Grow as a Product Leader with 5-Step Foundation

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Product Management Leader helps teams launch and iterate the right product with deep understanding of their customers’ unmet and unarticulated needs. Whether it is for enterprises or consumers, all products, if you keep asking why (5 whys), have to address basic human needs. All humans are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain; to seek hope and avoid fear; and finally, to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection. The study, by Stanford Professor Brian Knutson, revealed that what draws us to act is not the sensation we receive from the reward itself, but the need to alleviate the craving for that reward.

Empathy to feel unmet and unarticulated needs of your customers, PC: Wikipedia

You can NOT be a product leader without being a leader first. Read my thoughts on “how to become a better leader?“. Foundation of great leadership is the vision of the leader and trust of the team in the leader’s abilities to drive innovation and change to execute the strategy. The byproduct of being a great leader is empathy, deep understanding of your customers’ unmet and unarticulated needs. As a product leader, you also need to understand the product, technology, customers and the market.

For last 10 years I have helped my teams launch and iterate enterprise and consumer products. Based on my experience and from the books I read, I have put together a framework for product leadership. Follow these 5-steps to get on the path to great product leadership.

  1. Launch NOW and iterate: When you impose a deadline, you gain clarity. Perfect cannot be the enemy of good to deliver quicker value to customers. Once you find the product-market fit, you need the customer invested in your product for her to keep coming back. Habit-forming technology utilizes investment users make in the product to enhance the experience. The stored value users put into the product increases the likelihood they will use it again in the future.
  2. Tie Priorities to Strategic Goals: Remember business plans are business guesses. Strategic plans are strategic guesses. All guesses of your customer needs, have to tie directly to your strategic goals. All products have a point of view, right or wrong. Your fanatic customers are those who share your point of view. Be proud of what your products do NOT do as much as what they do. At TRAVELSPICE we have 3 strategic goals. a. Get more bookings (increase booking conversion %). b. Convert good customers into fanatic customers (measured by Net Promoter Score, NPS and booking conversion). c. Be transparent with your customers, show and tell what you do. If some of your customers can be served better by your competition, find and suggest a solution from one of your competition which suits their needs better. It is better for them to be happy with another product than being unhappy with your product.
  3. Make 2-way doors and plan for your success: Focus on revenue and customers. Build an A/B testing culture. Even for enterprise products, you can create 2-way doors by releasing to beta users and early adopters before your full launch. Have data in your guess/hypothesis itself. Define what a success is and prepare for it. Make data driven decision. If you cannot measure, do not launch. If your guess fails to achieve the goal, take responsibility and go back. Remember, most of your guesses fail. If company A cycles through 100 guesses per month and company B cycles through 1000 guesses per month. Very soon, company B will address significantly more customer needs and will rule the market. On the flip side, be aware of vanity metrics. At TRAVELSPICE, it is not enough to improve the click through rate of a particular page or screen, the change has to improve the booking conversion.
  4. Develop compassion and empathy: You want your customers to say, “this makes my life better.” When you talk to your customers, listen, think before you speak, be product fluent, be passionate and be grateful. Get into a weekly schedule of customer meetings/calls. Read their reviews, read/listen to the customer support conversations. If your product is consumer facing, take UberPool and keep talking to potential customers. Focus on customer pain points and itches. To your team, be the face of your customer. Because data is the voice of your customer, look at the data every day. Keep an eye on competitor’s customer reviews too, when they launch new products or features. When you talk to your stakeholders, articulate with your customer empathy. Your influence comes from your understanding of your customer better than the customer herself.
  5. Make it Simple: Stick to what is truly essential, frequently used and what has the highest perceived utility. Once you have a unique idea, creating new product or service is simple. First, according to product leader and author Denis J. Hauptly, understand the reason people use a product or service. Next, lay out steps the customer must take to get the job done. Finally, once the series of tasks from intention to outcome is understood, simply start removing steps until you reach the simplest possible process. Fanatically focus on what your product does as well as what it doesn’t do. Constantly look for things to remove by conducting simplification reviews and A/B testing on ‘Absence Testing’. Have you heard of Warren Buffett’s advise to Mike Flint, his pilot ? Buffett asked him to write down his top 25 career goals and then to circle the top five. He then said to put away the rest of the (Avoid-At-All-Cost) list because smaller goals can take away attention from the main five goals. Same is the case with product goals. Focus on the top 3 product goals and avoid the rest at all costs.

Product leader is one who helps teams launch and iterate the right product with empathy, vision and strategy. To get on the path to great product leadership, tie your priorities to strategic goals, create 2-way doors and make your products simple.

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