Product Management Tips For High Growth Startups

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Product management tips for high growth startups including what is product management

Recently I did a webinar with Kiwi Landing Pad on Product Management tips for high growth startups, which was very well received (thanks everyone for the support!).

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Many of you wrote in afterward via Twitter and wondered if I could summarize the high-level points and provide the links that I had mentioned during the webinar because you know, tl;dr 😉

So here goes:

  1. What is Product Management all about?
  2. Building & communicating your roadmap
  3. Common Product Management pitfalls (and how to avoid them)
  4. Daily schedule and useful tools*
  5. Product resources: social media, podcasts, meetups & books

* Raygun is NOT affiliated with any third party products or materials mentioned in this article, these are simply the tools that we have found useful when it comes to product management.

What is Product Management all about?

“What is Product Management?” is hard to answer

  • It’s a fairly new field, there are misconceptions and tangled responsibilities
  • You might have a varied background and carry out varied tasks – so it’s hard to summarize
  • We don’t want to bore people

Advice for talking about Product Management

  • Don’t compare Product Management to other roles – it will only confuse people
  • Tell them you are a dolphin trainer instead! According to The Practioner’s Guide to Product Management
  • Focus on the high-level outcome of the job: be the conduit and broker between the business & the customers
  • You’re in a unique position to appreciate and understand both sides and can persuade the two sides to come together for mutual benefit – win-win!
  • If you’d like to understand more about what employers are looking for, this whitepaper is a comprehensive guide on how to hire a product manager

As the conduit, a Product Manager might be involved with:

  • Pricing
  • Features and benefits
  • Project specs and outcomes
  • Timings and releases (roadmap)
  • Marketing and promotional activities (feature/product launch plans)
  • Sales (progressing a deal due to personal connections)
  • Customer success (measuring feature success & answering product questions)
  • Account management (case studies, testimonials, customer advisory board)

Superpower: being the company wildcard

  • Comfortable moving, operating and empathizing with the customer and other departments within the business while getting things done and (hopefully) not upsetting anyone in the process.
  • Need to be persuasive, communicative and tactical

Product Management tips for building and communicating your roadmap

Before building your roadmap

As the conduit between the customers & the business, you will need to:

Understand your business

  • Understand your product/s inside out
  • Know your market and competitors
  • Understand company strategy/goals (the book Scaling Up is great for that)
  • If new to the company, use mind maps to generate ideas and make connections

Understand the customer

  • Understand your customers by talking extensively with them
  • Create a persona document if you don’t have one (The User is Always Right has a step by step process if you want to DIY)
  • Visibility into customer feature requests & complaints (use your own forum or Prodpad)
  • New start-ups (no feedback loop yet), need to do story mapping to understand customer journey, drop-offs & weak areas (User Story Mapping and The User’s Journey are great for this)

How to build a (very high-level) roadmap

  • Create a new Trello board with 5 columns (one for each quarter of the year and a “carpark” column for anything else)
  • Add in the major events and objectives for the year in the corresponding columns
  • Add in the top features and complaints which will address each quarter’s objectives (check the company strategy for specifics)
  • Add other high priority features & complaints to the “carpark” column so you don’t forget them
  • Review roadmap with others (CTO, Head of Development etc) to make sure timing and number of items are realistic for your company and team size
  • If Trello is not your thing, Aha is a good tool if you don’t mind the steep learning curve
  • Flesh it out even more with quarterly themes

Quarterly themes

Helps to bring the whole company together, which means:

  • Every department is working towards a common goal, no confusion
  • If you have a problem: you can put out the fires quickly
  • If you have an opportunity: capitalize on your ability to move fast
  • Fun and rewarding (designers can go nuts with the design of the office’s postes!)
  • Quarterly themes need to have a memorable title. Each department needs to have quantifiable goals & dates, rewards need to be two-fold (end of quarter celebration and for achieving stretch goal/s)

Communicating the quarterly theme/roadmap items

  • Quarterly theme office posters
  • Group presentations (you’ll need to communicate why, what, who, when and the rewards system)
  • Post-it notes for upcoming product deliverables in the meeting rooms
  • Provide an update for the quarterly roadmap deliverables in your internal product update document (once every two weeks)

Common Product Management pitfalls (and how to avoid them)

Most Product Management related problems arise from two main areas. When you are taming fires and when you are trying to win friends.

When working for a high growth business, there are many building blocks/teams/players in the business. At any given time, one or more of these building blocks/teams are on fire, or at least are smoldering (due to competition, competency, resourcing). As a Product Manager, your job is about putting out the fires, but:

Taming fires

Challenges to taming fires

  • Too many fires, not enough buckets
  • Don’t know what you don’t know (not technical enough)
  • All problems are highly urgent and important
  • Not enough/too many numbers
  • Trying to be everything for everyone – solve all the things

Risks to solving all the things as they arise (no strategy)

  • Product quality and depth will suffer from distractions and constant fire fighting
  • You may run out of money
  • These issues end up driving your product roadmap – problems determine your product direction

Fire-taming tips

  • Get help from the leadership team (do daily stand-ups or check in weekly with others)
  • Set up a prioritization framework to assess issues (find a model that suits your business)
  • Answer and help triage support tickets (it will teach you the technical stuff)
  • Coffee buddy (get to know your co-workers, their strengths, and weaknesses)
  • Keep your customers happy by keeping a close eye on the quality and performance of your product once they are in the wild: use Raygun Crash Reporting to access your team’s software quality and Real User Monitoring to keep an eye on the performance 😉
  • Reduce the number of metrics to three, but report more regularly (i.e. NPS, releases, and activation percentage )
  • Focus on the quarterly deliverables, so you don’t get distracted
  • Focus on the outputs, not the inputs (no one cares about the inputs, except you!)
  • Product Managers will need to evolve with the company growth

Winning friends

Challenges to winning friends (while taming fires)

  • Not communicating (effectively) enough
  • Not communicating in a timely manner
  • Stakeholders might (unintentionally) withhold information from you
  • Timezone/location challenges (if in a different country)
  • No one knows what you do/thinks you don’t do much!

Tips for winning friends

  • Send regular internal product updates (once every two weeks)
  • Send regular customer product newsletter (once a month)
  • Be proactive about approaching others to set up a product communications plan
  • Dedicate time to talk to other departments and customers
  • Set expectations about time zones and schedule events (months) in advance
  • Send a monthly “investor update” (but for product)

Daily schedule and useful tools

A typical day in the office

8 – 9 am Triage and answer support tickets (Intercom)
9 – 11 am Check in with Sales and Accounts teams (Slack/face to face)
11 am – 12 pm Write stories/specs for Engineering team (JIRA)
12 – 1 pm Lunch and discuss with CEO/Reading PM books
1 – 3 pm Catch up with NZ team and other departments (Slack/Skype)
3 – 4 pm Review and comment on designer mocks (Invision)
4 – 5 pm Review feature requests and update sheet (Google Docs)

Once a week

Monday Review and reply to NPS feedback (AskNicely)
Monday Update and review my numbers (Google Docs)
Tuesday Check in on quarterly product deliverables (JIRA and Slack)
Wednesday Call customers and trial users and report back (Skype)
Thursday Weekly design jam (Slack/Skype)
Friday Lunch and Learn (Whiteboard)
Friday Product updates and 15five (Powerpoint/Word/15five)

Product management tips and resources: social media, podcasts, Meetups, and books

Social media to follow 

John Cutler (Twitter and Medium)
Josh Elman (Twitter)
Paul J  (Twitter and Medium)
Janna Bastow (Twitter)
Marty Cagan (Twitter)
Jeff Patton (Twitter)
Rich Mironov (Twitter)
Nichole Elizabeth (Twitter)
Martin Eriksson (Twitter)
Product Manager HQ (Twitter)
The Clever PM (Twitter)
Mind the Product (Twitter)
Women in Product (Twitter)
ProductTank (Twitter)

Podcasts for product management tips 

Global Product Management Talk
This is Product Management
Above & Beyond: SaaS | Customer Success | Retention
Product Mastery Podcast

Meetups

Product Tank (Wellington)
Product Management Auckland (Auckland)
Product Tank (Seattle)
Product Tank (Worldwide)
24 Hour Product People (Seattle)
Product Management Community (Seattle)
Product Management 101 (Seattle)

Books

Agile Product Management
Build Better Products
Designing Products People Love
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Personal favorite)
Product Leadership (Personal favorite)
Scaling Up (Personal favorite)
Strategize: Product Strategy and Product Roadmap Practices for the Digital Age
The Four Steps to the Epiphany (Personal favorite)
The Lean Product Playbook
The Practitioner’s Guide to Product Management
The Principles of Product Development Flow
Validating Product Ideas

I’m interested to know, how do you explain product management to someone else? Let me know in the comments below.

Want to learn more about Product Management? You can follow me on Twitter.

Further reading

How does website performance affect user experience? 

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