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Product Manager Tools
What does a Product Manager do?

What does a Product Manager do?

It’s a question we’ve answered many times before, but this was presented to me a while ago and I thought it was a great way of simply describing our job. We sit at the interface of customers, technology and our company, and we try to deliver solutions that meet a real customer need whilst addressing both the goals of the business and tech capability. Put simply, we solve market needs while achieving business goals.

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Team Skills

Team Skills

We often talk about what the ideal product manager has in terms of skills. But on a more practical level, we need to make the most of the team we have - optimise their skills to meet the needs of our business. To help, we use our team planning tool and follow four steps:

1. Work out the priorities for your team – what do the team need to deliver over the next 12 months?

2. Define the skills needed to help deliver on the priorities – it will only be a subset of the full Product Management skillset

3. Build the skills curves. Work out how capable each team member is vs the skill. Build the PM and the team skills curve

4. Close any skills gaps with training, coaching or support.

It helps focus your training and coaching on what really matters

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Make the first ten words count!

Make the first ten words count!

Getting your message across

I’m working with a team on messaging this week. I’m struck by how complicated many product managers make their message – I often have to spend an hour trawling through brochures and slides to get any sense of their product and I’m told ‘it’s complicated’ . Think of this from a customer perspective – if your product doesn’t grab their attention immediately then they’ll move on – they’re busy people with a thousand other things to do. To fix this, think of a newspaper article – great content is wasted if there isn’t a compelling headline to draw you in or an image that captures your attention. When messaging to customers make those first ten words count!

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Launch your solution

Launch your solution

When do you start to launch your solution?

You are delivering a solution not just a product. A lot of companies make the mistake that they are purely building products and as soon as they are ready, then they can release. But the solution is larger than this, it is scaling your delivery and support teams are ready. This includes:

- Consultants prepared
- Marketing campaigns understood. Advocates ready to help with communication, organise your PR
- Sales enablement complete and sales teams trained
- Support Desk trained and the SLA’s (Service Level agreements) and OLA’s (Operational Level Agreements) are in place
- Product ready. Are you going to trial/pilot?
- Solution feedback mechanisms are in place
- All teams are trained and ready to answer customer queries about the solution, using the right value proposition

As soon as you have had the approval for the project to go ahead, and you have secured the budget for development, the next step is bringing together your stakeholder group from around the company. Build a checklist of all the activities and add owners from the stakeholder group. Have the stakeholders keep you updated with progress, you are not to deliver on their behalf!! The success of the solution will depend on the support of the business.

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solving small customer problems

solving small customer problems

How much of your customers day is consumed with activities that involve your product or service?

Imagine you build a successful product that help shopkeepers manage inventory. A typical train of thought for the Product Manager looking for growth is “Who else has an inventory problem that I can sell to”. This is completely valid, but you could also look for growth by answering a different question “What else keeps shopkeepers busy?”. The downside of this is pretty obvious – you’ll need new products to meet the new needs you identify. But before you discount it, think about the cost of taking your ‘off -the-shelf’ product to a new market – there’s likely to be development costs, plus building channels and reputation is an expensive business. It’s always tempting to look at customer wins as flags on a map when in reality what we’ve won is a small share of their spend by solving a small problem in their world – we’ve not planted a flag, we’ve secured a small piece of the pie.

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Staying ahead of our competitors

Staying ahead of our competitors

How can we as Product Managers use marginal gain to ensure we always stay ahead of our competitors ?

First gaining prominence with Sir Dave Brailsford, Performance Director for Team Sky, the UK’s professional cycling team, he pushed the team to search for the 1% in hundreds of tiny areas that were overlooked by their competitors: they looked at more obscure areas such as taking their favourite pillows on tour to get the best night’s sleep and teaching riders how to wash their hands to avoid illness and time off training. They were relentless in their pursuit of marginal gains and it paid off.

What can we learn from this? Lots of small gains that in isolation mean nothing can add up to remarkable aggregate improvements over time. Think of apple and blackberry handsets – a product that is marginally better across the piece translates into a hugely dominant market performance.

Marginal gains in your product can mean the difference between success and failure, because when product deals are won, it can be on the smallest of margins.

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NO quickly and cleanly

NO quickly and cleanly

Getting to ‘no’

Sales teams often talk about ‘getting to yes’, but for Product Managers I’d argue that getting to ‘no’ is just as important when managing new ideas. In fact, getting to ‘no’ quickly and cleanly is a really useful skill. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen products blown off course by deals being won that created more distraction than dollars – dev teams burning huge resource to try and fit what’s been sold into what’s already been built.

The key to rejection is to act quickly (wait too long and expectation builds) and logically (saying ‘no’ without rationale just won’t work).

My advice? ASAP spend 20 minutes with an innovation canvas and establish if that new idea really makes sense before support for it builds – a fast ‘no’ is so much more positive than a slow and reluctant ‘perhaps’.

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Product Management potential

Product Management potential

Question: How can you spot Product Management potential? You know the type of scenario – that person who’s doing a great job in support/presales/etc is looking for a move, has no Product Management background, but do they have potential? Here are the six attributes to look for:

Curiosity - Has a natural curiosity for the product and eager to dive into the details (technology, markets, regulation, customers, competitors, etc).

An influencer - Is an Influencing and inspiring individual who is through their charismatic attitude able to drive and lead progress whilst creating a positive working environment.

Dynamic – They are a proactive problem solver, with a can-do attitude and can take the team with them.

Organised - Is disciplined and organised. They have a structured approach and utilise process effectively to get the job done. They are structured in their way of managing information.

A thought leader - Is able to distil complex information down into an insightful and compelling narrative..

A skilled communicator - Needs to be clear, concise and credible in their communication, being able to deliver a message in a few words with complete clarity.

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Presentation OVERLOAD

Presentation OVERLOAD

Don’t overload you presentation

I recently sat through a presentation torture – a product manager with slides full of 10 point font! It was an hour of staring at the back of a the persons head as they read their own slides. I understand why this happens - nervousness. They think “I’ll never remember everything I need to say so I’ll write in it the deck as support”. But the problem when they present is that either the audience just read the slides or the presenter reads for them - both are pretty dull and completely unengaging.

Remember, slide decks are a presentation aid, they do not tell the full story and probably make little sense without the presenter. So use them as an aid – three or four big statements per slide that gives your presentation structure and direction.

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The right language

The right language

Talking the right language

Ever feel your message isn’t getting through to your customer? It could be that the message is wrong, but often it’s not the message, but the delivery – language that doesn’t resonate with your target market. Here’s a simple example; you want to encourage your children to exercise more. Which statement is more likely to work: ‘ Shall we go for a long ride on our bikes to improve our cardiovascular fitness’ or

‘Let’s see who can get muddiest on the canal path!

’’Simple rule of product management – when you talk to your customers, speak in a way that makes sense to them not in language that impresses your boss!

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