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5 Winning Pillars of Strategic Product Management

By Mahesh K Gupta – CyberSecurity Processes and Products Leader at Ausgrid

In the world of strategic product management, understanding the five essential pillars tends to be the key to success. This blog delves into the depths of these pillars to help you gain a profound understanding, guided by the extensive experience of Mahesh K Gupta, CyberSecurity Processes and Products Leader at Ausgrid.

Whether you’re an experienced product manager, an aspiring one, or simply curious about this role, the journey through these pillars promises a deeper understanding of why strategic product management is vital in today’s business landscape. 

So, let’s begin by addressing the fundamental question: Why does this role exist?

Key Takeaways:

  • Product Managers play a critical role in understanding a company’s purpose, growing the business, solving customer needs, delivering value, managing the product portfolio, ensuring usefulness and usability, and making strategic partnerships.
  • In this blog we will explore why Product Managers need technological understanding, understanding of the process of product development, and why product managers are known as the sculptors of products.
  • Here we will also delve why for product managers to be successful they should embrace the “No Voids” principle and what it encompasses.
In this article
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    Pilar 1: Business

    Let’s understand the pillar by trying to understand the job role of a Product Manager.

    What does a Product Manager do?

    The role of a Product Manager (PM) is integral to any company because it is directly tied to delivering value and achieving the company’s objectives. Let’s delve into the specifics:

    a. Understanding the Company’s Purpose: A company exists for a reason, usually it’s here to conduct business profitably, and in the realm of product companies, this translates to generating revenue through products. Product Managers play a vital role in realizing this goal.

    b. Growing the Business: PMs contribute to business growth by aligning their efforts with the company’s strategic objectives. They do this by addressing specific business needs, as it’s a fundamental principle that in business, value must be provided to receive value in return.

    c. Solving Customer Needs: To achieve business success, PMs focus on solving the needs of their target customers. By addressing customer pain points and creating solutions that add value, PMs pave the way for financial success.

    d. Delivering Value: The key to solving customer needs is by offering value-adds. These value-adds are typically delivered through products, making products the primary vehicle for driving business growth.

    e. Managing the Product Portfolio: PMs don’t just improve existing products; they also introduce new ones and, when necessary, discontinue or “sunset” outdated products. This portfolio management is crucial for sustaining and expanding the business.

    f. Ensuring Usefulness and Usability: Building products is not just about adding value; it’s also about ensuring they are useful and usable. A useful product meets customer needs effectively, while a usable one is user-friendly and accessible.

    g. Strategic Partnerships: Product Managers must evaluate various options for product development, including internal development, outsourcing, acquisitions, partnerships, and more. These strategic decisions can significantly impact the company’s product offerings and market positioning.

    Product management is a strategic function that revolves around aligning products with business objectives, solving customer problems, delivering value, and making strategic decisions regarding product development and partnerships. While acquiring hard skills in areas like economics, marketing, UX, and pricing is essential, the soft skills needed for effective product management, such as leadership, communication, and decision-making, are honed through experience and practice.

    Pillar 2: Technology

    While technology plays a crucial role, let’s delve into some key aspects within this pillar. As Product Managers (PMs), we may not be engineers by profession, the technological knowledge we require in the field encompasses the following:

    a. Industry Expertise – We must possess a deep understanding of the industry or domain in which our products operate. This knowledge equips us to grasp the intricacies of our sector effectively.

    b. Customer Verticals – Understanding the various customer verticals and their workflows within our sector is imperative. This comprehension is the foundation for providing value to our customers.

    c. Market Trends – Staying attuned to market trends is essential because technological disruptions can reshape the landscape rapidly. Being aware of market dynamics, competition, and emerging trends is vital to our role. For instance, what was once a buzzword, like virtualization, has now become commonplace, just as cloud computing has evolved into a standard practice.

    d. Key Technologies – While we don’t need to be experts in these technologies, having a baseline understanding of key technologies is beneficial. This knowledge allows us to communicate effectively with technical teams and make informed decisions. It signifies a shift from traditional consulting to a deeper engagement with technology, a hallmark of real product and brand management.

    e. Product Architecture – Familiarity with the architecture of the product we are working on is crucial. While we don’t need to delve into coding details, we should be able to provide a high-level explanation of the product’s technological structure. This understanding enables us to define its future effectively, aligning with the product’s vision, roadmap, and strategy.

    f. SWOT Analysis – Applying SWOT analysis to our products from a technical standpoint is essential. It involves assessing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats tied to the product’s technical aspects. This introspection aligns the technical landscape with the broader business objectives.

    Our technological expertise as PMs encompasses industry and domain knowledge, comprehension of product architecture, and familiarity with key technologies. This holistic understanding empowers us to navigate the intricate intersection of technology and product management effectively.

    Pillar 3: Processes

    When discussing product management, our focus naturally gravitates towards the products themselves. Once we’ve made decisions about the products we intend to build, we enter the realm of product lifecycle management (PLC), which entails numerous processes. Building a product is just one part of the equation; there are several other crucial stages before, during, and after development and maintenance. Let’s break down these processes:

    a. Strategy

    i. Vision

    Establishing a product strategy begins with having a clear, long-term vision in place. A vision is a forward-looking perspective that spans decades, rarely subject to change. It provides the foundation upon which we craft our strategy.

    ii. Strategy

    Strategy, in essence, is the pursuit of specific, optimal outcomes within defined constraints. It revolves around setting goals and determining the best course of action to achieve them. For instance, a strategic decision might involve transitioning to cloud technology to address a particular challenge, culminating in a tactical roadmap.

    iii. Roadmap

    A roadmap is essential because not all goals can be tackled simultaneously. It acts as a series of building blocks, specifying what can and should be done in the context of the product. While earlier stages focused on the business aspect, the roadmap drills down into product-specific details.

    b. Data and Information

    i. Customer Requirements

    This stage involves understanding how to collect and define customer requirements. It often includes well-defined processes, such as utilizing tools like Jira or Ishail. It also encompasses methodology for effectively gathering and interpreting customer input.

    ii. Pricing

    Beyond product development, considerations involve collaborating with pricing committees, addressing legal clearances, revenue forecasting, and potentially tailoring marketing campaigns based on revenue insights.

    c. Execution

    i. Backlog

    Building on tools like Jira, this step involves managing and grooming the backlog. It ensures that development efforts remain aligned with the defined strategy and objectives.

    ii. Information

    Information creation and dissemination are pivotal aspects, tailored for various stakeholders and audiences. Effective communication necessitates presenting information in a format suitable for each audience. 

    For example, executives may require concise, business-focused content with minimal technical jargon, while support teams may require more detailed technical explanations. The way we present information varies when communicating with sales, SEs, or marketing teams, focusing on relevant aspects.

    This pillar emphasizes the importance of well-defined processes. Product management involves continuous monitoring, evaluation, and prioritization. While prioritization is a core aspect, it alone could fill an entire discussion. Therefore, it’s essential to acknowledge the comprehensive processes that underpin the effective management of products.

    Pillar 4: Sculpture

    a. Dynamic Daily Activities

    In other roles, daily tasks are often well-defined and structured. You know exactly what to expect throughout the day. However, in the realm of Product Management, things are notably different. Our daily activities are more of a semi-planned nature. We can’t always predict precisely what our day will look like. It’s a dynamic field where change is constant. Meetings shift, new information emerges, escalations occur, VIP requests surface, and unforeseen challenges during release cycles can disrupt even the best-laid plans. Adapting and bringing structure to our daily work is akin to sculpting. We, as product managers, are like artists shaping our day amidst the unstructured nature of our role.

    b. Managing Vast Amounts of Data

    Handling a massive influx of data and information from various sources is a significant aspect of our role. Knowing how to effectively sift through this wealth of information and make informed decisions is crucial. It’s similar to sculpting a masterpiece; we must focus on the essential elements. Just as a sculpture must have the fundamental features of eyes and ears, we need to prioritize the core elements of our product, such as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), while still considering additional enhancements. It’s about balancing the basics with the nice-to-haves. Additionally, adapting to the ever-changing landscape is vital, just as a sculptor adapts to available raw materials.

    c. Understanding Diverse Customer Stakeholders

    When engaging with customers, it’s vital to grasp the different personas within their ranks. Customers can range from decision-makers to influencers to end-users, each with unique perspectives and requirements. Flexibility, agility, meaningful execution, and adaptation are key. To illustrate this, consider the movie ‘Chakde India,’ where the women’s hockey team faced various challenges. While they had the pillars of technology, business goals, processes, and strategy in place, the pivotal moment came during the penalty shootout. The coach’s strategy was to communicate the shooter’s intention to go straight, a crucial piece of information conveyed meaningfully. This exemplifies the importance of interpreting and communicating information effectively for successful execution.

    Sculpting in product management involves shaping our dynamic daily routines, managing data effectively, and understanding and adapting to the diverse needs of our customer stakeholders, just as a sculptor creates a masterpiece by sculpting and refining the raw material into a meaningful work of art.

    Pillar 5: No Voids

    In the realm of Product Management, the metaphorical ‘different hats’ we wear are well-known. We assume roles as strategists, innovators, evangelists, UX advocates, liaisons with sales, marketing, and legal teams, and more. However, a critical aspect of our role revolves around addressing what isn’t explicitly defined or covered by any job description:

    a. The Absence of ‘It’s Not My Job’

    In the world of Product Management, the phrase ‘It’s not my job’ simply doesn’t exist. We often hear that a Product Manager is akin to a miniature CEO, and this comparison holds merit. In organizations, when issues arise, CEOs cannot afford to shrug responsibility; they must take ownership and address the challenges at hand. Likewise, Product Managers encounter numerous unknowns and gaps in their roles, areas where processes may not be well-defined, and where contacts and structures may be unclear. In these instances, Product Managers step in to fill these voids. This refusal to say ‘It’s not my job’ is a fundamental aspect of our role, and while it may seem daunting, it’s also one of the defining features of the Product Management field. Aspiring Product Managers should carefully evaluate their comfort with this aspect of the role.

    b. Embracing Global Time Zones

    For those in global Product Management roles, particularly in India, navigating different time zones is a regular occurrence. This adds another layer of complexity and responsibility to the role. However, the principle of not shirking responsibility remains constant, regardless of time zones. ‘It’s not my job’ is not a valid response, as Product Managers must be prepared to address challenges and opportunities whenever they arise, irrespective of the time zone.

    c. Accountability for Escalations

    When escalations come our way, there’s no room for ‘It’s not my job’ in the Product Management dictionary. Product Managers must step up, take ownership, and respond effectively. This accountability is a testament to our role as the ultimate owners of the products we manage. Embracing this aspect can be both challenging and rewarding, depending on one’s inclination and passion for the field.

    The ‘No Voids’ pillar of Product Management underscores the ethos that Product Managers are accountable, versatile, and proactive professionals. While it may pose unique challenges, it also offers a rich and fulfilling experience for those who find enjoyment in the multifaceted and dynamic nature of the role.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    It’s essential to have expertise in hard skills like economics, marketing, UX, and pricing, but equally important are soft skills like leadership, communication, and decision-making.

    Developing industry expertise involves continuous learning and staying updated on industry trends and developments. This can be achieved by attending industry conferences, networking with experts, reading industry publications, and participating in online forums and communities.

    Gathering customer requirements involves methods like surveys, interviews, feedback analysis, and data analytics. Prioritization can be done using frameworks like MoSCoW (Must-haves, Should-haves, Could-haves, and Won’t-haves) or by conducting customer value analysis.

    Balancing daily tasks with long-term strategy requires effective time management and prioritization.

    The ‘No Voids’ pillar emphasizes accountability, adaptability, and a proactive approach to addressing challenges and uncertainties in the product management role. Embracing it involves taking ownership of issues, being willing to learn and adapt, and stepping up when needed, even if a task isn’t explicitly part of your job description.

    About the Author

    Mahesh K GuptaCyberSecurity Processes and Products Leader at Ausgrid

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