5 Product Principles for Product Managers

I was listening to a recent episode of the Mind the Product podcast, in which the guest Esha Shukla, a product manager at WhatsApp, shared 5 product management principles that she lives by. They struck a chord with me, so in order to make them more widely available, I will summarize and share them here.

1. Lead with goals, not constraints

Start with the outcomes you are trying to deliver without worrying about constraints, such as budget, time, or resources, that could limit what you want to achieve.

Your stakeholders will want to know what are the possible outcomes we could achieve with this product if we had no limitations. If the outcomes are meaningful enough for the business, you may find that the constraints are reduced or removed.

You can always apply constraints to reduce the scope of the product to something more realistic given your operating environment, but it’s better to do within the context of knowing what could be achieved.

2. Understand how your product is built

As a product manager, you should understand how your product is built and operates from a technical standpoint.

This is not to say that you need to have an engineering degree, but you should know the tech stack, its benefits, and limitations, along with the technical roadmap to understand what opportunities may become available in the future. An understanding of data models and security will also be useful.

The products you build will have an impact on technical performance — for example, for mobile apps, startup time and time to render screens, amount of bandwidth to download, and storage space to install. You should be aware of these so you can factor in these tradeoffs as you make product decisions.

As a side benefit, learning about your technical platform helps you build better relationships with your engineering team as well.

3. Start with the problem, not the solution

Before you start thinking about product solutions and how to deliver them, make sure you really understand the problem you are trying to solve. Products often don’t achieve business objectives or fulfill customer needs because they are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist or is not fully understood.

Don’t assume that the other teams you are working with have a good understanding of the problem either. Try using the Five Whys technique to really dig down to the root cause of the problem.

4. Voicing your opinion is a good thing

If you are presenting options to stakeholders, share your opinion on which one you prefer (and why). You will be respected for putting a stake in the ground and you may save a great deal of time in gaining alignment if others do not strongly disagree with you.

If you are a new product manager or are junior compared to the other people in the meeting, you may feel shy about making your opinion heard. In this case, try asking questions about the topic being discussed to ensure you have a clear understanding.

You may find that your questions give you an inroad to sharing an opinion; at the very least, you are contributing to the discussion by ensuring there is a common understanding.

5. Consider team morale when weighing trade offs

This principle relates primarily to requests to expedite product features. Sure, a team member can stop working on something and move to a new project, but think what that churn does to their morale.

Creating a hacked together MVP might get your product launched, but at what cost in terms of your team’s pride in delivering a product that your customers will love?

Or, if you cut UX design activities (e.g., user research) in order to hit a deadline, think about how those designers will feel about not being able to do their best work. Hint: if this happens on a regular basis, they may feel that they can do their best work elsewhere.

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