Product management can be an intimidating role to take on. Whether you’re taking over from a previous product manager or leading a team from the beginning, it’s a hard task to balance customer satisfaction, team needs, and stakeholder expectations — all while creating an awesome product!
Let’s start by taking a look at a couple of questions about product management before jumping into five tips for how product managers can start out strong.
Product manager Q&A
What is a product manager?
In his book, Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, Marty Cagan describes a product manager as someone whose responsibility is “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible.”
A good product manager needs to have a deep understanding of business goals, technology, and user experience. They oversee the entire product lifecycle from ideation to launch. Product managers meet customer needs, manage teams and stakeholders, and carry responsibility for the product.
What is the difference between a product manager, project manager, and product owner?
While these three roles are often grouped together, each has their own set of unique responsibilities that revolve around launching a successful product. However, it’s not uncommon to find a single person wearing multiple hats, especially when working for a small startup.
A project manager is responsible for product development. That means they focus on the logistics of the project — coordinating the work, estimating timeline and budget, and delegating roles to the team members they oversee.
While the project manager focuses on development, the product owner focuses on the customer. The product owner is one of the three roles in Scrum methodology. Their main objective is to understand the customer and represent them to the development team. They’re responsible for refining the product backlog, advising product planning to ensure customer satisfaction, and strategizing how to create better products for the customers.
Finally, the product manager handles all stages of the product lifecycle. They are involved in ideation, they work with the engineering team, development team, product team, all the way through market research and sales. Product managers cast vision and create product roadmaps.
What are KPIs for product managers?
There are many possible KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) by which to measure the “success” of a product and the product manager.
Here are some of the most common KPIs for product managers:
- Bounce rate: The percentage of visitors to a site who leave rather than continuing on to other pages
- Retention rate: The percentage of customers a business retains over a period of time
- Customer Satisfaction Score (CSS): The percentage of customers who said they were happy with their experience interacting with your product or web presence
- Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) or Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR): Revenue coming into your business from monthly or annual subscriptions
- Session duration: The average amount of time users spend on your website
- Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV or LTV): How much revenue a company has gained from a given customer over the entire course of their relationship with the company
As you can see, many of these are based on user experience. Customer satisfaction is the easiest way to measure success, and it’s ultimately what helps stakeholders decide if they should continue investing and developing a product further.
5 tips for new product managers
Remember that as a product manager, your work lies in supervising and guiding the process from start to finish.
Here are five tips for how to get some quick wins as a new product manager.
1. Create a product roadmap
During onboarding, become familiar with the management team’s current vision. This will help you hit the ground running.
When you understand what stakeholders, customers, and team members want, you will better be able to balance product strategy prioritization, which can be especially important in the early stages of taking on a product management role. At this stage, you’re working to gain the trust of everyone involved.
If there isn’t already a plan in place for the product, focus on this as your first step. This will be the overarching “big picture” that you’re working on. Make sure everyone is on the same page about the direction you’re heading in so you can set smart goals every step of the way. (Read: Why your project roadmap isn’t just another project plan)
2. Ask, listen, take action
Ask the teams involved what their top five to ten pain points are. Once you get their input, notice where there’s overlap — what are the shared pain points of the various teams you’re overseeing?
Divide the tasks based on this list by whether they can and should be accomplished within 30, 60, or 90 days. Tackle a few of the shorter high-priority items to help build your own confidence and team morale.
This will show your teams that their experiences are valued, while also moving the product forward in a way that will make stakeholders happy — a win-win in your role as a product manager!
3. Know your customer
Get to know who your customers are and what they’re looking for! Whether you’re a new product manager working on a product that’s already launched or still in ideation, understand who you’re serving.
You can do this by talking with your customer service team — they’ll have a deep understanding of who is using the product and what their pain points are.
You can also survey your customers or invite a small group to participate in an exclusive look before launching new features or integrations with other products.
4. Set OKRs with your team
OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) help teams have concrete goals they are working on during a set amount of time.
Try using the formula, “As a team, we’re going to (objective) by (key results)”
For a marketing team, examples of this could be:
- As a team, we’re going to create a product marketing strategy (objective) by analyzing the market and choosing a pricing strategy (key results)
- As a team, we’re going to increase conversion rates by strengthening our CTA (Call to Action), highlighting new product features, and showcasing why we have the best product on the market.
- As a team, we’re going to improve customer satisfaction by increasing the NPS (Net Promoter Score) and interviewing 20 churned customers,
Depending on the size of your team, either consult the team leaders when setting goals or bring the whole team into the brainstorming session. This will help everyone feel a sense of ownership over the OKRs, and you can get insight that you may not know about their specialty.
OKRs should measure relatively short-term progress — try setting new OKRs at least once a quarter. Setting goals like these can help you measure growth within the larger project which is both encouraging to team members and helps stakeholders see your progress.
5. Prioritize team happiness
Let your teams know that you recognize and value their work. At the end of the day, a product manager’s role is to work with a team to create a product that will benefit people — when that team trusts your leadership you’ll have an easier time creating a great product with them.
One study found that happy workers are 13% more productive than unhappy ones. Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve reported, “We found that when workers are happier, they work faster by making more calls per hour worked and, importantly, convert more calls to sales.”
Sadly, 55% of workers feel that their opinion does not matter to their boss. Work to be in that 45% of bosses whose team members feel valued and heard!
Here are some ways you can do that:
- If you work at a small startup, learn the names of every person you work with.
- Let team members know that you want to hear their feedback. When you implement suggestions from team members, publicly credit and thank them for sharing their ideas with you.
- Ask for input from team leaders when setting goals and timelines — you may not know everything they have to do in order to accomplish a specific goal, and allowing them to have a say in the process can help them feel valued.
- Meet with team members and ask them if they have ideas for improving the product — as the people who understand the product the best, they may have user feedback and ideas for new features that can be as valuable as customer feedback.
- Celebrate milestones! As a product manager, it can be easy to get overly focused on the big picture — product vision, meeting deadlines, metrics, and customer satisfaction. It can be easy to overlook the parts and pieces within that. Celebrate the milestones of your teams within the bigger picture.
Find ways to help your team members feel valued. Overall, this will improve your team member’s happiness and productivity.
Final advice for product managers
As a product manager, you have the opportunity to see the entire product lifecycle. The best product managers have vision, stay curious, and are adaptable. Be willing to learn from your team members and take into account the needs of your customers.