Three questions for product manager Roger Cauvin

Roger

Product Mantra: What prioritisation technique(s) would you use at a startup where product users are both internal and external?
Roger Cauvin: Product managers should build consensus with every member of the product team (including internal users) for a focused value proposition that keeps internal users and stakeholders aligned with the needs of the target market and with the product’s positioning. This sort of product strategy consensus enables all team members to execute cooperatively and to set aside personal preferences in deference to delivering the promised value. I recommend composing a competitive mindshare map to position (determine the unique value proposition of) the product.

The team should agree to consider every product decision in terms of the extent to which it supports the unique value proposition.

Some practical ways I’ve used to build this product strategy consensus include:

* Walk the team through the competitive landscape and positioning represented in the competitive mindshare map.
* Interview prospects and share and review the interview notes with the team.
* Compose a slide deck of buyer and user personas and review them with the team.
* Compose a lean canvas and review, in particular, the “problem” and “unique value proposition” sections.
* Take every opportunity to relate product decisions, requirements, and design back to the unique value proposition.

Product Mantra: What advice do you have for a product manager in a startup who is expected to do more than just product management?
Roger Cauvin: Depending on the situation, responsibilities outside the strict product management role may represent a personal growth opportunity.

For example, I ran product at a startup that lacked the resources to hire a user experience designer. Consequently, it became my responsibility to design the user experience for an overhauled version of the product. I embraced this responsibility as an opportunity to learn user experience (UX) patterns and practice mocking up user interfaces.

Simultaneously, however, I educated the rest of the executive team on how user experience is not part of the product management skill set, and how a dedicated user experience designer would likely produce a higher quality design in a more timely fashion. They agreed and were prepared to hire a user experience designer once the budget allowed for it. (Unfortunately, our funding ran out, so we were never able to budget for it.)

Another avenue worth pursuing is to identify colleagues interested in carrying out the responsibilities and empowering them to do so. In startups, we all have to be prepared to be fluid in the roles we play to work as a team to deliver the best business outcomes. That burden shouldn’t lie exclusively on product management. At any particular time, for any particular job to be done, the team has to identify the people best suited to take on the responsibilities.

Product Mantra: How would you go about introducing lean startup techniques at a startup?
Roger Cauvin: First, compose a lean canvas for your product(s). No excuses. Just do it. It’s a quick way of being explicit about your product strategy so you can begin testing the hypotheses and iterating on them. I suggest composing it in Google Slides so that it’s accessible from all devices and simultaneously viewable and editable in real-time by all team members.

Second, make sure you are interviewing and observing prospective buyers and users on a fairly regular basis. If you can’t tap into the sales pipeline to identify prospects, think creatively about your own network of friends and professionals who could connect you to prospects that may not be on your company’s radar screen yet.

Third, identify the metrics that matter and start tracking them. You may need to work with marketing and/or sales ops to gain access to the tools you need, such as Google Analytics or Salesforce.

Fourth, instrument the product(s) to track usage. Tools such as MixPanel enable you to track not only events and page views, but also “funnels”, which are sequences of events that comprise a use case. I recommend documenting the key events to track in Google Sheets. For web-based applications, developers can implement events by inserting simple snippets of Javascript.

Finally, you can build consensus for lean startup approaches by educating the team about them and their benefits. Start with an introduction to lean startup and follow up by posting and walking through a model of lean startup concepts.

Three questions to the Product Manager Shardul Mehta

Product Mantra is starting a new monthly Q & A series with Product Managers worldwide. We have decided to keep the format simple – just three questions. We start the series with the well known Product Manager Shardul Mehta of Product Canvas fame.

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Product Mantra: What do you think is the right personality for a Product Manager?
Shardul Mehta: Curiosity. Thirst for learning. Always wanting to know why. Great customer empathy. Technologist with customer experience chops and business sense. Always thinking about the future, but acts in the now. Get-things-done attitude. One of the best communicators in the organization. Leadership.

Product Mantra: When does Product Management get stressful? 
Shardul Mehta: Every job can be stressful when a lot is happening all at once. This is not unique to Product Management.

Product Mantra: Do you see the role of a Product Manager undergoing an evolutionary change in the next 10 years? If not why and if so how.
Shardul Mehta: Yes. It has to. PM missed the boat on Agile, Design Thinking, and Lean Startup. Product Managers spend too much time focusing on features, triaging engineering tasks, and managing releases. Instead, need to focus on the innovation process, customer development, and go-to-market strategies. That’s how it can add real, sustainable and measurable value to the business (and customers).

Thanks a lot Shardul – that was insightful – particularly on your opinion that PM missed the boat on Agile and Lean Startup. We will catchup – as a Product walks with the foot of the Product Manager and so we better catchup.

Shardul has a very useful blog here and a Twitter handle worth following here.