: So, you measure the outcome of some targeted initiatives you are driving to achieve our common business goals. If they deliver then you go after your next strategy to gain strength in the marketplace. If you don’t deliver, then I can fire you, right? Ha…ha…(cloud: this is what I call as the death blow!)

Answer: Well, if the initiative is a success, then yes, I keep building my strategy, roadmap, backlog, requirements, project plan, UI assets, wireframes, process flowcharts, financial model and success metrics. If things fail, I learn what has failed and apply them to make things better for the customer. Of course, there is a cost involved in delivering results and this does affect my performance scores.

Question: Ok. you just blurted out a lot more stuff on what you do as a product manager with your team. But, I don’t think you are allowed to fail. (cloud: Failure is like missing out on those premimum tickets to fancy jobs at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey. Everything else is an unpardonable loss)

Answer: Well in e-commerce, our customers are fickle. While we do everything to make things work for them, a lot of times, it is the mistakes we make that help us understand the real opportunities we can pursue. After all, brands are not built overnight. (cloud: Did I just sound philosophical all of a sudden!!)

Question: Oh yeah. Except that in business, we can’t sit and watch someone make mistakes. We fire them and get someone else to do things. (cloud: Jeez, is this why I had to leave my earlier company!?)

Answer: agreed. Product Quality comes from collective evaluation of our strategy, roadmap and the individual initiatives we drive as a company. A Product Manager will of course own the success and failure of it. But, I’m glad that you now understand what Product Management is all about…

Question: Well, not quite yet. I have to take off for a very important strategic meeting to discuss the future course of our business. We will catch up again. (cloud: If I don’t know how to fire you, what’s the fun in keeping you!!)

Answer: Oh ok. Let’s catch up soon (cloud: How about calling me to that strategic meeting as a starter? I’ve just spent my time “usefully” with you talking about what Product Management does….)


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