Guide to Product Management Phases
1. Product Management During the Conceptual Phase
As a Product Manager, a big part of your role is to know your customer and the market. One of the effects of this is that you are in a position where new ideas and new opportunities appear frequently. This is something that you want to foster, proactively encourage and manage well. In fact, Product Managers play a key role in the Conceptual Phase. It is the Product Managers role to lead a cross-functional group through all the stages of the Conceptual Phase as well as to document the process keeping an up to date repository of the ideas.
The volume of ideas that emerge can be extraordinary so it is very important to have a process in place that deals with all of the ideas in an efficient and methodical manner. The Conceptual Phase can be broken down into four stages that the Product Manager controls:
Generation and Classification of Ideas
The generation of ideas is known as ideation. As many sources as possible should be exploited for ideas. For instance: the voice of the customer process; cross-functional brainstorming sessions; suggestion boxes; contests; environmental scanning; market research; and market segmentation. As ideas come in they need to be entered into the repository and be classified. Classification should be done by criteria such as the type of idea (new product, new product feature, product enhancement) and who or what generated the idea. The reason for this classification process is that it will make it immediately obvious which ideas should be considered of higher importance. For example if the idea is for legal and regulatory purposes, it may not be an income generator but required compliance makes it high priority.
Evaluation of Ideas
The evaluation stage is carried out in review sessions. These review sessions are led by the Product Manager with a small cross-functional team. In order to complete a thorough review, the input is required from the following functional areas; marketing; development; product management; and strategic planning or finance. Each idea will go through three different types of evaluation. Each one must be completed in full in order for there to be enough information for the selection process. Initially, an opportunity statement should be completed that accurately describes the ideal characteristics. A value proposition needs to be undertaken to ascertain what benefits the idea brings to the customer and what proofs are there to back this up. Lastly, a positioning statement should be completed detailing the needs that the idea meets, the benefits of this idea, the differentiation, and competitive analysis.
Selection of Concepts to Move Forwards With
A rationale needs to be in place for the decision making process. The decisions cannot be made using gut feeling alone. The cross-functional team should come together and look at the opportunities based on the review carried out. In order to bring some focus and structure to the process the use of decision matrices is encouraged. To form a decision the opportunity should be reviewed against criteria like cost benefit/financial viability, customer needs, validated market segmentation, strategic vision, complexity, and so on.
Of course, the matrices should not be the sole reason for making the decision but they should guide the conversation and rationale behind any decision made whether it is approval or rejection.
Planning and Seeking Support for the Concept
The final stage involves making sure that any concept that is marked for approval can be planned for and scheduled. Seeking support to move the concept forward involves presenting all of the information and recommendations to whichever body the organization uses to green light projects moving forwards to the feasibility stage.
2. Product Management During Feasibility Analysis Phase
We are going to review the processes and stages that make up the Feasibility Analysis Phase.
One output is generated in this phase that we will leave to discuss in a separate article. That is the Business Case and the reason for excluding it is that it needs in-depth coverage so it will form the basis of a further article.
Once the project has been given the initial green light, it is time to carry out some seriously in-depth research and analysis. By the end of this phase the following documents will be available as substantial first drafts:
- Business Case
- Marketing Plan
- Market Requirements Document (MRD)
- Launch Plan
In order to get to these outcomes the cross-functional team working on the concept has to be expanded to include every function/stakeholders that will touch the Product Lifecycle from conception to retirement. This is needed as the Feasibility Phase is there to ensure that the concept’s strategic, business and financial premise are sound and viable. This cannot be determined without consulting all functions for their input.
The goal of this phase is to have gathered and analysed enough data to be able to make a sound decision about moving onto the definition phase or rejecting the concept. In order to get to the point where this final decision to proceed or not can be made many activities have to take place:
- All the proof points from the Value Proposition need to be further verified and clarified.
- Full Market Research needs to take place; the market segmentation needs to be defined; the target markets need to be identified and verified; full competitor analysis needs to take place; pricing models should be drawn up; and the distribution channels need to be identified.
- The Project Plan needs to be drafted as a first iteration.
- The Positioning Statement needs to be reviewed and expanded upon where necessary.
- Prototypes should also be created.
- The MRD is initiated to articulate the characteristics and capabilities of the product. Features and functionality are also defined.
The Marketing Plan, the Business Case, the Product Requirements Document, all the other research and all other documents drawn up during these two phases become a cohesive Feasibility Study.
The Feasibility Study includes a robust recommendation to proceed or not which is backed up by a clear rationale based on the research carried out, the cost effectiveness of the product, alignment with business goals, and solution to customer needs and so on.
The Feasibility Study is then presented to whichever body the organization uses to green light projects moving forwards to the Definition Phase.
3. Product Management During Business Case Phase
The Business Case Document is the place where you make a sound business case for or against developing a new product or enhancing an existing product.
Business cases are actually used in nearly every industry to justify a whole range of business activities that need sign off from senior management. These can range from cases being built for developing new products to cases being built to justify investment.
Just like the Product Roadmap, the Business Case documents need to be treated as a living, breathing document. They are not static or created to just capture one moment in time. They are designed to be used to monitor and aid in the decision process throughout the Product Lifecycle.
Tips for Creating Business Case Documents
Key points to keep in mind when building a business case are:
- The business case should be tailored to the size and complexity of the product.
- Everything within the document should be justifiable.
- Everything within the document should be expressed in such a way that it can be tracked and monitored.
- The document should be complete i.e. it contains all relevant information needed to enable the decision making process from a business perspective. This is not a requirement for the document to be exhaustive. In fact part of the getting the balance of this document right is knowing when to stop researching and produce the version for approval.
What a Business Case Should Contain?
Now that we know what a business case is let us take a look at what it should contain:
- Introduction – purpose of the document
- Description – identification of the problem, why the problem should be addressed and resources expended to do so ; and what will be achieved
- Industry, market and customer data
- Assumptions and Risks – associated with the product
- Key Financial Indicators – 3 year summary
- The challenge; how it arose; the research journey for solutions
- Funding needs for the entire project.
Business Need/Strategic Alignment
- How this concept fits in with business goals.
- Industry Overview
- Competitive analysis
- Market Segmentation
- Target Markets
- Written product description describing how the customer needs within the market will be met by the characteristics of the product.
- Diagrams and models to illustrate the product description.
- Description and summary
- Deliverables and justification
- Team Members
- Project plan
- Resource requirements
- Launch Plan
Financials, Assumptions, Forecasts
- Scenarios that are going to be used & rationale behind them
- Financial Analysis
- P&L, balance sheet, cash flow forecasts, breakeven analysis, Cost benefit analysis, tax advice, financing and so on.
- Base case scenario – i.e. what would happen if the project did not proceed
- Using the scenarios, usually best, worst and most likely cases.
Implementation and Operational Action Plans
- A full description of what needs to be actioned throughout the development, launch and post-launch stages. Most of this information will be derived from the Functional Support Plans.
Risks and Contingency Plans
- Impact analysis of any perceived risks.
- Contingency plans that have been formed to mitigate the risks.
- This should be a well thought out and rationalized conclusion to all the work that has taken place to date. Remember it is your reputation as a Product Manager that is on the line so ultimately you should recommend approval as you see fit based on all the evidence.
4. Product Management During Product Definition Phase
The Product Managers role during the Product Definition phase is to ensure that the requirements documents are complete. They need to be ready in order to be baselined prior to the Development phase starting.
Thus the most important focus during this phase is on the drawing up of the two documents that specify the product in detail:
- MRD – Market Requirements Document
- PRD – Product Requirements Document
MRD – Market Requirements Document
The Market Requirements Document is written up when a market need is identified. It will express the requirements for a new product development or product enhancement. The document is solely based on the customer or potential customers and market needs that have been identified in relation to the product concept. This document is vital to ensure that the voice of the customer is heard during the product design process.
The document contains information on the following topics:
- A full description of the product or enhancement being recommended.
- Market Segmentation and Target Market analysis identifying who the potential customers will be.
- Competitive Analysis giving a full breakdown of the competitors in the market and their products.
- An analysis of the proposed product describing how it differentiates itself from the competition.
Product Requirement Document (PRD)
It is the Product Managers responsibility to author this document. The document describes the functional requirements, non-functional requirements and the constraints on the product from a business, customer and market perspective. In order to generate the content for this document all the stakeholders have to be consulted with to ensure that all requirements are documented. There is a well-documented and robust process laid out that can be followed. Following the process will ensure that the resulting PRD or Software Requirements Specification (SRS) stands up to purpose. The main stages in this process are:
- Management of the process
It is an iterative process that ends with the resulting document being validated and signed off by the stakeholders. The document is used as the control to manage the development. It is important that the document be cohesive, verifiable, unambiguous and traceable so that:
- All stakeholders understand what is going to be delivered.
- It can be translated into a Product Specification Document by the development team.
- That is can be used to enforce bi-directional traceability of the requirements. This helps to eliminate scope creep and the inclusion of unnecessary functionality. It also helps ensure that the agreed product is what is actually delivered.
- It serves as the basis for several other processes down the line, for example testing.
Like many other documents we have seen the Product Requirements Document is only as up-to-date as it was in the moment in time that it was written. After it has been baselined it becomes subject to strict version control and any changes to the requirements have to go through a separate change control process for rejection or approval.
Once all the documents are ready they are then presented to whichever body the organization uses to green light projects moving forwards to the Development Phase.
5. Product Management During Product Development Phase
Product Managers’ role during the Product Development Phase is primarily about providing leadership – their management and people skills come into play.
In most projects, it seems nothing ever goes as planned! Issues arise and the Product Manager needs to notice any issues quickly and then ensure that they get resolved.
The development stage is not about just handing the project over to the development team and/or project managers, and hoping for the best. The project will not keep itself on track.
The Product Manager has to manage the process stepping in to help wherever it is needed, often working closely with the Project Manager. It is a case of leading by example and getting your hands dirty as and when required. This means leaving the office and visiting all of the functional areas regularly.
Tips for Product Managers
There are certain things that the Product Manager must do during this phase to ensure that the product development moves forwards as smoothly as possible. This list is in no particular order. They all need to be done.
- At every stage the project must be managed and the management of it must ensure that the project gets from point-A to point-B in the most efficient way – having regard to quality, costs, and time.
- Conflict must be well managed. Conflicts will happen because of misunderstandings, differing agendas or even due to rising stress levels. Whatever the cause it has to be nipped in the bud and resolved. If Functional Support Plans were properly negotiated and agreed in advance with and between each functional area then this should mitigate a lot of potential conflict areas.
- Progress of the project needs to be monitored and tracked against all plans including project plans, the business case, the PRD and so on. Any budget and scope creep can then be stopped early. It is important to make sure that every functional area provides proof of the progress being made.
- Regular cross-functional and executive board status meetings/updates should be held. Each of the functional areas has its own project plan based on their deliverables. These are intertwined with other functional areas where there are dependencies. This is why it is so important that the whole team understands the rate of progress for each individual project as well as the whole.
- Nothing can be taken for granted. The product Manager needs to make sure that they get to the bottom of every issue that arises. They also need to make sure that they fully understand the implications of any solutions suggested. This means that they have to ask tough questions whilst being diplomatic and empathetic. This balance act can be very hard the Product Managers people skills will be tested over and over during this phase.
- A watching brief has to be kept on the market at all times to monitor it for any changes that may impact the product. If any relevant changes are perceived then they must be acted upon immediately.
In addition to these the Product Manager will also get involved in:
- updating of existing customer related documentation or the producing of new documentation;
- monitoring the change control process;
- making sure that the product is tested and complies with all requirements;
- developing of customer training and/or internal training programs for the product and so on.
6. Product Management During Product Launch Phase
The Product Launch Phase is where all the ground work comes together for preparing for the launch and the launch itself.
The Product Launch and Development Phases are often simultaneous phases. The workload on the Product Launch Phase increases as the workload on the Product Development Phase declines.
Product launches are extremely valuable opportunities and have to be orchestrated well. Launches are a part of the public face of the company. It is crucial to have someone from the decision making body/ executive board leading the effort. This person should have been clearly identified as part of the business case so that they could be fully immersed and engaged with the New Product Development from its outset.
The Product Launch Phase is commonly broken down into smaller manageable stages. This is done so to make sure that the effort is more focused on vital areas. It also allows for three stage conclusions that incorporate important decision points. These decision points are vital checks that decide whether or not the launch goes ahead based on:
- Revalidation of the market signals to ensure that the product and launch are still viable.
- Reevaluation of the assumptions in the business case.
- Evaluation of the project and its environment to see if any elements put the launch at risk.
Stages of Product Launch Phase
The three stages of the Product Launch Phase can be broken down as follows:
The arrange stage – this stage takes place during the early part of the Development and Launch Phases. It involves liaising with the cross functional team and external vendors to ensure that all aspects of the project are on track. This allows for the market window or announcement date to be set. All the project documentation is reviewed. All arrangements for testing and trials are finalized. The marketing effort is aligned to ensure that all parties can deliver in time for the launch.
The activation stage – this stage involves actioning many of the items from the previous stage; updating of the business documents; preparing the marketing materials; arranging the training dates; testing of the product; and so on.
The announcement stage – this stage is where all the plans and arrangements come together. All training is carried out for sales, customer services and for key customers. Review of the data from the testing and ensure that any issues have been resolved. Shipping of the product.Announcement of the product to the market.
7. Product Management During Post-Launch Phase
The Post-Launch Phase is nearly always the longest phase of the Product Lifecycle. Assuming that you have launched a viable product into the market place!
The Post-Launch Phase contains many activities right through to when the decision is made to discontinue/phase out the product.
The main act of the Post-Launch Phase is the actual running of the business. Post-launch, it is important to have a process of debriefing for the project so that lessons can be learned.
This lesson learned review or post-launch review should be formed of two parts:
It is very important to carry out an impartial audit of the project. This needs to be completed by someone who was not part of the project team for impartiality.
This audit should take place somewhere between 30 days to 9 months after the launch. Their brief is to look at all the project plans and documentation. They then need to analyze whether or not the plan was achieved and what disconnects there were.
They normally also discuss the project with the individual members of the project team to ascertain their views of the process.
The review will look at whether each goal describes across each document was met. It will also talk to whether or not the assumptions that were made in the business case proved to be correct. The financial performance of the product is also reviewed against the forecasts made.
Once the audit is completed and documented, the results are shared throughout all levels of the project team. Cross-functional team meetings or workshops should be held to discuss the lessons that need to be learned.
A collaborative effort has to be made to implement any changes needed in the process in order to close any gaps highlighted. This provides the ability to continuously improve the processes within the New Product Development cycle.
Running the Business
The running of the business is very much like the running of any business with all the day to day operational and monitoring processes that that involves. The product goes through four stages during the Post-Launch Phase:
- decline; and
Taking the “exit” out of the equation, because it is a topic that needs to be covered in depth – during these stages, product management involves:
Managing the brand – promoting the product externally with press, customers, and partners.Supporting the sales team, attending industry conference, forums, events and writing articles or white papers.
Financial management – monitoring marketing mix strategies optimization; oversight of P&L, balance sheet and cash flows.
Product portfolio management – reviewing, sustaining and extending the product as necessary and monitoring the market and competitors.
Servicing and supporting customers – conducting customer feedback, visiting customers, acting as a point of contact for issues arising.
8. Product Management During End-of-Life Phase
The “End of Life” phase of a product is the natural conclusion to the lifecycle of a product.
All products are eventually superseded by new products in the market or the market moves on to a new technology.
Is the Product in Decline?
The Product Managers role is to determine when the product needs to start being phased out. The normal indicators for the product being in decline are:
- Declining sales
- Loss of Market share
- Cost to maintain the product is becoming prohibitive
- Revenue from the product is minimal
- The product no longer aligns with the businesses goals
These signs are all clearly visible to the Business and the Product Manager via the monthly/quarterly/annual financials for the product that are monitored closely.
The “End of Life” phase should be properly managed like any other phases of the product lifecycle. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. This is mainly due to the fact that people find it a hard topic to deal with for various reasons. The fact is that the earlier that the decline is dealt with, the better it is for all concerned.
The decision to discontinue or not is taken at the end of a review process that is documented in the Product End-of-Life Document. As in all other phases, the cross-functional team plays a key role in preparing this document as well as in executing its recommendations.
The Product Manager has to put a great deal of effort into motivating and leading the team in what is the most difficult of management situations.
Typical Exit Steps
Exit steps normally involve:
- Issuing of legal notices to customers, partners and anyone who has a vested interest in the product. This gives the final support date for the product and any disposal information that may be required.
- Issuing of legal notices giving required notice periods for any services that are outsourced.
- The marketing effort is discontinued.
- Distribution channels are narrowed.
- Pricing is often altered to a higher level to discourage new purchases.
The “exit” is not all about the discontinuance of the product but it should also focus on extracting as much profit as possible from the product line whilst carrying out a phased withdrawal.
This could mean:
- selling the product to another company;
- divesting any assets to sell separately; or
- sometimes there may even be a rationale to contemplate a management buyout.