Five reflections on Digital Product Management

Reflections from Dan Apps on the state of Product today.

Illustration of a hand-held mirror on a pink background.

Our Product Director Dan Apps (yes, he did change his name to truly live the role) has been taking to LinkedIn to express some of his thoughts about the state of product. This blog post details five of his musings on the lay of the land in digital product today.

Dan’s thinking centres around his simple belief that the job of people in Product is a responsibility for the success of a product. This may sound like a truism, but with so much myth to dispel around digital product management today it’s a truth that needs to be spelled out in black and white.

Without further ado, here’s five further reflections from Dan on the state of product today.

Successful products require top-down commitment

If strategic management does not change the way organisational members think, and so act, strategy can only have any real impact through coercion. Without changing ways of thinking, organisational members continue to see the same problems as they always did, and they continue to solve these problems using the same beliefs as before. Their way of construing their occupational world has not changed

Credit: Fran Ackermann and Colin Eden

To me this perfectly explains the situation in a company that implements Product roles within the business without ensuring product understanding and buy-in at the very top.

The frustrations and poor performance borne out by the Product teams are as a direct result of a lack of change in thinking from the top down.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results

Does your leadership truly understand Product and how it flourishes?

Know the levers of effective product management

Building the most usable and desirable product in the world is a waste of time if it's not eventually profitable.

Proper Product Management includes knowing how to effectively price your product and counting the pennies you're spending to realise it.

If someone else is doing this in your business, put in a catch up and learn from each other, this person is your stakeholder.

Thought and theory cannot beat practice

With Product ‘thought leaders’ popping up all over the place, does all this ‘thinking’ help make Product Management clearer and easier or does it simply make it even more confusing?

Product can be complicated. Given that, there's a distinct chance that all this ‘knowledge’ could confuse and mislead someone who is new to Product Management.

With all the wonderful tools, processes, books, blogs and podcasts that we are now blessed with, time in the saddle is still where you'll learn the most. Therefore, getting a good, experienced mentor or coach is the best way to filter out the noise and to ensure you can make sense of the massive amount of input.

Thinking like a CEO is not a dirty phrase in product management

People tend to dislike the term "CEO of the Product" to describe a Product Manager's responsibilities.

They say the term is associated with all the negative aspects of CEO interference.

Would "Founder of Product" be any better?

I believe that a Product Manager should ultimately be responsible and accountable for the success of their product. This means they will have a vested interest in everything that impacts their product's performance.

More and more former Product Managers are going on to be Founders and CEOs. Apple, Notion, YouTube, Slack, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo can all boast having ex-Product Managers at the very top. Perhaps the description of CEO of Product is not far from the truth.

It's good to talk

There are many reasons why communication takes a back seat against other more pressing demands but sometimes things just need to slow down.

I'm not talking about pointless meetings or slide deck updates; I'm talking about collaborative communication.

Product Managers need to represent their business stakeholders. Doing so builds trust as they will feel you have their interests in play. It also ensures alignment. If one stakeholder is going to lose in some way, collaboratively communicating will create a mutual understanding between everyone.

Communication enables empowerment. It's not about asking stakeholders for their opinions, it's about ensuring their business needs are considered, and where possible, catered for.

Collaborative communication amongst stakeholders and peers also helps break down silos. If Designers and Product Managers are regularly talking, it helps ensure that the digital product you're all building doesn't become a reflection of internal silos.

The customer doesn't see or care about how you’re organised, they see one company. A disjointed customer experience is likely a reflection of internal misalignment.

Product is a minefield

In sum, product is a minefield. An immature discipline with an ego, attempting to shake off its marketing heritage. Unfortunately, it’s something no amount of theory can solve. It’s my hope that people look to each other in the form of mentorship or advisory to solve product-based problems in their businesses. That means looking to work with and not actively against the organisation in which the product based problems sit.

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