How to Be an Effective Product Manager

by Kate Swanberg
Blog Post

Behind every great digital product, there’s a disciplined, well-rounded team that worked hard to bring it to fruition.

As a product manager, you are at the forefront of that well-rounded team. In order to succeed at your role, you need to align the coders, designers, testers, and the rest of the development team on a clear product goal.

Building software is as much a craft as it is a science. It’s a collaborative, social process and it requires an inspired and motivated team.

A great product manager thinks big, define the product strategy, takes the lead, motivates and communicates with their development team, creates effective user stories, and organizes those stories into a well-prioritized product roadmap.

In this article, we’ll dive into each of these responsibilities and tasks and give you tips to do them well. No matter the level of your current product management skills, you’ll have the tools and knowledge to become a more effective product manager after reading this.

Let’s dive in…

Thinking big and forming the product vision

The product vision statement must articulate the goals for the product. It’s a quick summary that communicates how your product supports the organization’s strategies. Think of the vision as the overarching, shared goal that guides the product development team. In order to create the product, the development team must understand what the product needs to accomplish.

Nabeel Hyatt, a venture partner at Spark, wrote:

“An excellent product manager is keeping in mind the long-term vision while driving short-term results, has the customer intuition to get there, and has the authority/integrity to lead the team along the way – very much a mini CEO when it’s done right.”

One of the best ways to create your product vision is in the form of an elevator pitch. So, you can craft it with this format:

  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
  • The (product name) is a (product category)
  • That (key benefit, compelling reason to buy)
  • Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
  • Our product (statement of primary differentiation)

When you create the vision statement, make sure you address these three things:

  1. Who the target customer is
  2. What needs the product will address (highlight the most critical needs)
  3. How the product measures up to the competition, and what makes it stand out

Another helpful tool for creating your product’s vision statement is Roman Pilcher’s Product Vision Board.

Defining the right product strategy

This is the path with which your team will fulfill the product vision. The product strategy is essential for decision making—every decision you make should align with the product vision.

So, how do you define a good product strategy?

Make sure it captures the target group, the needs addressed, the key features of the product, and the desired business benefits. Keep in mind that the product strategy is just one path to the product vision, and it may turn out to be wrong. So don’t stick to the original strategy at all costs—be prepared to shift, or pivot if necessary.

Communicating with your development team

Communication is crucial for a product manager. While the rest of the development team is digging in and building product features, you are in the trenches. You’re meeting with others to discover new user needs, and researching for potential new needs that haven’t been voiced. Then, you must convey this information to the rest of the team and decide what new features, if any, should be implemented.

You need to communicate the vision, product design, and day-to-day execution.

But what’s the best way for you to communicate? Well, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you should reinforce your communication through multiple avenues. When you communicate important information, once is not enough. Repetition is key.

As John Kotter writes in the classic Leading Change:

“The most carefully crafted messages rarely sink deeply into the recipient’s consciousness after only one pronouncement. Our minds are too cluttered, and any communication has to fight hundreds of other ideas for attention. In addition, a single airing won’t address all the questions we have. As a result, effective information transferal almost always relies on repetition.”

Your development team members will learn best in different ways. Some will learn best through reading, others through listening, and still others through seeing it. So, it’s best to communicate with your team through multiple channels like email, presentations, and face-to-face meetings.

Asana is a great tool you can use to streamline communication. It’s a task management tool that makes communication and conversation with your team easier.

Creating effective user stories

User stories are the bread and butter of agile development—and they are the main deliverable for product managers. A user story is a short description of a customer need. It’s a high-level definition of a requirement, containing just enough information (usually only a few sentences) so that developers can judge the amount of time and effort needed to implement it.

You must tread carefully when creating user stories—especially when developing applications. Users don’t have as deep an understanding of the website or application, so they may not be able to clearly articulate exactly what they want.

You should be able to fit most of your user stories into a simple structure like this:

“As a [role], I can [product feature], so that [reason].”

For example: “As a consumer, I want shopping cart functionality to easily purchase items online.”

Each user story should be small enough so that it can be coded and tested within an iteration (ideally, just a few days).

Organizing the product roadmap

Some user stories are more essential (and time sensitive) than others. As a product manager, you set the priority of user stories and organize these priorities into roadmaps and release schedules (otherwise, designers and developers may complete the stories by personal preference, instead of importance).

A roadmap is a visual representation of prioritized user stories. It outlines when products are scheduled for release, and it includes a list of the key features the product needs to deliver to fulfill the product vision.

When creating the product roadmap, one thing to focus is on is prioritizing date vs. goal. Ask yourself if meeting a date or achieving a goal is more important for your product’s success. If the goal is more important, then start with the goal and estimate when the goal can be achieved. If you’re constrained by dates, then start with the date and figure out realistic goals you can achieve in that timeframe.

What are some ways you’ve become a more effective product manager? Do you have other insights on this topic?

Tweet me or shoot me an email at kate@Koombea.com!

Author: @keswanberg

by Kate Swanberg
Blog Post