The most important thing a startup does for the external world is to create a great product. To create a great product we need to first understand the meaning of the product.
A product is any good, service, or information that can be offered to a market to satisfy a want or need.
Thus we see that product can be a good, service, or even an intangible thing like information. Gone are the days when products meant only physical products. Today, a product includes services or even information. In fact with the advent of the internet, digital information-based products have grown rapidly.
Generally in a big startup, the product manager has a key role in building a product. In this blog post, I am sharing the key focus areas of a product manager. In a small bootstrapped startup generally, one or more founders perform the role of a product manager. Even in a Unicorn startup, founders need to be deeply involved in product management. Vijay Shekhar Sharma the founder of Paytm has been successful because of his deep expertise in product management even though Paytm has a lot of senior product managers.
Over the years I have researched a lot on the role of product managers and built a visual tool to introduce product management. I have named this visual tool ‘Product Management Canvas‘. I have got this vetted from Deepak Abbot who was head of product at Paytm and some other very senior product folks.
The creation of a good product starts with understanding the user. The user is the individual who uses the product. Next, we need to understand the customer. The customer is the one who pays the money to use the product. Sometimes user and the customer is the same person. Many times though the user and the customer are different.
Take the case of kid’s education products. Generally, the customer is the parent and the user is the kid. The user and customer are almost always different in the case of B2B (Business to Business) products.
The next step is to investigate the real problems being faced by the user and the customer. The real problems are generally different from the problems stated explicitly by users and customers. As an entrepreneur or the product manager, you need to understand the context and true depth of the problem. I find design thinking a particularly good way to find real problems. Design thinking tells us to empathize with the user and the customer to truly understand the problem from their perspective.
You should be able to define the different types of users who will use your product. These can be represented in the form of user personas. User personas are fictional indicative users who will use your product. Defining user personas makes it easy to develop and discuss product features. You should ideally talk to many potential users before defining your final user personas.
Next, you need to create a list of features that should be there in the product. This forms the road map of product development. Creating various features takes time and thus you would not able to develop all features in one go. A startup is generally always starved of resources and thus you will need to prioritize your features. A general best practice is to create a list of all features and prioritize them according to the order in which you want to develop them. This prioritized list of features to be developed is called the product backlog.
Generally these days the products are developed by following the agile methodology. There are multiple ways of working according to agile methodology but generally, the most famous approach is SCRUM. In SCRUM you do the work in sprints. Sprints are fixed time periods in which a team aims to complete some preselected tasks. Generally, the goal of a sprint is to complete a few shippable features. Some companies use 1-week sprints while others may use up to 4-week sprints. The team is free to select its own sprint time period. The only constraint imposed is that the time period selected should be the same in each sprint. Thus if you do weekly sprints you need to always follow weekly sprints. If you follow 2-week sprints then always follow 2-week sprints.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you should try to go to market in the shortest time possible. In the internet age, things are always changing in the market and thus you cannot wait for months or years to complete finished products. The Lean Startup methodology tells that we should start by creating a minimum viable product (MVP). A minimum viable product is a product with the smallest possible feature set that you can release in the market. The aim of releasing the product is to go to the real market with actual customers and users to learn more about them. The focus is on getting the taste of the real market at an early stage so that any feedback can be incorporated at the earliest.
As per Eric Ries, author of the famous book ‘The Lean Startup’, any startup should launch MVP in a few months and then try to add features based on the BUILD -> MEASURE -> LEARN loop. He tells that we should build features in sprints and then launch the updated product in the market. This is especially easy in the case of digital products like mobile apps and websites. We should try to collect usage data and user feedback and then learn how users are using the product in real life. Based on the usage pattern and feedback we should reprioritize the product backlog before each sprint. If we follow this process our product will always be built according to the user’s needs.
Great products give a great user experience. We should focus on designing the product in a way that the product provides a great user experience. Steve Jobs was a great proponent of user experience in Apple products. We can also give a great user experience if we focus on interaction design while designing and building our products. Once we finish with interaction design we should focus on creating the best visual design possible for the product. A good user interface is necessary for providing a great user experience. Thus user interface should be designed with the utmost care and the best practices of interaction design and visual design should be followed wherever possible.
Finally a product manager has to focus on business related aspects like marketing, analytics, revenue and profit.
This is the broad recipe to create great products, especially digital products. Most silicon valley companies and new-age startups across the world use some form of this process in creating great products.
Some Suggested Books To Read
- ‘The Lean Startup‘ by Eric Ries
- The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Third Edition (This book is on game design but I feel this is the best book on product management after The Lean Startup)
- ‘Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
- ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman
- About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design
- Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology
- Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews
- Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
- ‘Scrum: A revolutionary approach to building teams, beating deadlines and boosting productivity‘ by Jeff Sutherland
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