Basic Instincts for Product Managers - Design Your Thinking

Basic Instincts for Product Managers

basic instincts for product managersProducts are successful, viral and loved because of their ability to fit into the world in the right place and the right time. We sometimes refer to the “right time and right place” in the context of “product-market fit” or “market opportunity windows”. Great products are loved by its users, have successful communities and more importantly create lasting businesses. From personal experience and talking to various product managers and entreprenurs in my research on product thinking, I’ve identified some fundamental skill areas that these successful product people are good at. I call these as the Basic Instincts for Product Managers.

Instinct is a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned. Here in the Design Your Thinking blog we believe that thinking is something that can be learned or designed, as I choose to call it. Basic Instincts for Product Managers are those skill areas that will help you, as a product manager, practice product thinking consciously in some sense. Guess that’s enough a background on basic instincts – let’s jump into what these basic instincts for product managers are.

8 Basic Instincts for Product Managers

While there are many many things a product manager needs to think about, below I walk you through the 8 non-negotiable basic instincts. It’s not necessary for a product manager to be good at all of the below 8 basic instincts. That said, it’s important to have all these skills in a product management team for a product’s success.

1. Market Sense

This is the ability to understand the market. Product Managers who are good at this are the ones who are able to:

  1. spot trends and patterns in the market
  2. understand underlying systems
  3. understand the players and call-out the outliers
  4. unearth opportunities
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2. User Sense

Product Managers need to have the ability to understand the way endusers think and make decisions. Some product managers with a background in user experience are sometimes good at this. This is a basic instinct because products are nonexistent without users. Being able to define an ideal enduser, understanding their behaviors and preferences is key. In being able to understand the enduser a product manager should be able to:

  1. define the target user persona(s)
  2. design mental models
  3. understand user research techniques

In many cases, unless a product manager has a background in user experience, product managers leverage a user experience researcher or expert in the product management team to carry out enduser research.

3. Stakeholder Communication

The role of a product manager can get extremely complex very fast. Sometimes all it takes is a bunch of stakeholders to drive you nuts 🙂 Well, that was on a lighter note. Anyone can drive you nuts if you cannot manage the interaction well. Communication plays a key role, and hence I have this listed as a basic instinct. Three key stakeholder communication skills that I see important for product managers to be good at are:

  1. negotiation
  2. storytelling
  3. persuasion

Remember that stakeholders have different goals than yours. Marketer has to work on the marketing plan or an upcoming launch, customers want a feature moved or included, sales wants a different set of features, engineers want clarity in requirements, your boss probably wants something else. Negotiating with and persuading stakeholders are key to managing a good and healthy product. Storytelling is a key skill that comes handy in defining requirements for engineers, explaining a new product to prospects or even walking customers and internal stakeholders through a roadmap.

4. Prioritization

Products that are well planned and managed are successful. Well planned products have product managers who are good at prioritizing what goes into the product and when. “Should we introduce a social share button or should we include a draft mode in a content management tool” is one such prioritization challenge. What is more important, why is one more important than the other, what is the value of doing one feature ahead of the other? These are the kind of questions that together define a priority.

Prioritization is also about a product manager’s time management – should I write stories for the next set of requirements first or should I update the product roadmap? Daniel Zacarias has a good article on 20 Product Prioritization Techniques that you might want to bookmark.

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5. Measure

No matter how much you negotiate and prioritize, if you don’t know what to measure it’s as good as not building a product. A product business needs to have clear yardsticks to measure throughout the lifecycle of the product. The right way to think about this is using the following questions:

  1. How do you know what to measure?
  2. If you know what to measure, what metrics do you use to measure it?
  3. What’s the pros and cons of picking one metric against the other?
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6. Gauge and Forecast

You are good so far. You know to understand the market, users, negotiate and prioritize and also measure using the right metrics. It’s now important for you to be able to know when to measure and look further out into the future of the product business. Here are the key questions that will help you think on those lines:

  1. How to define milestones?
  2. What to forecast when it comes to the product?
  3. What types of forecast is important?

Milestones are key events that are defined over a period of time. They can be tied to the product or the market or many other factors. Forecasts depend on metrics that were identified and the milestones defined.

7. Act and Execute

Nothing works if you don’t act. A strong bias for action is a good trait for product managers, as that helps make decisions and prevent stalled execution. Product Managers need to be able to pick the right approach to execution. Some execution practices that work well are:

  1. Scrum
  2. Design Thinking
  3. Lean

8. Design

Design is very often misinterpreted as visual design and User Interface design. But when I talk about design here, I refer to how the product works, feels, looks including features, colors and the ecosystem. Product Managers should have a sound understanding of the following:

  1. Design Research
  2. Understanding of what the difference is between User Experience, User Interface, Information Architecture and Interaction Design

I’ve seen product people use the above interchangeably and that cannot happen in a world where products are increasingly getting intangible and omnipresent.

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I hope this post gets you thinking in the right direction. Do subscribe to my newsletter below and stay tuned to more on product thinking and learning more about the business of products.

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