Why Product Management?
Product Management is an organisational lifecycle function, designed to deal with products at all the stages of the product lifecycle. Anything can be a product, though most of the key elements of modern product management have been born out of the recent Digital Product revolution.
However, these core elements are still transferable across multiple product formats and are more widely transferable across any project using Agile Learning. We won’t be delving too deeply into Agile Learning, which is a methodology widely used across Product and Project Management, but the core tenants of Agile Learning will influence the Product Management fundamentals that this article will describe: Problem Solving, Working with Users, Failing Fast, and Continuous Development.
“What is your problem?”
This statement alone is often said aggressively, but it’s a fundamental question of Product Management, and should be a fundamental question that any project asks. What problem are you trying to solve?
The reason we must emphasise this is because of human nature. People are often more interested in idea generation than in solving problems. For this article we will use the example of diversifying content where a Senior Manager has asked for a new stand or desk in the library that highlights diversified content. This is almost always how these issues are raised: as ideas. But for Product Management, it is important to step back and ask the question, “what problem are we looking to solve?”
The reason why we need to do this is to ensure that any ideas raised are solving problems and are not just ideas for the sake of ideas. In the diversifying content example, if the problem was that not enough students are accessing diverse content, you would need to establish that any ideas generated would actually solve the issue at hand.
Starting with problems helps to avoid biases and preconceptions. Framing new products and projects through the lens of problem-solving is also more likely to lead to success.
Working With Users
As well as the framing of ideas, another issue with projects is when end users are not involved in the process. Often parties will come up with an idea, go to great lengths to plan, build and deliver a project, only to find out that it does not solve the intended problem and does not deliver objectives.
End users are some of your main stakeholders and you want to ensure that you can involve them in new projects. In our diversifying content example, we should arrange focus groups of students (if they are the end user) and generate ideas with them. You should also involve them in the project at set intervals (not just at the end!) in order to ensure you are delivering expectations.
End users are not your only stakeholders though. If your project involves other teams, ensure that they are involved throughout the entire project. Also, ensure decision makers are involved in the project; the worst thing you can do is deliver a project that does not meet the expectations of a decision maker, as this is the most likely way to get a project shelved completely.
Fail fast – fail often. No project can be achieved perfectly, with no failures or issues. So, instead of worrying about this, build it into your methodology. The heart of Agile Learning is adaptability, and any good project needs to be adaptable. Check, when working with stakeholders, that ideas can be evolved and changed at any point. Mock-ups, diagrams and workshops can assist with this, as well as live trials, from which you can learn and change. In our example show the students you are working with mock-ups of what you are planning and adapt to their feedback.
A/B testing can also help with failing fast. This is where two different scenarios are pitted against each other to see which works best. In Digital Product Management this could be where buttons are placed in different areas of the screen and the measurement is which user journey leads to the most successful orders. For your project you could add the diversified content in different areas of the library to see what leads to the biggest increase in usage. If there is no automatic way of measuring the best user experience, surveys or questionnaires will be required. Ensure that you have established how you can measure success before any A/B testing.
“A digital product not in continuous development is a digital product in retirement.”
This was a key phrase I once heard about Product Management that has influenced my approach to product management ever since. The idea of continuous development is an acknowledgement of two main things. Firstly, that you need to naturally adapt to keep your product relevant, and secondly, that you need to be adaptable to any changes in your market.
Even in our diversifying content example, both can be true. What is considered diversified content could change, the needs of the university or library could change, the library and the market could change. For example, your library could go fully digital in the future, so how would you adapt your diversified content stand to do the same job in the digital realm?
However, you could also need to develop just to stay relevant. If you find that the diversified content stand starts off very popular but then drops off over time, irrelevant of peak times of the year, you may have to be adaptable in your approach. Engage with your stakeholders perhaps a month, six months, and a year after the project is complete to ensure that the project is still useful, is still popular and is still relevant.
Verify that you have ways of measuring the success of your project and make sure that you decide on the one metric that matters when creating a new project, so that you can test this. Most products have a key metric that matters, and this allows teams to safeguard their product for the full product lifecycle. Decide on yours at the start of the project, but don’t be afraid for your metric that matters to change as your product or project develops.
Consider trying out some of the product development ideas listed above when undertaking your next library project. Useful information on all things Product can be found at www.mindtheproduct.com
About the Author
David has been a Product Manager for the DCS at CLA since August 2017, previously working in the Education and Operations Teams in CLA since 2008. Outside of work David enjoys writing, reading, gaming (currently obsessed with the new Red Dead Redemption), and films.
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