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A key goal of just about every company is to ensure that its product – whether it be an object, service, or system – meets consumers’ needs. However, even so, recent research shows that companies are largely underinvesting in product management, which is a critical service that often falls to the edge of organization charts. At Ankura, we realize the importance of product management and help clients understand why this function is critical to business success. Learn more about product management and the product life cycle so that you can better position your business in a rapidly changing market.
Product Management vs. Project Management: What’s the Difference?
Before discussing successful product management, it’s important to define this term. We often see clients want to approach product management programs in typical project management fashion. While project management tools are helpful throughout the lifetime of a product, managing a product well requires a set of skills that require product managers to go beyond project management. Project management is a mostly internal task designed to achieve projects on time and within budget, whereas product management is a mostly external task designed to ensure a product meets consumers’ needs. Project management is singularly focused, with managers completing individual tasks within a certain duration; product management is more complex, since a product’s lifespan can include multiple project timelines.
Product managers are driven by the “why” of their product, focusing on creating a solution to a problem in the market. They set product objectives, work toward shared targets, and perhaps most importantly, constantly monitor their product’s place in its life cycle (more on that below).
Product managers help ensure an organization takes a market-driven approach and also improves timelines to meet goals.
What Does Product Success Look Like, and How Do I Get There?
Setting those goals can be tricky, especially for product managers who have recently adopted a product they’re unfamiliar with or for product managers facing pushback from engineers or other executives. Without a strong understanding of a product’s history, place in the market, or specific competitive advantages, managers may have trouble determining what success looks like for their particular product at a certain point in time. This is especially true for products such as applications and software, which are frequently updated, integrated, and transferred between departments or companies.
When defining success for your product, keep the core purpose of product management – meeting consumers’ needs – in mind as you retrace the development of your product to date. Once you have a better understanding of a product’s history and are able to frame its story through the eyes of a target consumer, you’ll be able to identify areas where you can find success. From there, you can pinpoint specific goals that make sense for your organization and focus on metrics such as customer lifetime value, net promoter score, number of downloads, and client retention rate to monitor growth.
Where am I in the Product Life Cycle?
Just as an employee’s success is defined differently throughout their career, a product’s success is measured differently throughout its life cycle. All products go through four key phases (introduction, growth, maturity, and decline) and it’s a product manager’s job to remain aware of a product’s life cycle phase so that appropriate goals are in place.
Products in the introduction phase often generate little revenue and are accompanied by heavy investments in marketing. Managing a product in the introduction phase takes patience and diligence. Executives shouldn’t expect overnight success and should also carefully track consumer behavior in order to set benchmarks and quickly respond to consumer feedback. A reasonable goal for a software product in the introduction phase may be tied to total number of downloads (early leads) or even social media mentions (brand awareness).
As a product reaches its maturity phase, success metrics should shift. At this point, product managers should remain focused on meeting consumers’ needs while also making sure to differentiate from competitors and keep costs low. For example, success metrics at this phase in the cycle may be tied to duration of user sessions, revenue, or market share. Executives should also begin planning ahead for a product’s next phase (decline), so that they’re prepared to extend, update, or even end the product’s life as efficiently as possible.
Our team recently worked with an automotive company who was rolling out a new customer facing mobile application. Prior to the introduction phase, a key feature was cut from scope due to cost and integration complexities. This feature would allow customers to interface with dealerships to schedule service for their vehicle through the app. During the planning phases we established feedback mechanisms that would allow us to gather qualitative and quantitative information on the features customers were using and what they liked and didn’t. Early numbers showed slow growth and customers told us they felt like it lacked value, with some even specifically saying “If this app did anything I’d want it to help me schedule service.” In that early introduction phase, where it is so important to get a feel for what customers expect, we were able to hear that feedback and pivot quickly. We helped our client understand the key problem areas, worked with design experts, solution architects and dealer network integration partners, and developed a roadmap to first pilot that feature to help prove the value to both customers as well as cross functional stakeholders in the organization. That feature ultimately went live and then was rolled out to other products in the client’s ecosystem, but it started with us listening to the early data and working with our client and client’s partners to pivot quickly to meet customer expectations.
Introduce and Extend Your Product Strategically
With a partner like Ankura, product managers can improve their performance at each phase of the life cycle – as well as “bookend” the experience with pre-introduction and extension sessions. Our strategy and performance team has experience in product development and planning to make sure products thrive during the delicate introduction and growth phases. We also develop product extension strategies to ensure products meet their maximum potential, even when market conditions and competitor tactics change.
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