As software product managers, we are constantly analyzing data: needs from customers, revenue from sales, win/loss reports, development plans and costs, feature specifications, evaluations of competitors, etc.
As we process all of this information, an effective product manager should be guided by 7 key principles, divided into 2 key categories, as follows:
Effective software product planning requires you to balance the following 3 key principles:
- Customers — Your customers (or potential customers) represent the needs that your product should be fulfilling and the revenue that your company expects to receive by providing them with a suitable product (or service).
- Product (or Service) — This is the mechanism (or method) that your company uses to provide value to your customers. If your product doesn’t fulfill most of their needs, then they will go elsewhere and buy something else.
- Product Team — This is the staff that your company employs (either directly or indirectly) to create and deliver your product (or service). If your team doesn’t provide a suitable product, your customers will not be satisfied. And if your team doesn’t know what your customers need, or understand how much your customers appreciate your products, then they will be unlikely (or perhaps, unable) to create a suitable product.
These three principles can be thought of as the 3 legs of a stool, with your company resting on the seat. As a product manager, you must constantly balance these 3 elements. If you over-emphasize (or under-emphasize) one of these principles, then your company will fail. Just like a stool will fall over if one of its legs is overly long or short.
Creating a software product (or service) is an iterative process, whether you are using Waterfall, Agile, or some other development methodology. In all cases, your product (or service) is provided to your customers in one or more releases. As a product manager, you must balance 4 additional key principles for each of these releases, as follows:
- Content — Each release contains a certain amount of content. A number of bugs that have been fixed, a number of new features that have been developed, and perhaps one or more changes to the infrastructure of your product.
- Resources — Each release is created (and tested) by a specified group of people; usually those who have the knowledge necessary to effectively and efficiently do the work.
- Schedule — Each release is delivered (or at least, planned to be delivered) according to a specific schedule, based upon the amount of work that needs to be done and the approximate date when the finished release needs to be completed.
- Quality — Each release must achieve a certain level of quality to ensure that it is suitable to used by the desired customers to accomplish its stated purpose.
As a product manager, you must also balance these 4 principles so that each release helps increase the value that your product provides to your customer.
However, in most situations you don’t have nearly as much flexibility. Each product release must achieve a certain minimal level of quality, and while it is desirable to achieve a much greater quality, it is rare that this happens. And although it may be tempting to increase the content you can complete within a given timeframe by adding resources — this rarely works — as explained in The Mythical Man Month.
Thus, you typically have to manage trade-offs between the content that each release includes and the date (or schedule) when it will be available.
Product management is all about balance. You need to effectively (and consistently) balance the 4 principles that define the creation of each product release and also balance the 3 principles that govern your product planning.
If you do this well, your customers, company, product, and your team will all benefit — and you will be able to sleep well at night feeling good about yourself — which is always a good thing.