Product Management School Guide
What is Product Management?
Product Management is a functional department within Software companies. Product Management is responsible for the overall lifecycle management of a software product or product line.
Product management (PM) can be broken down into four basic stages:
- Context: Leaders must understand where their organizations have been and where they are going. They
should also have a thorough understanding of the impact organizational changes can have on PM.
- Clarify: For PM to thrive in any organization, leaders should provide central themes that address how PM
should fit within their organizations.
- Cultivate: Once a clear vision is in place, it is time to hire the right people and train them for success.
- Continuity: When the PM processes are in place, it is essential for leaders to ensure those processes form
embedded, long-lived structures in their organizations.
Product Management may be a functional discipline, rather than a separate department.
It is a business management discipline that dovetails well with the more customer-focused software engineering processes.
Product Management is a customer-centric method of managing a software product’s lifecycle. The primary focus of Product Management is to build products that customers actually want.
The responsibility assigned to Product Management usually includes:
- Overall direction and strategy for the software product/product line.
- The conception of ideas.
- Development of products.
- Introduction of the product to market.
- Management of the product whilst it is in the market.
- Achieving effective marketing & sales of the software.
This is an extensive responsibility that often impacts many business functions. Cross-functional cooperation is critical for achieving a strong Product Management function within a software company.
Definition – Product Manager
A Product Manager is a designated role within a company in the high-tech industry – such as a software company.
In companies that emphasize the role of Product Management, the Product Manager has overall responsibility for the success of the product. He or she is usually considered the Business Head for that particular product or product line.
What does a Product Manager do?
The Product Managers has overall responsibility for the product throughout the lifecycle of the product. It is the Product Manager’s responsibility to ensure that:
- The right product is developed;
- The product is marketed correctly; and
- The sales force is fully behind the product.
Once the product is the marketplace, Product Managers are responsible for:
- it’s performance;
- for interpreting market changes; and
- directing changes in product direction.
A Product Manager spends much time outside of the business assessing their product’s competition; market; and customers. Responsibility for the success of the product means that they have to have a keen grasp on the shifting marketplace so that they can adjust the product or marketing mix accordingly. Strong forecasting, financial planning and analysis skills are prerequisites to any Product Management role.
A Product Manager cannot be successful without a good team working with them. The Product Manager’s role can be often a very difficult one to accomplish successfully. They have to manage that balancing act of being respected by the majority of people in the organization whilst also being the customer’s new best friend. The reason that they need to accomplish this balance is that it is the only way that they can leverage the entire organization and mobilise them behind the product.
Why Software Companies Need Product Management
There are often considerable benefits to be gained by a software company with a strong Product Management function:
- Improved software quality by having the customer’s voice in mind during the entire process as well as the benefits of cross-functional teams working in concert.
- Reduced time to market by getting the software right the first time around.
- Cost savings by reduction of rework and integration of workflows.
- Enhanced flexibility which enables a software product line to adapt to market changes more quickly.
- Improved profitability. By being in touch with market changes, software products can be easily adapted and improved. New opportunities are much more readily identified.
Activities Within Product Management
As we’ve discovered from earlier articles, Product Management covers the entire lifecycle of a product. This is from concept to post launch.
There are a number of product lifestyle models. They are basically made up of the same components – the only difference between them is that the activities are distributed slightly differently.
There are many actives that have to take place in each part of the cycle. Let’s take a look at a generic version each of the phases and the activities that the Project Manager takes part in:
Product Management Cycle
Phase 1 – Inception Stage
This phase is the inception stage, it is sometimes known as the new product planning phase or is can be classed as two separate phases; discover and design.
Concept – when a new opportunity arises this stage is used to assess the idea. The idea could involve moving into new markets; diversifying the product range; product enhancements; or an entirely new product. An opportunity statement is normally generated for a viable idea so that it can be authorized to move onto the feasibility stage.
Feasibility – during this stage in-depth research and analysis is carried out to ensure that the concept aligns with business goals; that the market supports the concept; and that it would be technically possible to implement. Once all this data is gathered and analyzed an initial business case can be produced.
Definition – once the business case is given the go ahead the project can move into the detailed definition phase. This is possibly the most critical phase. This is where full market research is carried out; all operational processes are analyzed; resources are identified and quantified; the technical specification is put together and the product requirements are fully defined. This leads to the production of three important project documents; the business case; marketing plan; and the product requirements document and/or the SRS. These documents form the final approval documents for the product moving to development.
Phase 2 – Development and Launch
This phase is where the product is developed and launched. It is often known as the new product introduction phase or the realization phase. These two stages are often completed concurrently. If the development stage is relatively short then it is vital that the marketing and sales efforts are ready to launch immediately.
Development – this stage is where the development; engineering; manufacturing; assembly and testing take place. User manuals, training materials and other documentation are also generated at this stage.
Launch – the preparation for launching the product involves; deciding upon the marketing mix; building the marketing plan; training the sales force; implementing the marketing plan and rolling out the product. Monitoring of the marketing and sales also starts during this stage.
Phase 3 – Post Launch
This is the phase that takes place after the product has been rolled out. Product Management here is all about:
- supporting the product;
- changing the marketing mix as required;
- monitoring the marketplace; optimizing the product; and
- eventually phasing out of the product.
This phase thus consists of the strategic and tactical management; the service; and the retirement of the product.
Books on Product Management
There are many good books on Product Management. We especially recommend the following books.
- The Product Manager’s Handbook by Linda Gorchels
- The Product Manager’s Desk Reference by Steven Haines
- Expert Product Management by Brian Lawley