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Plan, Execute, and Measure - Key Ingredients to Product Success

By Uday Shanker – Senior Vice President – Product at Arcesium

Product management is the art and science of guiding a product from conception to delivery while ensuring it meets customer needs and business objectives. Effective product management involves a continuous cycle of planning, execution, and measurement, all aimed at delivering maximum value to the customer. This blog will delve into the essential phases of product management, providing insights and strategies to help you excel in each stage. From defining a clear product vision and creating a strategic roadmap to executing with flexibility and measuring success accurately, we’ll cover the key components that make a product successful.

Key Takeaways:

  • Product planning is an ongoing process centered around understanding and addressing customer needs. Effective planning involves collaboration across multiple teams and revolves around a clear product vision and roadmap.
  • A strong product vision answers key “what” questions about the product and guides the team’s efforts. It involves identifying the right problems, understanding customer personas, balancing customer input, and learning from competitive analysis.
  • The product roadmap is a strategic document that outlines how to achieve the product vision. It should include an MVP, quantifiable milestones, and prioritize value over features. Addressing common challenges like lack of clarity and changing priorities is essential.
  • Successful execution requires flexibility, tracking progress with appropriate tools, and identifying risks and stress points. Viewing the project as a marathon of multiple sprints ensures long-term planning and resilience.
  • Define success with a unified metric that aligns with the product’s core value. Focus on measuring outcomes (the impact on user engagement or satisfaction) rather than outputs (features released). Utilize frameworks like OKRs for setting and tracking goals effectively.
In this article
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    Planning

    According to Wikipedia, product planning is “an ongoing process articulating the market requirement that defines a product’s future set.” Two key aspects emerge from this definition:

    • Ongoing Process: Product planning is not a one-time activity but a continuous effort.
    • Market Requirement: It’s crucial to understand and articulate what the customers need, their problems, and their desires.

    Effective product planning revolves around identifying and addressing the customers’ needs. This means understanding who the customers are, what problems they face, and what their needs are. Product planning is intricate and involves multiple teams- Product Team, Engineering Team, Sales and Marketing, Finance, and Business Strategy.

    For the product management team, the two most critical aspects are:

    • Product Vision
    • Product Roadmap

    Let’s explore each of these components in detail.

    Product Vision

    A clear product vision is essential for successful product management. It answers the “what” questions: What are we building? What problems are we solving? Here’s how to create an effective product vision.

    • Identifying the Right Problem

    Study your current and prospective customers to understand their main concerns. Identify the exact problems worth solving, and avoid the temptation to chase too many trends or features. Albert Einstein’s advice applies here: spend most of your time understanding the problem to ensure effective solutions.

    • Understanding Customers and Creating User Personas

    Know your customers’ pain points, routines, and concerns. Different users have varying needs. For example, an analyst, a manager, and a department head will use the same analytical tool differently. Develop user personas to tailor the product to meet diverse needs.

    • Balancing Customer Input and Solution Design

    Empathize with customers but retain control over the solution design. Customers often describe symptoms rather than the core problem. Dig deeper to identify the real issues and create scalable, viable solutions.

    • Conducting Competitive Analysis

    Understand your competitive landscape by researching what works and what doesn’t for competitors. Learn from their successes and failures to avoid reinventing the wheel and strike a balance between innovation and market readiness.

    Tips for Effective Competitive Analysis:

    • Utilize Online Tools and Templates: Many resources are available for comparing key features across competitors.
    • Leverage Public Information: Use competitors’ websites and public domains for insights.
    • Create Weighted Comparisons: Evaluate how well competitors meet customer needs using a weighted average approach.
    Product Roadmap

    Once you’ve defined your product vision—what you want to build, who it’s for, and what problem it solves—the next crucial step is developing a product roadmap. A product roadmap is more than a series of milestones with dates. It’s a strategic document that articulates how you will achieve your product vision. It should communicate the strategic direction and key steps to bring your vision to reality.

    Key Challenges in Roadmap Prioritization

    A recent poll showed that the biggest challenges in roadmap prioritization are lack of clarity and ever-changing priorities. To address these issues, focus on the following strategies:

    (i) Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP):

    • Start with a basic version that provides value to early customers.
    • Test with initial users, gather feedback and iterate to improve.

    (ii) Define Quantifiable Milestones:

    • Set clear, measurable goals to track progress.
    • Ensure milestones align with the overall vision and strategic goals.

    (iii) Prioritize Value Over Features:

    • Think in terms of the value each feature delivers rather than just adding features.
    • Ensure each release enhances the product’s value to the customer.

    Emphasizing Value

    Product managers should focus on delivering value rather than just building features. The goal is to enhance the product’s value with each new version, ensuring alignment with business goals and customer needs.

    Balancing Innovation and Market Readiness

    Learn from competitors to balance innovation with practicality. Research competitors’ successes and failures to avoid reinventing the wheel and to strike a balance between innovation and market readiness.

    Addressing Client Requests for Features

    Clients often request additional features that seem minor but can introduce hidden complexities and misalign the product direction. Here’s how to handle such requests:

    • Understand the Underlying Need: Ask clients why they need a feature, what problem it addresses, and how it benefits them.
    • Provide Transparency: Share your roadmap and priorities with clients to explain why certain features are prioritized over others.
    • Peel Back the Layers: Engage in a deeper conversation to uncover the true problem behind the feature request.

    Vision vs. Strategy

    Understanding the difference between product vision and strategy is key:

    • Vision: Where you want to be in the future (e.g., in two to five years).
    • Strategy: How you plan to get there, including the markets to target and the tools to use.

    Execution

    Execution is a critical phase in product management, yet it often receives less attention than planning. While thorough planning is essential, effective execution ensures that the product vision is realized. Here are key points to focus on during execution:

    1. Be Flexible

    Flexibility is crucial in execution. Plans rarely unfold perfectly, so be prepared to adapt. An open-minded approach allows you to pivot when necessary and address unforeseen challenges effectively.

    2. Track Progress

    To ensure execution is on track, implement tracking mechanisms. Tools like Gantt charts and story point burn-downs help monitor progress. Determine key metrics that reflect your execution status, such as task completion rates or progress indicators. For example, using a thermometer chart can visually represent project progress and help communicate it to stakeholders.

    3. Identify Risks and Stress Points

    Identifying potential risks and stress points in the process is vital. Consider the example of “MasterChef Australia,” where contestants must recreate a dish while being informed of critical stress points by an executive chef. Similarly, in product management, understanding where things can go wrong allows you to plan and mitigate risks effectively. Pay extra attention to these areas to navigate challenges smoothly.

    4. Marathon vs. Sprint

    While modern software development often uses sprints within a Scrum framework, it’s essential to view the overall project as a marathon composed of multiple sprints. This perspective ensures long-term planning and endurance, akin to how a marathon runner trains differently from a sprinter. Each sprint should be planned meticulously, but with the understanding that it’s part of a broader, ongoing effort.

    Addressing Stakeholder Concerns

    When client visions differ from the product team’s roadmap, it’s important to understand the root cause. Engage with clients to uncover their perspectives and align expectations. This approach helps resolve potential conflicts and ensures that both parties have a shared understanding of the product’s direction.

    Measuring

    The final component of successful product management is measurement. Defining and tracking the right metrics ensures that the product is meeting its objectives and delivering value. Here’s how to approach this critical step:

    Defining Success

    Success in product management is subjective and can vary between stakeholders. Therefore, it’s essential to establish a common definition of success for everyone involved. A product manager’s responsibility is to unify this definition across the team and organization.

    Choosing Key Metrics

    While multiple metrics can be useful, it is crucial to identify one primary metric that is central to your product’s success. This metric should be simple, quantifiable, and easy to measure. For example:

    • Facebook: Number of users
    • WhatsApp: Number of messages sent
    • E-commerce site: Conversion rate

    This primary metric should directly align with the core value your product provides.

    Measuring Outcomes, Not Outputs

    Focus on measuring outcomes rather than outputs. Outputs are the tangible results of your work, such as the number of features released or story points completed. Outcomes, on the other hand, reflect the impact of those outputs. For instance, instead of tracking the number of new features, measure how those features improve user engagement or satisfaction.

    Frameworks for Measurement

    Several frameworks can help structure your measurement process:

    • Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)
    • Management by Objectives (MBO)
    • Google’s HEART Framework

    Mastering product management requires a holistic approach that encompasses continuous and customer-centric planning, strategic execution, and outcome-based measurement. By focusing on these critical aspects, product managers can ensure that their products not only meet but exceed customer expectations, delivering significant value with each iteration. Whether you’re planning, executing, or measuring success, remember that flexibility, clarity, and a relentless focus on value are your keys to success.

    About the Author:

    Uday Shanker – Senior Vice President – Product at Arcesium

    Frequently Asked Questions

    The success of a product is measured by its ability to meet predefined objectives and key results (OKRs), reflecting its impact on users and the market. By focusing on outcomes rather than outputs, such as user engagement or conversion rates, product managers can gauge the effectiveness of their strategies and iterate accordingly. Additionally, aligning with a primary metric, like the number of active users or revenue generated, provides a clear indication of the product’s value and success trajectory.

    The key steps in the product planning process involve crafting a clear product vision by identifying the right problem to solve and understanding the target customers through user personas. Subsequently, developing a strategic product roadmap ensures alignment with the vision, with a focus on prioritizing value over features. Lastly, effective execution, flexibility, and risk mitigation strategies are crucial for bringing the product vision to fruition while measuring success through defined metrics and frameworks like OKRs.

    Product planning is an ongoing process of articulating market requirements to define a product’s future set. It involves identifying customer needs, creating user personas, and balancing customer input with solution design. Execution, on the other hand, involves flexibly implementing the planned strategies, tracking progress, identifying risks, and ensuring alignment with the product vision to deliver measurable outcomes.

    To enhance product planning, prioritize understanding customer needs, create clear product visions, and develop effective roadmaps. Additionally, conduct thorough competitive analysis, balance innovation with market readiness, and engage stakeholders to align visions. Incorporating frameworks like OKRs can streamline goal-setting and measurement, ultimately improving product planning processes.

    Executing the product development plan involves flexibility, tracking progress, and mitigating risks. Remain adaptable to changes, utilize tools like Gantt charts or sprint metrics for progress tracking, and identify potential stress points to address risks effectively. Emphasize the marathon approach, viewing sprints as part of a broader effort, and engage stakeholders to align expectations and resolve conflicts. This comprehensive approach ensures effective execution of the product development plan.

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