Facebook recently hosted the first-ever Women in Product conference, which united hundreds of women who work in product management throughout the technology industry. The conference's overarching mission? To build a community while promoting diversity in technical roles.
On the gender front, that need is clear: 84 percent of technical roles at Facebook, to name just one prominent company, are filled by males. But community is also needed to underscore another simple reality: We’ve reached a critical time in product management where the landscape is in flux and roles are evolving.
Importantly, however, even as these changes occur, the fundamentals and core principles of the field will remain consistent.
Product management, in fact, is -- and will always be -- an integral function for any growing startup. Good product management balances the enthusiasm of the company's founder and/or CEO by providing them a rational and unbiased outlook for the product alongside the organization's existing customer needs.
Letting this task happen in an unfettered way frees up time for the leadership to focus on other critical topics.
As tech moguls (and product-management bloggers) Ben Horowitz and David Weiden have described, good product managers balance all important factors, including company goals, customer demand and competition. A good product manager will also drive the day-to-day operations of a product forward, identify and prioritize new features, track product dependencies and iterate on user experience.
More specifically, though, every company’s product manager has the following three important tasks to fulfill in order to put out a successful product:
1. Know what your target market wants.
Product managers need to think about their users constantly. They must perform competitive and market research and talk to people who face the challenges they’re trying to solve. The risks of not understanding their users are serious. Investing in the wrong market is the most common reason for startup failure. It's estimated to have led to the demise of roughly 42 percent of new businesses.
In short, you need to understand your user base as defined by your market to ensure that each feature you build targets an expected persona.
Tile’s product team, for example, recognized that people today carry at least three crucial items at almost all times: phone, keys and wallet. Because the company’s target market of young, urban professionals lead busy lives and often live in messy apartments, the company realized how easy it is for them to lose those important items. Accordingly, the company developed a device and app to help consumers keep track of them.
Similarly, a company like Lifeproof thrives because its product team is very aware of the fact that the average smartphone user breaks his or her phone within 10 weeks of purchasing it. By frequently updating its products to fit new phone models and incorporating innovative functionality to its protective cases -- such as the ability to charge a smartphone -- the company consistently offers products users want to purchase.
2. Make sure your decisions fall within your core business strategy.
Startups need focus: Trying to do too much at once will lead to doing nothing well. To find that focus, product managers need to identify why and how their products are different. Product management also requires a dual focus, to make sure that the startup invests in the right market and that the product aligns with the core business.
Remember back when Twitter floated the idea of removing its character limit? Users weren’t too keen on this, and negative feedback came flooding in as the rumor spread. Why would this have been such an ill-advised decision? Because Twitter’s core business strategy -- and one of its primary differentiating factors -- is its character limit.
Entering the realm of long-form social media content would have completely changed Twitter’s value proposition and alienated the very users who had grown to love their Tweets' succinctness.
3. Develop your product into something unique but imperfect.
Product management helps identify when you have a minimum viable product for the target market. It’s all about getting the biggest bang for your buck. But an MVP can be so much more than that. A good product manager will know how to perform heuristic testing, sending out product-management objectives and putting the product through different iterations before building it.
At our company, we’re building a next-generation HCM suite. Our goal is to alleviate HR pains by developing helpful tools and effective experiences for people the world over, tools that are scalable and simple and allow you to focus on your day job as opposed to struggling to make the software work.
Each day, we face the prioritization question of how much to invest in a given area. We then reevaluate whether that priority is core to our business and aligns with our target market. But we don’t aim for perfection, because we know that if we ever thought our MVP was perfect, we’d be missing something.
Related: Build Your Management Team
In the coming years, product managers like us will have huge responsibilities on their shoulders. And they'll need that focus described here, to know what their target markets want and to have the discipline to stay true to their core business strategies and the willpower not to insist on perfection.