Product Management (It's All About The People!)
In the grey area of fashion and technology where StyleSage comfortably sits, there is often ambiguity around what “product” means. Is it the product on the hanger? Or is it the technology itself? With my background in fashion, it can be especially confusing explaining to my parents what I do (“So do you get to touch the clothing?” “No, Mom, not that type of product”). So, what product am I actually talking about?
As a product manager, my product is the platform itself that our customers use. I sit at the delicate intersection between business, technology, and design and make decisions on what our platform experience actually looks and feels like for our customer. But therein lies the tricky part. How do you know which product to build? To get an idea of how I get to that decision, let’s look at the “W’s” of product management.
Who are your users?
At the heart of every product lies the user (customer). You can have the most beautiful software with cutting-edge technology, but if no one uses it, what does it matter? As a product manager you are a user champion. Your job is to know who your power users are and who your potential users are. By closely working with our client success team, I receive both direct and indirect feedback from our existing users on their experiences and pain points.
Why do they need this?
Establishing client relationships and listening is key, but understanding the WHY beneath it all gets you even closer to developing a successful product. If a client asks you for a giant Excel export of your data, you may be apt to say “Sure! Anything to make the customer happy!”. But maybe you should first respond (politely), “Why are you doing that?”. Maybe the WHY in this case is the next piece of inspiration to make your product even more relevant to the customer’s needs. As I like to remind our team, you should listen to every piece of feedback you receive, but if you cater to everyone you will create a Frankenstein product that no one wants to use.
What do your customers want?
Establishing that client relationship and listening to their needs is the start of a great product process. The next step is getting to the “WHAT”. What is it that lies at the heart of what is needed? Is it possible to address with your product? This is where you can take that feedback and get creative. It’s like a giant logic problem - but with a team that can help you build the solution!
One thing that’s important to note here - while it’s important to stretch outside your comfort zone here, it’s also okay if you’re not equipped or positioned to be able to effectively address the clients’ needs today. You might not be the right solution or therein could lie an opportunity to build something great together.
How do you create that product?
One of the most critical steps to the product process is the HOW. How do I solve this problem and how do I build it? The first part is often addressed in what we call “design thinking”, a type of creative problem-solving in which product and design partner together in more informed brainstorming and ideation sessions. These sessions don’t automatically produce the perfect product idea with the most fine-tuned design. Rather, the design process at the “how” phase is incredibly iterative and agile. With my design team, we work at ideas, receive feedback from stakeholders, and iterate over and over again until we feel confident passing off a prototype for implementation.
Another part to this is the HOW from the logistical standpoint. How do we build the product that we want and with which technology? Without being a tech-specific expert myself, it is crucial that I partner with our tech leads to understand the scope and resources of our team. While you may think that your tech team is just a room full of wizards (like I do), there may actually be complexities and constraints to what you think you would like to build.
By partnering equally with both design and tech, you can get closer to fulfilling the users’ needs and building a magical product.
When can we expect it?
The fact is, you are a mini CEO and also must represent the needs of the business. As a product manager, each feature launch is a new toy that you want to get your hands on and share with your users. But, you must be realistic with your resources while still pushing the team uncomfortably towards a target launch date. The sooner that you release the product into the market, the sooner that you can get customer feedback to improve and make it even better.
But it doesn’t just stop there. Product management is all about relationships - especially with your team. Even once it is designed and built, you need a team to market and train. The process never ends - but that’s what growth is!
How do I make it all work?
Working across a large product with so many stakeholders and engaged users is no joke. But there are some key guiding principles I abide by across all of these steps to make it work:
- Always exercise empathy.
- Listen - even to the smallest details or the smallest voices.
- Build relationships and nurture them.
- It’s okay to make mistakes.
- Expect to iterate and rebuild - and see it is an opportunity.
The moral of this story? Whether or not you sit in a product-focused role, these are principles that will not only help you build relationships across the organization, they will also shed a new light on your customer relationships.
Want to see the amazing product our team has built? Check it out here.