Think like a general manager.
Product management is a unique, central, powerful function when structured properly.
You have all the responsibility but may feel like you have no authority. But you do have something very powerful at your disposal—influence. When a question arises about product direction, all eyes turn to you. If that’s not happening, ask yourself if you’re being a true product leader. You can—and should—be a key influencer in your company. But for that you need to think like a general manager—not merely a product manager.
What does this mean? A general manager (GM) is a manager of the business, usually responsible for all aspects of the business including the P&L (profit and loss) and revenue and growth goals. Note the “L” of P/L means you have to think about not just growing the business but also the cost and operations side. While this might seem like a lofty goal when all that you’re thinking about is getting the requirements defined, it will greatly increase your chances of success to think like a GM vs. merely a PM. Take the time to step back and think about the overall context for your product. Here are a few categories of thoughts to consider:
Market dynamics: What is the market you’re in or entering? Is it a new category you’re creating or is it an existing one? Is it growing, stagnant, or declining? What impact will your (new) product have on the market?
Customer and share of market: Who are your target customers and who are your competitors? Think about both direct, obvious competitors as well as what other options and substitutes exist for the customer. If they don’t choose you, why not? Given what emerges from this question, you might also consider how you differentiate your offering. And finally, what kind of market share do you expect to capture? How?
Business model: Why will customers or other stakeholders pay for the benefits your product/service provides or ancillary value it creates? What’s your business model or how will you make money?
Pricing and value: What will you charge for your services? If your offering is “free” to customers, do you have a “premium” offering in mind and/or are you selling ancillary offerings to other stakeholders (e.g., targeted ads, virtual goods, etc.)? What’s your planned margin structure? What cannibalization can you expect from your new product among your existing ones?
Total customer experience and operational impact: One of the great promises we ask product managers to deliver on is “How to deliver on an excellent total experience at every customer touchpoint?” While this is a worthy goal and a fruitful exercise, what gets left out is the answer to the following question: “What will it take operationally for the organization to deliver on this promise?” Is your organization set up for this? If you build it, they might come, but will they stay? The answer might depend on how easy it was for them to “buy” what’s right for them and use it, and even the after-sales experience.
Product life-cycle management: Is there a natural life cycle for your product? Is there an industry/strategic/technological inflection point coming? Do you have a plan for making your offering obsolete—before the market does?
While fulfilling the above is a tall order, even being aware of these questions, bringing them to the table, and showing your team why this matters is a great first step. Be sure to ask these questions and engage actively in discussions and decisions before the fate of your product is sealed. You may not be the person with the authority to solve all these problems but you will be seen as a leader and a key influencer if you’re raising them, seeking the sources for answers, and collaborating in multi-functional teams to make sure these are being addressed.