Just as Clark Kent (Superman) and Kara Daniels (Supergirl) performed Herculean exploits behind the guise of mere humans, product managers are challenged to work behind-the-scenes to achieve product success. (Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch. But don’t you like being compared to superheroes?)
Working faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a product bottleneck. Able to leap tall requirements in a single bound. Maintaining composure while working without direct authority. Surviving the kryptonite of firefighting and reactivity. It’s tough. And good advice can help.
At the end of every chapter of The Product Manager’s Handbook, I included an interview with a prominent business expert or consultant. Each offered perspectives for different product management challenges. Here are snippets of their words of wisdom.
This is the third of a four-part series of The Product Manager Advice Dossier.
What Executives Expect in Terms of New-Product Project Oversight
Laura Farnham, Advisor at Millennium Group Inc.
It might sound a bit overwhelming, but I expect just about everything from the product manager. Whether it’s a thorough understanding of the competitive landscape; tradeoffs between features, cost and time to market; implications of manufacturing locations and processes on cost and delivery; pricing and the tradeoffs between margin and market share—you name it. The product manager is the single point of accountability for every aspect of the product.
Specific to the gate review process, the product manager will need to provide different information at different phases of the development process. For example, in an ideation or concept phase, the market information and customer requirements are at a relatively high level. As the concept matures and progresses to Phase 2 exit, a complete business case is required to support the go/no go decision. This includes clear market sizing and growth rates, market share estimates, competitive positioning, pricing and margin targets, engineering and manufacturing investments, SG&A investments, etc. Additionally, scenario modeling should be included to illustrate the program sensitivity, for example, to changes in price, cost, or market share.
As development concludes and the team is preparing to launch the new product, I expect the product manager to validate the business case and market assumptions. Where product development takes an extended amount of time, market conditions may change which may affect the value proposition or competitive positioning. He product manager needs to monitor these factors throughout the development process. Adjustments to the marketing plans may be required to ensure the program will deliver the financial returns promised at Phase 2 exit.
The role is very complex and it’s hard to identify one nugget of advice. So, I’ll leave you with three thoughts:
- Plan thoroughly, deliver on your commitments and communicate broadly
- Think holistically and proactively
- Build strong cross-functional, cross-organizational teams
And most of all enjoy what you’re doing.
Cultivate Product Launch Techniques
Elyse Kaye, Brand marketing product development specialist
A successful launch begins early in the development process with a well-laid-out plan that has flexibility. So many great products never make it to market because they are launched improperly. Internally, the biggest mistake made is the lack of constant communication. Working in silos leads to mass amounts of finger-pointing and expensive air freighting! Depending on the product complexity, I try to bring in the necessary players as early as possible. This includes the development team (designers, engineering, research, packaging, sourcing finance) and the launch team (sales, advertising, merchandising teams, PR, the marketing gurus). Even though everyone wants a concise timeline, the reality is the plan should be “padded” to allow for unexpected circumstances that can kill a launch.
Mobilize Your Product Lifecycle Management Prowess
Greg DiCillo, President, Co-Founder, Maximal
We’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous companies that were intent on realigning their product lines. While the task of sunsetting or retiring a product is not simple, it is crucial to product line performance and ultimately the growth and profitability of a company. We treat the sunsetting of products in the same way that we treat new-product development because all aspects of product life-cycle activities are in play.
Identification of products for sunsetting requires front-end idea generation. Business cases are required to assess the costs required to eliminate the products as well as potential risks associated with potential lost customers.
When product development comes into play, product transition strategies must be outlined (how to migrate customers from one product to another). Things like form, fit, and functional equivalency all need to be addressed. In some cases, modifications to other products may be required to make the transition more effective.
Product launch activities must be clearly thought-out and executed. The sales force must be prepared on how to sell the transition, and marketing will need to effectively market the sunsetting program. Sunsetting a product requires well-thought-out and collaborative and effort to be successful.
My advice to product managers is to make lifecycle planning the core of what you do. Most product managers treat lifecycle management as an event rather than a process. Every decision a product manager makes has a lifecycle impact. New product development has to take into account existing products. Markets go through lifecycles, requiring product managers to assess their viability. When lifecycle management and planning is at the center of a product manager’s planning process, product line decisions from new products, to enhancements, to end-of-life are much clearer and easier to understand.
Make Authentic Brand Connections with Customers
Jeff Mikula, Vice President, Marketing & Communications at Vizient
In today’s environment, authenticity and trust are paramount to building successful and sustainable brands. Customers engage with brands in ways that help clarify their own values and priorities. They are looking for companies and brands to show that they share those values on some level. Customers expect a two-way dialogue and the opportunity to engage. Organizations strive to create engaging brands with more transparency by building trust and leveraging reputation. Regardless of whether it’s brand archetypes, corporate citizenship, social media—or all of these –brand managers will continue to be influenced by opportunities for their brands to be more engaging, authentic, and transparent with customers. Brand managers simply can’t approach branding in the same way anymore, because our customers don’t associate with brands the same way.
[My advice to product managers is to] dig deep to find the unique meaning of a brand that will create a bond that is far more important than general product features. Differentiation is critical for sales and profitability. Look around at all the influencers and consider how they interact with each other because these interpersonal interactions can be as important as how they interact with your brand. Get intimate with all the touch points of the customer experience. And go beyond simple product or brand awareness as a market measure. While the connections between brand and customer are deeper, the perspectives of influence and experience need to be much broader in this environment. Successful brand managers need both micro and macro vision to take a brand from good to great.
Next month, on the first Friday, I will provide part four of the Product Manager Advice Dossier.