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Product Management

Product Management in an Agile World

Asli Aladag

Product Owner @ MOIA

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1 Article
Asli is an experienced Product Manager, currently in e-mobility industry with a demonstrated history of working in start-ups. She has strong community and professional skilled in Product Management, Agile, Scrum and Kanban, with engineering (BSc) and management (MSc) background. Hatha Yoga Instructor

Product management is becoming more relevant than ever.

Unlike the roles of product design, software engineer, or sales, product management is a very recent role.

For that reason, it's still in the role definition phase and the tasks vary from organization to organization.

In recent years, there have been multiple definitions of product management.

In this article, I will try to explain what product management in the agile product development world is and the role of product managers. I will focus mainly on the role around digital products and will use the pronoun she for referring to a product manager for convenience reasons.

Definition of product management by the book is the process of developing, distributing, and maintaining a product. In the agile development world, a product manager is a person who is responsible for the success of a product end to end.

She is one of the most vital parts of the development team and company. She owns the core strategy for the product and aligns the team working on the product to execute the work to this common goal.

Product management is about juggling ideas and priorities.

What is product management?

A product manager is the intersection point between business, user experience, and technology.

This means a product manager puts the user into the center while keeping the business goal of the company in focus and uses the best technology provided by her software developers.

She is the center for communication and a translator between different stakeholders.

This means she should be able to transfer the business knowledge to the development team and be able to grasp the technology behind the product and translate it to the business side. She understands the business goals of the organization and sets the strategy for her product.

The product manager understands the users clearly by being in touch with them continuously and transfers all the business requirements to the development team to execute the work and release the product.

She then creates the feedback loop to understand how to improve the product by working on further iterations or decides to pivot the product if she finds out from user feedback and market conditions that the current product will not bring value to the user.

A product manager, different than a project manager, is responsible from ideation till release and for the whole iteration phase. As long as the product exists, the product manager works on the backlog and tries to bring more value.

She owns the product fully and always searches for ways to maximize the value of the product.

In Scrum, product management is about "value maximization", which summarizes the whole role in the most suitable way.

What do product managers do?

Product management roles vary depending on the size and maturity of the organization.

In smaller organizations, where the roles are not clear cut, product managers create the vision, define the roadmap, and align all the stakeholders while doing much of the hands-on work with the development team.

This includes writing user stories, testing the product, and even sometimes acting as a scrum master by leading the team rituals to ensure the best teamwork to bring value to the user.

In bigger and more established organizations, the product manager spends more time aligning the stakeholders, carrying out the communication between different layers.

She works in a well-established team with specific roles, like design, user researches, business analyst, and quality assurance, which means she is supported by experts in carrying out these tasks, but she deals with more overhead about aligning all of these different parties around an established strategy by the organization.

All product managers will, independent of the organization size and maturity will be executing these tasks:

  • understanding the user and their needs to have the right understand of product requirements

  • defining the product strategy to align the whole team around it

  • creating the product roadmap by executing the right prioritization techniques

  • aligning stakeholders and creating an effective communication channel while understanding the different needs

  • be the translator between business and technology teams, helping both sides to understand the product needs and requirements

What traits do I need to become a successful product manager?

There is no golden rule to be a good product manager; however, Deep Nishar summarizes the role perfectly.

“A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.”

– Deep Nishar

Product management can be stressful

A product manager juggles multiple tasks, for that reason, it will always be a struggle to find the right balance.

Since there is no university degree or formal education to be a product manager, it takes time and effort to be a successful product manager

From my perspective product management is about having the courage to make mistakes and to learn from them quickly to carry out a lifelong improvement. 

However, from my observation good product managers share some common traits, and below you can them which will help you to succeed in this learning path.

Don't worry if that looks already overwhelming! As said, one of the most essential parts of product management is to get feedback and improve.

For that reason growth mindset is already the first step to becoming a successful product manager. In addition to the points below, you can find tips about important product management skills here.

Good communication skills is basic in product management

A day of a product manager is filled with chats, Slack messages, e-mails, and calls with various stakeholders.

Let it be your CPO, your UX designer, or your engineer, you need to have the right communication skills.

You should have the ability to understand how to best communicate with all these people with different backgrounds. Even though this might be challenging many times, you learn to adapt your language in terms to bring a common understanding.

With that, all of these stakeholders get aligned towards a common goal.

Ability to prioritize

Product management means prioritization. As a product manager, you need to understand how to maximize the value of your product well.

This means you need to sort out the things that are worth putting effort into, to bring the expected value.

To improve your prioritization skills, you need to learn how to read the data and understand from the business perspective what brings value to the product.

You need to understand the market and your competitors well to make a unique product that users love. In addition, you need to always observe and recognize the opportunities that might arise from various trend changes.

If you feel stuck about having too many ideas on hand which bring value, make sure to use prioritization frameworks like KANO, Story Mapping, MoSCow, or RICE to have an objective perspective.

Make sure that it's not your ego and your "brilliant" idea that you came up with that makes it to the top of the backlog.

Your ideas should be backed by user research and data. By this objective approach, you will not just make the right decisions, but also gain respect from your colleagues.

If you're still stuck after user research and data analysis don't worry. We've all been there. If that's the case, partner up with someone in your organization. It can be your business analyst, another product manager, head of product, or even the technical designer to get different perspectives.

Remember, the last decision on the priority is yours but the road towards the prioritized roadmap can be done as teamwork.

Ability to say no

A product development team will never run out of feature ideas, product requirements, and requests coming from multiple directions.

A good product manager knows how to say no to most of these.

She makes sure that her team works on the right problems and features to maximize the value of the product. She knows how to explain to the stakeholders the reasoning behind her decisions clearly with an objective perspective.

Make sure you listen to everyone for their ideas, requests, and requirement. 

However, also make sure that you do not accept all of these wishes to please your stakeholders.

By ensuring you give the right and objective reasons while saying no to them, you become reliable. You also get respected because everyone will understand over time that when you do say yes, you mean it, and your team will be able to deliver the expected outcome. 

This prevents overburning yourself and your team with too many topics. It takes a lot of training to say no for some product managers.

However, in the long run, you will notice that it will get easier to say that magic word. The trust you built over time will also make your stakeholders and team members respect and hence accept your decisions.

Influence your team without having the authority

As a product manager, you manage a product but not people. In your development team, no one will be reporting to you directly.

That means you do not have the power to fire or give bonuses to anyone in the development team.

This becomes tricky in so many ways. As a product manager, you will be the person deciding on priorities, and thus what the development team should work on next; however, you will not be able to do anything if your team members will not agree. For this reason, you will lead your team by having the right influence on them.

Influencing your team will come in different forms. To be able to influence your team is to build trust. Trust comes from openness, objectivity, and leaving your ego at the door.

Listen to each of your colleagues, be fair on every occasion and have empathy towards everyone.

Observe and understand the motives of your stakeholders to find the right communication. Have your clear product vision and share it with the team.

Additionally, check regularly with yourself if you, as a product manager, are sticking to the vision as well while prioritizing the topics.

Be a storyteller and base your decisions on data or objective perspectives. This will empower you to influence your team to work on the common goal, where it's the teamwork that counts and not individual decisions and egos.

Stress management

Product management is a stressful job. You will be doing trade-offs all the time. This means you will be upsetting your team, stakeholders, or even yourself constantly.

There will be missed deadlines, wrong decisions, and even angry team members.

Learn to have the perspective that it's not about you but the decisions, processes, and priorities of the product that upset others.

Don't take things personally and don't focus on failures. See every failure as a learning opportunity for improvement.

Make sure you focus on the outcomes and learnings, embrace conflicts while taking a deep breath from time to time.

You can find some tactics to handle the stress as a product manager in this article.

As I mentioned, product management cannot be fully learned by reading books and attending courses. For that reason just be curious, bold, and open, and every day you will be a better product manager.

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