If your business is renting physical storage units, then you probably don't need a product organization because you have a well understood offering that likely won't change over time. If you're building a novel, AI software business, then your product team needs to clearly define what it is your product does, who it's for, and why those people should care. The product team may be one of the most important functions within your business, and how it's managed could have significant downstream impacts.
The layout and structure of your product offerings, whether it be hardware, software, or services, needs to be clearly defined and easily understood. Product strategy must consider the entire product life cycle. From concept development, design, and prototype testing, to manufacturing, launch, and post-launch enhancements.
A well-crafted product strategy can serve as your compass, providing the necessary guidance to ensure that your product development efforts align with your overall business objectives. Whatever the business, your product strategy and product roadmap serve as a blueprint.
At the heart of an effective product strategy, there's a need to understand your target customer in depth. What problems do they face? How can your product solve these problems? This involves extensive market research and a deep dive into user behavior, needs, and expectations. It also includes an iterative feedback loop where you continuously collect customer feedback and update your product strategy accordingly.
Next, you'll want to articulate your product's unique or quantified value proposition (QVP). How does your product stand out in a crowded market? What sets it apart from the competition? Is it easy for your customers to recognize this QVP? Is your QVP unique and difficult for competitors to copy?
The marketplace is dynamic, and customer needs evolve over time. Your product strategy should be flexible enough to adapt to changes in the business environment and technology landscape while remaining true to your core business objectives and brand values.
In the end, a robust product strategy blends market insights, customer understanding, competitive differentiation, and lifecycle management into a unified, strategic framework.
Product Organization, Functions, JTBD
Product Management: Product managers are the visionaries and navigators of the product journey. They're the ones at the helm, charting the course through unexplored waters and stormy seas alike. From analyzing market trends, interpreting user feedback, setting the product roadmap, and coordinating with different teams, product managers hold the compass that steers the direction of the product development process. They align the company's strategic vision with the day-to-day actions that will turn ideas into tangible products.
Product Design: The product design team sits at the intersection of creative, user psychology, business acumen, and technology. They not only shape the aesthetic appeal of the product, but also function as problem-solvers who design the product to be intuitive, user-friendly, and engaging. By empathizing with the users and understanding their needs, product designers translate complex ideas into customer delight.
Product Development: The product development team is typically the technical group that builds and updates the product. In a software company, this team may include software engineers, developers, and QA testers. In a hardware company, it may include industrial designers, mechanical engineers, and industrial engineers. Through innovation, technical expertise, and rigorous testing, they ensure the product is built to specification, reliable, and delivers on its promise to solve customer problems (i.e., your customer's JTBD).
Product Marketing: The product marketing team acts as the bridge between the product and the marketing functions. They know the market, competition, and customer behavior inside and out. Their role includes defining the product positioning, crafting compelling messaging, planning launch strategies, and enabling the sales team.
Product Operations: The product operations team is the backbone that supports the entire product organization. They optimize processes, manage resources, coordinate cross-functional activities, and track performance metrics. They ensure the product development cycle runs smoothly, effectively, and efficiently, from concept to launch and beyond.
Product Vision and Strategy: This is the compass that guides every step of the product journey. The product vision expresses the long-term impact the product aims to make, while the strategy outlines the high-level approach to achieve this vision. At a small company, this is often the provenance of the CEO or CTO
Product Roadmap: This is a strategic document that outlines the planned evolution of the product. It includes the prioritized list of features, enhancements, and fixes that the team will work on over a specific timeframe.
Market Research and Competitive Analysis: These processes help product managers understand the marketplace, including customer needs, market trends, and competitive landscape. These insights inform decisions about product features, positioning, and pricing.
User-Centered Design: This concept emphasizes empathy for users. By understanding their needs, behaviors, and pain points, product managers can create solutions that genuinely improve users' experiences.
Agile Development: This approach to development emphasizes adaptability and iterative progress. It involves cross-functional teams working on incremental product improvements, allowing for rapid response to feedback and changes in the market. Agile is a popular framework, but there are alternative approaches such as waterfall models.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP): This concept involves building a version of the product with just enough features to satisfy early users and provide feedback for future development. This allows for quicker market entry and validation of product-market fit.
Technical Readiness Level (TRL): Developed by NASA in the 1970s, TRL is a system used to measure the maturity level of a particular technology, ranging from the idea (or "basic principles observed") stage to the "proven through successful deployment" stage. TRL is crucial for product managers to understand where a technology stands in its development pathway and the remaining steps to reach full operational capacity. It's especially relevant in the tech industry and in selling technology to government agencies like the Department of Defense.
*It is important to note that some organizations may have similar, but explicitly different definitions of TRL levels. If you are applying for a grant or government contract, the application should specify the TRL reference for you to use in your application.
Product Lifecycle Management: This involves managing the product through its lifecycle stages: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. If you're a hardware company, you may need to take into account environmental concerns and perform a life cycle analysis to map the "cradle-to-grave" lifecycle.Product managers strategize how to maximize the product's value and lifespan at each stage.
Stakeholder Management: Product management can sometimes function as the glue sitting at the middle of the different functions in an organization. This implies a high level of engagement with various stakeholders, including customers, team members, executives, and partners. They must communicate effectively, manage expectations, and navigate different interests to keep the product development on track.
Data-Driven Decisions: Product managers rely on data from user feedback, usage metrics, market research, and more to make informed decisions. This data-driven approach helps reduce uncertainty and bias in decision making.
Product Metrics and KPIs: These are quantifiable measures used to track the success of the product. Common metrics include user engagement, retention, churn, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction scores.
Documentation: The product documentation you create should be clear for non-technical audiences and as concise as possible. Going through the exercise of producitng this documentation is helpful in itself as it forces you to clearly think through what you believe you are building and unearth any inconsistencies or assumptions made along the way. It has the added benefit of reducing frictions when: (A) your content marketing team needs to create new assets, (B) you need to engage with a new hire or third party and quickly get them up to speed on your product, or (C) your documentation is able to pre-empt customer questions and a customer can easily imagine the value your product could provide them.