Product Management Improves Outcomes!

What is Product Management?

You have likely heard the term product owner, product manager, product development, product management used interchangeably ad nauseam. Regardless of the industry you’re in, chances are you have stakeholders who serve as product owners for internal operating systems. These are the folks who drive demand within IT, push for enhancements and (hopefully) innovation. In these type of companies, customers typically interact with internal employees who use internal operating systems to perform their jobs.

For many of my clients, it’s important to clearly define “product” in terms of digital. Digital products always involve technology, leverage automation and deliver data which can be analyzed to continuously optimize. They can sit between employees and customers or they can be used in conjunction with legacy processes. In some instances (Think AirBNB or Amazon) it can replace the human-to-human experience altogether. You can learn more about product strategy and solutioning here, or, if you are new to the notion of digital, there is a great snippet in Scott Galloway’s book “Post Corona from Crisis to Opportunity” which does a decent job at describing the power and transformative nature of digital products:

“In the Brand Age, a wealthy traveler new in town tells his cabdriver to take him to the Ritz, because that’s the brand he knows. In the Product Age, this valuable customer checks her phone as she gets off the plane, learns that the Ritz is being renovated, and that reviewers believe it’s overpriced, and she crowdsources a recommendation for a new boutique hotel in a hipper neighborhood.”  ​-Scott Galloway, (Follow him on Twitter)

Regardless of whether your are exploring options for developing digital products or modernizing what you have, management of those assets deserves some thought.

Who represents the customer experience in your organization when it comes to technology?

All too often, management of customer facing technology remains the lower priority over internal operating systems. With the latter being relatively well supported, digital systems lag in resources even though the rate of change required to meet user demand outpaces that of legacy systems. This is due largely in part by a lack of visibility into customer satisfaction with the product. A 2020 survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal, found that the increasing adoption of digital technologies is driving up product-related complaints due to higher expectations around experience. The survey also found customers shared negative experiences with others at a rate of nearly two-to-one over positive experiences.

For those concerned about Net Promoter Scores (NPS), ensuring there is representation of digital customers can now be directly correlated to revenue. Consumers expect fast, intuitive and helpful interfaces to inform, shop and interact. Relying solely on brand combined with brick and mortar operations may deliver a rich experience for the customers who call or walk into your store, but it comes with a hefty price tag as well as lost revenue from digital sales.

What are some of the challenges Product Managers solve?

Digital products can also introduce challenges when they are introduced as a new vertical for the business yet the success of the vertical depends on it NOT becoming a new silo. They should work with legacy systems and processes, making things better for the company and its customers while at the same time opening doors to new opportunities. Digital (when done properly) cuts across your organization horizontally.

The notion of product owner and product manager generates a lot of questions from decision makers who are hesitant to add headcount. What is the difference between a product owner and a product manager? Think of it in terms of a director or VP of a call center vs. a call center Manager. The Director or VP is ultimately accountable for the entire operation, goals, and strategy while the manager is responsible for day-to-day activities, people and processes.

Your product owner and product manager can be the same person. As your organization, application stack and digital footprint grows, this may need to change. If you are wondering, “Do I need a product owner and a product manager?” or “Do I need multiple product managers?”, this will depend less on the size of your organization and more on the number of unique personas interacting with your business and their respective user journeys. The more complex and nuanced your product, the more TLC it will require.

What metrics do you track to measure the value each of your products is delivering to your business?

Investment in product development is a big decision for every organization regardless of size. When putting out RFPs for product build and ongoing support contracts, it is easy to predict capital expense and recurring expense; however, products should also give back. ROI can be calculated to determine the profitability or benefit of an investment but digital products should have a line item in financial models that add value in measurable ways. Investment in digital is never a one-time cost. It is an expansion of your technology footprint and bleeds into Marketing spend in so much that there are real client acquisition opportunities as well as cost.

Every product has a unique and specific purpose for existing.  Products need to be monitored, evaluated, measured and have goals to ensure they deliver value over time. Measuring the effectiveness of any product, be it an app, a website, a telephony system, an API or a micro service should be designed with these measurements in mind. Your product manager is responsible for constantly evaluating and reporting on this in a format that is digestible to decision makers within the c-suite.

Do your digital products have a well-defined purpose; Do they have goals?

As an example, let’s assume there is a new feature being planned for an existing B2C application. The new feature should DO or IMPROVE something. It could increase revenue, drive channel shift, lift a marketing campaign, increase user satisfaction, improve star ratings, reduce drag in another department or bump net promoter score (NPS). An effective product manager will ensure the new feature is well defined, is measurable, enriches user experience and delivers the anticipated value. If a feature causes product drag, the manager should take corrective action to either remediate or retire it.

A good product manager understands that any feature which does not deliver value over time, is ripe for retirement. A lean application is just as desirable as a lean organization. In fact, product managers and people managers share much of the same general management acumen in terms of identifying areas to streamline. If you think it is any easier to retire code than it is to retire people – think again!

Is your product management expert a partner to the business? Do they align with the company’s goals? Do they break down silos or reinforce them?

When it comes to customer facing technology, product management sometimes falls under Marketing, IT or Operations. Whether you insource or outsource this function, the goal is to create products with purpose. Sometimes, product strategy can undermine, compete with or conflict with the goals of siloed departments. While the most forward-thinking organizations embrace these types of changes, even the most mature will find pockets of resistance.

Product owners and product managers should be ACES at change management. They should possess a high degree of emotional intelligence and should see themselves as partners to the business (even when the business doesn’t reciprocate the love). If you are wondering if you need a product owner or a product manager, it depends where you are with your strategy and how critical it is for your digital products to deliver. 

 What makes a good product manager vs. a good product owner?

Consider the following when evaluating best fit for a product manager role:

  • How well does the individual know your business? Have they demonstrated an aptitude to learn quickly?
  • How well does the individual know the specific user personas who will be using the product? Do they possess the skills to journey map and define each persona?
  • Is the individual a good researcher? Do they know the market, what customers want and what competitors are offering?
  • How well can the individual interface between various teams, stakeholders, users, and peers? Is this person a self-aware, intentional and effective communicator?
  • How confident is the individual working in a matrix structure with cross-functional lines of accountability?
  • How competent is the individual working with data and analytics tools?
  • Is the individual comfortable with metric-driven performance? Can they establish their own goals for the product they are responsible for?
  • What degree of emotional intelligence does the individual possess? Will they be an effective change agent within the organization?
  • How well will the individual be able to translate technical into functional, bridging the gap between business and technical teams?
  • Is your candidate a process-oriented individual? Can they balance both internal and external processes when designing?
  • Does this individual have a solid understanding of effective design, user flow and usability? 
  • If placed in a product ownership role, are there any other internal conflicts of interests which would divert their focus?

 Can project managers fill the product management role?

Don’t assume project management skills translate to product management acumen. Do project managers make good product managers? Well, project managers don’t make BAD product managers.  Being a project manager doesn’t mean you will be a good product manager. It is not enough to complete a series of tasks or deliver a new feature on schedule. What matters is delivering outcomes. Measurable, quantifiable, sellable, usable outcomes.

Your ultimate team structure will be unique – like your business. Before starting down any path, define all the variables. At ExecuSense, we focus on delivering outcomes. Your digital strategy is more than expanding your digital footprint. An effective strategy, executed well, adds more value than overhead. This requires management, measurement and a committed focus to achieving that goal.

If you would like to learn more, please contact us. We would love to hear from you!

Christina Wrobel-Holt

I am a management consultant located in Frederick, Maryland. I support B2B businesses needing to transform rapidly to remain lean, relevant and competitive. These clients often need to expand into e-commerce, modernize user experience, automate internal processes, streamline their supply chain, and develop digital products. I help businesses who support multiple customer segments with complex, and often times, overlapping use cases. I build cross-functional roadmaps that ensure existing customers are insulated from change while a business transforms. Once a roadmap is built, I help sell the strategy to a diverse and critical set of stakeholders. This includes board members, private equity or venture capital groups, lenders, executive leadership, employees, and even customers.

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