Practitioner’s Guide to Product Strategy

Building products that help customers achieve the outcomes that they desire over the long term is hard. Jeff Bezos has a great quote on basing your strategy on things that do not change. This quote captures the essence of strategy and long term planning.

Here are few elements that product teams should consider while building products:

Product_Strategy - Pandith Jantakahalli

What to build? is determined by three critical elements — outcomes that customers want to achieve, other alternatives that help customers achieve the same outcome, and your point of view.

Customer outcomes: It is best to define customer outcomes using a vocabulary that a customer would use. While it is typical to place emphasis on functional outcomes, it is crucial to identify emotional, and social outcomes. Functional outcomes can be defined by understanding the customer’s context, situation and constraints. Emotional and social outcomes can be defined by understanding motivations, where and how much energy the customer is expending to achieve the desired outcomes today, and “skill” level of the customer. Ask what will make the customer successful, before asking what will make your business successful. (Note: It is important to ask the latter question as well)

Alternatives for achieving the same outcome: In order to understand what to focus on while building your product, it helps to understand how the customer is achieving the outcome today. Pay attention to what they are dissatisfied with, and if the dissatisfaction is on an important attribute. You may observe that the customer is using multiple products to achieve the desired outcome, or that the alternative is not in the same “product category”.

Point of view: is crucial to the success of your product as it determines the scope of your product and your approach to helping the customer reach an outcome. For example, you may decide that project management is all about enabling better communication among all stakeholders. Thus focusing your efforts on enabling frequent and timely communication, rather than including support for Gantt charts.

It is useful to define every interaction with your product as “the product”. User guides, support interactions, blog posts, interaction on community forums constitute the product. Prioritizing each of these interactions for focus and attention will immensely impact success of your product.

Building what you decide: is especially hard with a steady stream of distractions that are typical in any business. A really “big” customer will sign-up if we build this feature now, lets build this really small/cool feature — it will take only a few hours. Product principles and sequencing decisions help rein in these distractions.

Product principles: While goals and metrics help communicate what to focus on and measure progress, they are weak in communicating what actions need to be taken at an operational level. This is where product principles are helpful. They help with alignment and cohesion of activities across different stakeholders by providing guidelines for action. Product principles must be anchored around customer outcomes and your point of view. Good principles includes how the user should feel before/while/after using the product. They enable faster decision making while ensuring alignment. Instagram has very clear principles — make every picture beautiful, make it super fast to upload a photo, and make it super easy to share photo across different platforms.

Sequencing: When to build a functionality/feature is as important as what to build, as it critically impacts the pace at which business outcomes are achieved. Good sequencing decisions take into account —limiters/enablers, impact, effort required, and any compounding benefits. Evaluating trade-offs in sequencing decisions is crucial — what is the impact of doing multiple small features vs. one large feature, should we focus on projects that drive more traffic when activation rates are low?

While customer acquisition is usually considered to be part of market strategy, I’m including this to highlight how product strategy informs customer acquisition and how feedback from customer acquisition informs product strategy.

Acquiring customers is greatly dependent on positioning, power of emotion in the customer’s decision making process, and your company’s strategy in tackling objections against using/buying your product.

Positioning: Position based on your point of view, and attributes that are important to customer (but poorly served by alternatives) for maximum impact. Good positioning evokes strong emotions and motivates the customer to take action. Positioning greatly impact pricing of your product. iPad’s positioning and anchoring around netbooks is a great example of effective positioning.

Power of emotion in decision making: A rational approach (based on utility and logic) to selling your product has a limited appeal among prospective customers. People find it extremely difficult to take action in the absence of emotion. Tapping into the motivations and true emotions of the customer are crucial for acquiring new customers.

Tackling objections: Customers do not just buy your product, but they switch to it from an alternative. Hence, it is important to make this switch as easy and painless as possible. For example, if you are building a ticketing system, make it is easy to import tickets from their current system. Leverage existing behaviors instead of asking prospective customers to create new ones. For example, Google Sheets retained formulas on Microsoft Excel and focused on improving the collaboration features. It is also important to focus on eliminating/reducing negative emotions like anxiety. Free 30-day trial, no questions asked returns policy can help reduce such emotions.

Measuring if customer outcomes are being delivered: Feature usage is a key indicator in determining if customer outcomes are being met. Feature usage consists of two important parts — reach (how many users are using a feature) and frequency (how often a feature is being used by a user).

It is important to establish baseline metrics for reach and frequency (for each feature), and run projects to improve these metrics on a continuous basis. If a feature does meet the expected metric or is not being adopted, the 5-whys technique is helpful for understanding the reasons and taking corrective action.

Reach/Adoption: Feature adoption can be improved by measures like building awareness, educating users on how it can help them, and suggesting the feature at an appropriate time. If feature adoption continues to remain low and is not helping customers achieve the outcomes that they desire, it is best to kill the feature. Killing features, simplifies the product and provides a great deal of flexibility in making decisions in the future.

Frequency: Frequency of feature usage can be increased either by resolving issues that prevent usage or by extending/modifying the scope of the feature. Nir Eyal’s hook canvas is a great framework for improving frequency of feature usage.

Staying relevant: A product can stay relevant by helping users become successful at what they are trying to accomplish and tracking any changes to customer outcomes and important attributes over time.

Badass users: Enable users to become experts at what they are trying to accomplish by growing their skills, and providing the necessary motivation. Design your product so that cognitive resources of the user is expended on what they are trying to accomplish, and not in using your product.

Tracking changes to important attributes and customer outcomes: As time passes it becomes increasingly important to track any changes to customer outcomes, and any changes to attributes that are important to the customer (It is possible that entirely new attributes become important to the customer). As building these enhancements are crucial, it is important to say no to items like “short term wins” (or distractions), establishing parity with a competitor’s feature set.

Summary: Product strategy should be guided by the goal of helping users become successful by achieving the outcomes that they desire, and focusing on important attributes that do not change.

Books I Read in 2014

Towards the end of 2013 I felt that my reading was getting crowded out by other activities and distractions. After a quick count I confirmed that I had read only six books in 2013. I resolved to change this in 2014, and set myself a goal of reading 24 books in 2014. It would have been better had I set a “process” goal like 30 pages every weekday, and 60 pages on weekends. But that is for another post.

Here is what I learnt from reading 25 books in 2014.

1. “Choose yourself” by James Altucher

  • Focus on your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health and everything else will follow
  • Invest in yourself
  • Read two hours a day; write 10 ideas a day
  • Prompt for reading this book: Read a few posts by James Altucher on Quora

2. “Start with why” by Simon Sinek

  • Beliefs govern action
  • Actions are taken in the hope of achieving a “feeling”
  • You can inspire people by sharing your beliefs
  • Prompt for reading this book: Had been on my reading list of a long time

3. “Hooked” by Nir Eyal

  • Consumers irrationally overvalue the old. Hence, new products should be 10x better. Products that require high degree of behavior change are doomed to fail
  • Foggs’s “core motivators” for action
      We are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain
      We seek hope and avoid fear
      We seek social acceptance and avoid rejection
  • Get your product to become tightly coupled with a thought, an emotion, or a pre-existing routine (With great power comes great responsibility, so use this knowledge to create “badass” users)
  • Prompt for reading this book: I have subscribed to feeds from Nir Eyal’s blog. Hence, got this book for free. Thanks Nir, grateful.

4. “Drive: The surprising truth of what motivates people”  by Daniel Pink

  • Innate psychological needs: Competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When these needs are meet we are satisfied, motivated, productive, and happy
  • Praise effort and strategy (rather than achieving a particular outcome)
  • Was I better today than yesterday?
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Kathy Sierra in one of her talks

5. “Predictably irrational” by Dan Ariely

  • Humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We focus on the relative advantage of one over the other
  • We do not know what we want unless we see it in context
  • Question repeated behaviors. Pay particular attention to the first decision in what is going to be a long stream of decisions
  • Prompt for reading this book: Had been on my reading list of a long time


6. “Crucial conversations” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

  • Ability to engage in crucial conversations, early and often enough is the key to overcoming problems
  • People get defensive when they no longer feel safe. Silence and violence are signs that people are feeling unsafe. When people are angry they are feeling a mix of embarrassment and surprise. When people are upset they are feeling humiliated and cheated
  • Only you are responsible for your emotions. You can act on them or be acted on by them
  • Just after we observe what other do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story. We observe, we tell a story, and then we feel
  • Prompt for reading this book: Discovered this book on Amazon

7. “Spy the lie: How to spot deception the CIA way” by Philip Houston

  • When people lie to you successfully it’s often because they say things that manage your perceptions of them as it relates to an issue at hand
  • Catch-all question: “What haven’t I asked you that you think I should know about?”
  • Prompt for reading this book: Amazon recommendation

8. “The master switch: The rise and fall of information empires” by Tim Wu

  • Cost of entry of getting into business is what determines whether an industry is open or closed
  • The inventor gets the experience and the capitalist gets the invention
  • Guessing right about the next step and attracting capital to their guess, could be one of the approaches to opening a closed industry
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Jason Evanish

9. “Do the work” by Steven Pressfield

  • Research can become resistance. We want to work, not prepare to work
  • The last thing we want is to remain as we are
  • Do not think. Act. We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted
  • Act, reflect. Act, reflect
  • Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Seth Godin

10. “Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential” by Carol Dweck

  • Don’t waste your time proving over and over how great you are, instead get better
  • Your passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it when things are not going well is the hallmark of the growth mindset
  • Failure is an action (I failed) not an identify (I am a failure)
  • Prompt for reading this book: Read an answer on Quora that referred to this book

11. “Mastery” by Robert Greene

  • The greatest obstacle to pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with resistance and manipulations of those around you
  • Life’s task is to express your uniqueness through your work
  • Masters have a strong inner guiding system and a high level of self-awareness
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Kathy Sierra in one of her talks

12. “The success equation: Untangling skill and luck in business, sports, and investing” by Michael  J Mauboussin

  • A quick and easy way to test whether an activity involves skill is to ask whether you can lose on purpose
  • One of the signatures of expertise is an ability to make accurate predictions
  • In activities strongly influenced by skill, feedback is generally clear
  • Keep a journal that tracks your decisions
  • Read-do checklists are useful to prescribe correct actions under stressful conditions when it is easy to forget things and make mistakes
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Tomas Tunguz


13. “Made to stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck” by Dan Heath, and Chip Heath

  • The way to get people to care is to be provide context
  • A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for expertise
  • People remember things better because they evoke more emotion, not because they are more frequent
  • Your stories have a better chance of sticking by tapping into emotion, or by stressing a single point rather than ten
  • Prompt for reading this book: Had been on my reading list of a long time

14. “The startup of you: Adapt to the future, invest in yourself, and transform your career” by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

  • You are responsible for training and investing in yourself
  • If you are not receiving or making at least one introduction a month, you are not fully engaging your extended professional network
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by my sister


15. “The talent code: Greatness isn’t born, it is grown” by Daniel Coyle

  • Skill is a cellular insulation that warps neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals
  • Most world class experts practice between three and five hours. What they are really practicing is concentration
  • Skills develop quickly when we combine long term commitment with high levels of practice. Also, a vision of our ideal future selves helps energize and accelerate our progress towards developing a skill quickly
  • Good way to motivate yourself: I want X later, so I better do Y like crazy right now
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Kathy Sierra in one of her talks

16. “The power of habit: Why we do what we do and how to change” by Charles Duhigg

  • Cravings are what drive habits
  • Belief is what makes a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior
  • Individuals have habits; groups have routines
  • Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change
  • Prompt for reading this book: Had been on my reading list of a long time

17. “The inner game of tennis: The classic guide to the mental side of peak performance” by Timothy Gallwey

  • Focus of attention in the present moment is at the heart of doing anything well
  • Focus, trust, choice, nonjudgmental awareness are tools gain access to Self2, and subdue Self1 that is capable of producing fears, doubts, and delusions
  • Obstacles are a very necessary ingredient to the process of self-discovery (discover and extend one’s true potential)
  • When we are in control it is impossible to feel anxiety about an event. The only thing we can control is our effort, hence give your maximum effort  to overcome anxiety (and do not get emotionally attached to results which we cannot control)
  • It’s not that I don’t know what to do, it’s that I don’t do what I know
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Kathy Sierra in one of her talks

18. “Man’s search for meaning” by Viktor Frankl

  • Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way
  • Emotion, which is a suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it
  • Life: Taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual
  • Logotherapy: Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather see a meaning in his life
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Olivia Fox Cabane

19. “The four hour work week” by Tim Ferriss

  • The timing is never right
  • Someday is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you
  • There is no happiness without action. Opposite of happiness is boredom. Excitement is a more practical synonym for happiness
  • Conquering fear = defining fear
  • Prioritization: If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied?
  • Prompt for reading this book: Had been on my reading list of a long time

20. “The art of learning: A journey in the pursuit of excellence” by Josh Waitzkin

  • Hacks for staying in the present: Two or three deep breaths, splash cold water, sprint fifty yards
  • Muscles and minds need to stretch to grow, but if stretched too thin, they will snap
  • We have to be able to do something slowly before we can have any hope of doing it correctly with speed
  • Prompt for reading this book: Listened to his podcast with Tim Ferriss

21. “Charisma myth” by Olivia Fox Cabane

  • Core elements of charisma: presence, power, and warmth
  • Key to listening is presence
  • While our words speak to a person’s logical mind, our nonverbal communication speaks to a person’s emotional mind
  • Primary obstacle to charisma: internal discomfort
  • Prompt for reading this book: Listened to an interview with Olivia Fox Cabane


22. “Re-awaken the giant within you” by Anthony Robbins

  • Virtually everything we do is to change the way we feel
  • If we want to direct our lives, then, we must take conscious control over our beliefs.
  • All our actions are the results of our beliefs. Beliefs provides us with a sense of certainty about something. Certainty is required for action
  • Your destiny is dependent on the following decisions – what to focus on, what things mean to you, what to do to create the results you desire
  • Our greatest drive to achieve comes from our compulsion to avoid pain (far more than our desire to gain pleasure)
  • Your body language is a tool to change your state
  • Focus on where you want to go, not what you fear
  • Structure your life in a way where your happiness is not dependent upon something you cannot control
  • Prompt for reading this book: Visited the Tony Robbins website and got this book for free. Thanks Tony, grateful


23. “The obstacle is the way” by Ryan Holiday

  • Most of our obstacles are internal not external. To overcome obstacles you need perception, action, and the will. See clearly, act correctly, and endure and accept the world as it is
  • Don’t ignore your fear, explain it away
  • Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness are functions of our perceptions. We choose to give in to such feelings
    Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective
  • Our capacity to try, try, try is inextricably linked with our ability and tolerance to fail, fail, fail
    To whatever we face, our job is to respond with hard work, honesty, and helping others as best we can
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Tim Ferriss

24. “Money the game” by Anthony Robbins

  • The fees that mutual funds charge greatly impact your returns and time taken to reach your goals. Always better to invest in index funds – diversified portfolio, greater returns, lower costs (than actively managed funds) – especially over long periods (> 10 years)
  • Balance asset allocation based on risk profile of each asset (not on value). Stocks are three times riskier than bonds. Ensure you protect your capital at all times. Performance on an asset is dependent on “surprise”. “Popular” expectations determine “surprise”
  • Giving is living
  • The only way to become wealthy and stay wealthy is to find a way to do more for others than anyone else is doing, in an area that people really value
  • Prompt for reading this book: Listened to his podcast with Tim Ferriss

25. “Daily rituals” by Mason Curry

  • Despite a great variety in the habits (including excesses), some common themes that show up – they did not wait for inspiration, “showed up” every day, balance between various activities, exercise (usually walking), and taking regular breaks while working
  • Prompt for reading this book: Recommended by Tim Ferriss

Thanks to Jason Evanish for sharing his reading list on his blog. I was inspired by his list. Thanks Jason.

P. S. If you found this post useful, check out Hacks for Reading

Hacks for Reading

In order to read books at a steady rate you need to manage your efforts in the following areas: selecting a book to read, actually reading the book, and picking a couple of ideas/suggestions from the book and incorporating in to your life.

Making time: Since reading a book is a big commitment on your time, make sure you set aside some time everyday to read. Allocate a larger portion of time for reading on weekends and holidays. Where do you find the time? Stop watching TV (or reading the newspaper), listen to an audiobook on your commute (or read on your commute) or carve out short ten minute sessions between various activities of the day. I gave up on TV. Once you have decided on the amount of time you can spend on reading everyday, and when — write that down and add it to your calendar. You can always review and revise that later as you settle into a rhythm.

Getting started: Start small, really small. One sentence, one paragraph a day (or even holding a book everyday for a few seconds everyday). Do this till it builds into a habit.

Selecting a book to read: Maintain a list of books that you want to read. Add to this list by seeking recommendations from friends and people you admire (or follow their reading lists). I use’s Amazon’s wishlist to manage books that I want to read. I keep adding to this list from time to time.

Reducing friction (for reading ebooks): Get comfortable reading on different devices (tablets, smartphones, ereaders) — this will help you read when you suddenly find that you have time on your hands. Make sure you have your favorite reading app reading installed on all your devices. Buying an ebook is as frictionless as it can get. Occasionally you may find that a book is available only in print format. Make sure you download the book/s that you want to read/are reading to all your devices. Try different formatting options (font type, size, margins) to check what works best for you. Keep your preferred reading device so that that it is easily accessible and and in the same place — so that you don’t have to search for it when you want to read. I read before going to bed. Kindle is my favorite reading app (I recently got myself a Paperwhite)

Reading: Since you have done all the work associated with reading (like selecting, buying, downloading) you can focus the time you have set aside everyday — for reading. You do not have to finish every book that you begin to read, with time your selection will improve. If you do not find the book to be valuable enough or has too much fluff — move on to your next book. Spend time reflecting on what author has to say and make notes on how you can try out some ideas presented in the book.

Implement: Try at least one idea from the book, while or immediately after reading the book. Sometimes you may want to follow a thread/idea introduced in the book by reading articles or other books in that area or topic. Review your notes and highlights from your reading a couple of months later.

Do you have any interesting hacks for reading?

Related post: Books I Read in 2014

Quote

Wisdom

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.” Lao Tzu

How to “Know” What Your Customers Really Want?

Focus on understanding the situation that the customer wants to resolve, not the customer

Product managers are constantly told that they must “know” or understand what customers really “want” or “need”. Did they tell you how? Did they say — understand what problems customers are trying to overcome? Should you focus on understanding the problem, the customer or both?

You will be better served if they told you to truly understand what jobs customers are trying to get done.

A “job” is a fundamental problem a customer needs to resolve in a given situation.

Focus on understanding the situation not the customer. Customers find themselves in a situation, with constraints and emotions. This situation forces a customer to take a decision to hire a product to get a job done. This helps a product manager understand what causes a customer to hire a product and why. Understand their constraints while they are in that situation (like time, capability to handle complexity) and the emotions they feel as they encounter a situation (like fear, anxiety, anger, frustration). Understanding the constraints helps in shaping the solution, understanding the emotions helps in pitching the product.

Customers rarely hire a product as soon as they find themselves in a specific situation. Repeated exposure to a specific situation causes the customer to take various steps to resolve the situation. Only if the steps taken fail to resolve the situation to their satisfaction, do they decide to hire a product (or seek a new solution). Understand the various steps taken and how their situation has changed over time. What outcomes were they dissatisfied with? This helps a product manager to understand key attributes or dimensions that are important to the customer. Each attribute or dimension is a potential differentiator. Understanding these attributes helps in differentiating and positioning the product. Which dimensions are important to the customer, but poorly served by other alternatives and competition? Understanding expected outcomes helps in creating delightful experiences. How can we provide outcomes that exceed the user’s expectation?

As the situation changes, the customer experiences various “pull” and “push” forces before they hire a new product. The pull forces are various hurdles that they have to overcome — an existing habit, will the solution work for my situation, will the change make things worse? The push forces are things that lead the customer to make a decision — the current solution sucks, that product seems interesting. Understanding these forces helps in designing systems around the product. A great product takes a systems approach to resolving a situation, the “product” is just one part of it.

What are the other benefits of this approach or methodology?

Helps you focus on alternatives available to get the same job done, hence pricing risk (under pricing or over pricing) is lower. You may realize that folks, who occasionally want to work on a document across devices, may hire email to do the job for them, not your file sharing application. Customers do not think in terms of product categories while seeking a solution. You may realize that a customer uses multiple products to get a single job done

Helps you understand the key trigger points in the decision making process (or key triggers in making the “switch” from an existing solution to your solution). You may discover that folks who use email for sharing documents across devices, begin to seek out a better solution on forgetting to email the document after working on it. It helps you understand what actions a customer takes as the situation changes, like research which product to hire, seek feedback on a particular product, or actually decide on which product to hire.

Helps you keep the product simple, road map is more aligned with what customers want. You can stop adding features because the competition does. Why move to a higher pixel resolution if customers are not printing photos taken on your cameras? Trade-offs decisions are easier. You may also discover other product categories you could compete in.

Helps you market the product better. Take a look at the Amazon Dash video. Notice the number of “personas” in the video?

Summary: Using “jobs” as the unit of analysis for all product decisions will lead to building of better products and delighted customers.

If you are interested in the methodology, you can go over the excellent research and content developed by Clayton Christensen (milkshake video) and the Re-Wired Group. The Re-Wired group has a course on Udemy on Mastering Jobs-to-be-Done Interviews to help understand the real reasons why customers buy a product.

Thanks to Bob Moesta, Ravi Padaki, and Tanmay Jyot for reviewing this post and suggesting edits.

Role of a Product Manager

Ensure that the right things gets done in the right sequence

A product manager helps a company to achieve its goals by helping customers get their jobs done in an unique and delightful way, and getting customers to pay in some form (money, attention, information).

Let me elaborate on the key responsibilities encapsulated in the above definition.

Getting jobs done: A parent purchases your app to keep her six year old daughter entertained over a three hour train ride. The parent did not purchase the app because it uses the latest technology or she liked how your app is designed/looks. A product manager must understand what “jobs” or outcomes a prospective customer is trying to accomplish. This can also be seen from the lens of solving problems. But I prefer the “jobs approach” as it provides a richer understanding of the context in which a product/feature will be used, why someone is using it, what outcomes they are hoping to achieve, and what they need to stop using to begin using your product. A product manager must ensure that the team builds something compelling enough for customers to switch away from an existing solution that they are currently using. This framework is especially helpful in understanding your real competitors or alternatives that the prospective customer has to get a job done.

Lens of solving problems -“real problems”: A product manager must ensure she focuses the team’s effort on solving real problems that will help the company achieve its goals. “Problems” that are ignored are usually not worth working on. The pain killer vs vitamin framework is a useful for assessing the intensity of the pain/problem. Des Traynor’s perspective on “Making things people want”

  • Making things people want involves understanding a long standing human or business need and then using technology to:
  • take out steps
  • make it possible for more people
  • make it possible in more situations

Flawless execution cannot save a company/product/feature that chooses to focus on jobs/problems that nobody cares about.

Unique: Prospective customers will have an array of options to get their jobs done. The product manager must pick a customer segment and a dimension (like Amazon’s delivery of ordered items within 30 minutes) that is aligned with the most important outcomes/jobs that the customer wishes to accomplish. This decision is critical in ensuring prospective customers consider your product when they want to hire a product in a specific situation.

Trying to be everything for everyone or “unique” for the sake of uniqueness is usually a recipe for disaster. Choosing a dimension that is important the customer and has very little competition helps build a defensible business.

Delightful: While thorough and thoughtful attention to detail helps, Kathy Sierra’s talk on Minimum Badass User provides sage advice. Focus on improving the user’s life and/or skills. What “badass” powers does the user get by using your product?

“People don’t use your app because they like the app or they like you, they are using it because they like themselves, and they tell their friends because they like their friends!” – Kathy Sierra

Establishing reference customers is critical for scaling any business, and you will have reference-able customers only if you have delighted them while getting their jobs done, using your product.

Pay: In a business context, the product must generate enough revenues to grow and sustain the business over the long term. The product manager must be adept at picking a business model that captures enough value for the business to thrive and remain viable.

Another critical responsibility of a product manager is validating that the solution (product) that is built is actually helping the customer get their jobs done and delighting them in the process. Some product management frameworks mandate that the product manager must focus only the “problem space”. I strongly disagree with this specific recommendation. Validation of the solution/product that has been built is as important as specifying what to build. I am not advocating the product manager specifies how to build. Does that mean the product manager does not validate other critical decisions like validating intensity of a problem? No. I am specifically calling out this aspect as a product manager plays a crucial role in deciding whether to ship a product/feature based on this validation.

Summary: Prioritizing which jobs/problems to work on, which customer segments to target, which dimensions to compete and excel on, how to access customers, how to capture value, determining what will delight users, how to scale the business, and validating what is built are key responsibilities of a product manager.

Two other perspectives on the role of product management that I like are one by Marty Cagan

Discovering a product/feature that is valuable, usable, and feasible

and the other by Satya Patel

“Product management isn’t a role or a function, it’s a set of skills. Those skills help remove obstacles and grease the wheels so that the functional experts can do their jobs best. Product management also balances the needs of users, the business and the team and makes the difficult tradeoffs needed to keep pressing ahead. In that way, Product Managers are very similar to CEOs. Very few would argue that a company doesn’t need a CEO. Product managers are simply CEOs of their products. No organization should be without someone who has ‘product management skills’ and works to make everyone else’s lives easier.”

Note: Every interaction that a prospective customer or customer has with a company is viewed as the “product”. It is not just the physical product or the service that is provided. Examples: looking for information about the product on the website, reading the user manual to understand different options/modes supported by a specific feature, response to an email query that was sent to the support address.