Bad product management will be fatal for your product, your project, and eventually your company. This is true regardless of industry or company size.
Bad product management fundamentally means you lack customer product fit. [Note: We prefer customer product fit over product market fit. This places emphasis on customers and not an abstract perspective-like market.] Customer product fit is the one thing you can’t afford to get wrong. You can’t sell or message your way out of it. You can’t throw money at it or hire high-priced consultants to fix it. If you aren’t solving a high-value problem customers care about it, and solve it in a way they enjoy, you are doomed.
Bad product management, combined with a lack of customer product fit, is why bad products exist despite the time, money, and energy spent to remove inefficiencies from the design and development process. So much attention is placed on product creation that pre-production thinking and work become largely ignored, under-appreciated, and misunderstood.
If you’ve missed customer product fit, here are four things you can do to immediately improve your product management:
1. Get and stay close to your customers/users — now.
You don’t need a bunch of tools, processes, or methodologies to start. Just start and don’t over complicate it. Getting and staying close to customers is more about intent and culture than it is technique or process. Start now on creating a customer-centric culture. If you don’t get and stay close to customers, nothing else matters.
2. Start thinking and acting small — really small.
It’s easy to get caught up in how scalable something is, how big it can become, and what the ROI may be. However, focusing too much on how big a product can become is misdirected time and energy.
You have to prove that you can satisfy 10 people before you can satisfy 1,000 or 1 million. Your focus should be on creating products that a small number of people love and can’t do without. Scale follows a small number of customers loving your product, not the other way around. Figuring out how to scale something a small number of people love is easier than figuring out how to get people to love something that is ready to scale.
3. Establish a product discipline rooted in a fundamentally scientific approach.
A product discipline must be sacred and should never be violated. Begin by proving or disproving a hypothesis through intimate validation and iteration with customers/users. This allows you to provide a solution that solves a high-value problem customers/users care about in the simplest and most elegant way possible.
You also must get as comfortable with disproving a hypothesis. Disproving a hypothesis isn’t failure. It is either redirection to a new hypothesis, or validation to stop pursuing the current hypothesis. Both are valuable.
4. Take product management as seriously as any other discipline in the company.
Product management must be a peer discipline to all other disciplines. In fact, we would make the case that other disciplines should be service providers to product management. Product managers should immerse themselves in, and get trained on, the discipline if they are new to it or have some room to improve.
Being good at product management is critical to your success in satisfying and adding value for customers. The time to start taking product management seriously, and getting good at it, is now.