A great product manager is the glue between your paying customers, your prospective users, your C-suite, and your development team.
What’s more, product management is a growing field. According to Google Trends, searches for “product management” have doubled over the past year. PMs want to break into tech and create products users love.
But to do that, they need the right techniques on their side. They need to act decisively and keep the product and stakeholders on track.
From our experience, these are the best product management techniques that every PM should have under their belt.
1. A clear product vision statement
The product vision must be clear, documented, and agreed upon. As a product manager, you’ll get opinions (solicited and not) from team members, coworkers on other teams, your boss’s boss, customers, and the list goes on.
All of that input is well and good, but you need to know how it aligns with your product vision. Does it run counter to it? Or does it support it?
Every decision you make should be stacked up against your product vision. But how do you clarify something as nebulous as a product vision? One of the easiest techniques it to write a product vision statement. It should be 1 - 3 sentences and it should clarify what your product achieves for users.
Here are some examples:
To help small law firms manage all client work in one place
To help SEO professionals create, optimize, and rank content
To help DevOps professionals manage continuous deployment with all collaborators
2. The Customer Problems Stack Rank technique
Shreyas Doshi is a current startup advisor and former product manager for Stripe, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo. In his tweet thread on why most B2B products are destined to fail, he outlined the dangers of the “focussing illusion.” This is when PMs are so focused on the problem they’re solving that they end up solving it, only to find it’s not the most pressing one for the customer.
To combat this, PMs should use his Customer Problems Stack Rank technique to rank the biggest user problems. In this technique, the importance of the problem has the heaviest weight—not how easily the devs can solve it.
So, create a document or spreadsheet where you list all of your customers’ problems. Then use customer surveys and interviews to assign different importance scores and make sure you’ll always innovating to solve the biggest problems.
3. ICP-centric feature prioritization
When you’re building a SaaS product, you’re going to get a lot of different feature requests from your prospective users, top users, and users who are about to churn. You might worry that your company will miss out on a deal or a customer will churn if you don't quickly build a feature request.
But that feature request doesn’t matter if it’s not coming from someone who matches your ideal client profile (ICP). So make sure that you’re weeding out who’s submitting the feedback.
Other feature prioritization techniques include seeing how the feature aligns with your current roadmap, ensuring it fits your product vision, and checking how easily your team can accomplish it.
4. Ensuring product-market fit
Depending on the size and structure of the company, there can be a variety of roles in charge of establishing product-market fit: the CEO, CMO, CRO, CPO, and others.
However, because product managers are in charge of building and delegating products, they should have their own processes and frameworks in place for vetting and ensuring product-market fit. In essence, a PM shouldn’t be a “yes man” and should check product-market fit for themselves.
In his book The Lean Product Playbook, Dan Olsen introduces the concept of The Product-Market Fit Pyramid.
PMs need to ensure that the product (UX, feature set, and value proposition) fully align with and satisfy the market (the target customers’ underserved needs).
By satisfying underserved needs, instead of overserved ones, you’ll be able to find a blue ocean of market opportunity.
5. Breaking out products and product owners
For best results, your company should break out its offerings into distinct products, each with its own product owner. This way, it’ll be easier for PMs to connect the specific user segments’ needs with the product plan.
For example, you might have different products for different user segments, core functionality, or optional add-ons. Even if you present the product as one cohesive offer to your customers, it’s still important to break things up internally. You want PMs to have full ownership over a product and work in an agile way. The smaller the product they’re managing, the better.
6. Creating public and private roadmaps
A public roadmap is one of the most essential product management techniques. You need a public roadmap to communicate in-progress features to your users and let them know that you value their opinion and are actively working on functionality that will help them achieve their goals.
Here’s an example of a public roadmap where users can submit ideas and view announcements all in one place:
For small product teams, a public roadmap might suffice. But if you have a large team managing a lot of different new features and feature improvements, you might want to have a separate private roadmap with more items and details. This is also useful if you don’t want your competition to know what you’re building.
7. Utilizing product analytics
81% of product managers measure the success of their products, and that’s good news. Product analytics can be used to track how many new users you’re acquiring, how many you’re activating and retaining, and which features are responsible for driving revenue.
For digital products like mobile apps, web-based SaaS, and ecommerce websites, Mixpanel is the most popular product analytics dashboard and it's the one we recommend that our clients use.
In their blog on product metrics, they list out the most important metrics to track, including reach, weekly active users (WAU), engagement, WAU retention, new users, and activation.
From Mixpanel’s Guide to Product Metrics
8. North Star metric
With so many different metrics available, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of data and not know how to get out of it.
One of the best techniques for product managers is known as the “North Star” metric. This is the metric that guides everything you do.
Here are some examples of North Star metrics:
Active weekly usage - Your team would work to increase the number of users who use your product each week.
New activated users - Your team would focus on driving higher volumes of activated users.
Users that are 30+ days old - Your team would work on retaining users for 30+ days.
While most product teams will be tracking several focus metrics at once, it can help to have a North Star metric each month or quarter to guide your key initiatives.
9. Product thinking
The best product managers are product-level thinkers. They’re obsessed with seeing the product as an entire unit, and they don’t chase rabbit roles to the wrong users, features, or tech stack decisions. Everything they do is for the integrity of the product.
Just as a design thinker uses methodologies to put UX first, a product thinker puts the quality of the product above all else (trends, hype, suggestions from their boss, etc.).
To become a product thinker, you need to devote yourself to building value for your users. How do you actually implement this technique in real life? Talk with users and stakeholders regularly. Make sure you’re always evaluating user problems, checking which are the most pressing, and adding them to your product roadmap with discretion.
10. Communications-driven development
As a product manager, you should be able to communicate to your audience why you’re building a new feature or improving an old one. Why does this update matter? What will users be able to achieve?
For example, one company writes a blog post about their feature release before actually building it. This allows them to focus on the user need (not the technology), and allows them to document the business case for creating the feature. It also ensures that all feature launch communication down the line is focused on the needs of the customer and how the feature will impact them—instead of how cool the feature is or how excited the product team is to release it.
And if you need an example of great feature launch communication, check out Buffer’s changelog. Everything about it is written with the target user in mind.
The announcement headlines are actionable like “Schedule threads on Twitter” and “Export reports to PDF on the Essentials plan” so there is zero confusion about the announcement means to the user.
11. Dual agile process
The product management process can’t be separated from your company’s approach to development. Today, most digital product teams are using agile development, but there lots of different flavors (and not everyone is doing it right).
We follow a dual agile development process and this has a big impact on how our product managers work.
The dual process works like this: we have a strategy sprint and a development sprint running concurrently. Our product managers are continuously running strategy and discovery in the form of UX interviews, user testing, stakeholder strategy workshops, industry discovery, etc. As new features and components are vetted for product-market fit, they graduate to the development sprints.
Our product managers are in charge of running both the strategy and development sprints, so that every new idea has a clear vetting and launch process.
The dual agile process is an important technique for more experienced PMs to master.
12. Onboarding conversion experiments
Product management is ongoing, and onboarding experiments are an excellent example of that.
If you’re not onboarding and activating new users successfully, your product will fail. Users won’t have a chance to ever explore your deeper feature set.
To implement this technique, product managers need to be continuously testing their onboarding flow (even if it’s already working). For example, you might test one walkthrough content versus another, or one step-by-step onboarding checklist versus another. See which one activates new users the best, roll it out across your product, and run a follow-up test to drive up conversions even further.
13. Direct communication between PMs and users
This technique stretches across all the rest. No matter what you’re building, you need to ensure that you always have a direct line of communication with your target users.
You should work on maintaining relationships with users and developing new channels and new ways of communicating with them. Their direct feedback should fuel your product iteration process.
Here are some of the ways that PMs can communicate with users:
Accept idea suggestions in a feature request board or form
Read comments on feature requests
Read comments on product launch messaging (blog posts, social media, etc.)
Sit in on marketing interviews with customers for case studies or other content
Sit in on UX research interviews and user testing sessions
Watch user session recordings
Run product research surveys
Host focus groups with users
Incentivize users to participate in monthly or quarterly research calls
The ultimate product management technique: empathy
If you're looking to hire a product manager, you need to prioritize personality as much as experience. Excellent product managers are bold. They’re not afraid to steer the product in a new direction based on customer research. They’re also highly empathetic, as they need to be emotionally aware of the users’ biggest, truest, roughest problems.
Build with DevSquad
DevSquad offers product strategists (who assess product-market fit and strategize product visions) as well as technical product managers (who are able to delegate high-quality development) along with our teams of experienced developers. You don’t have to manage all of these resources, because we offer a fully-managed, high-performing team structure.
Here’s how product managers fit within the overall team structure: