How to think like a Product Manager?
Hemanth Kumar K V
13th Jun, 2023
How to think like a Product Manager?
Being a successful Product manager goes far beyond technical expertise and domain knowledge. It requires a unique mindset that enables effective problem-solving, collaboration, and decision-making. It essentially is about creating a compelling vision with customers’ needs at the heart, mobilizing the organization to support it, and charting a course toward delivering value to everyone in the process.
The job is a beautiful mess (there, I said it 😄) but is truly rewarding in every sense. So, what does it mean to think like a product manager? Let us explore a few mental models that help and facilitate what is called product thinking and also the kind of mindset one needs to have to be a good Product manager (PM).
Thinking from the Problem Space
Right from our childhood, we are conditioned to focus on finding solutions – how to solve a math problem quickly, how to crack a competitive exam for securing a seat in the college of our choice, and so on. This solution-centric thinking – where you know the desired outcome and work backward from there might work for certain situations but not for building great products - as you tend to fixate on the solution without giving due importance to the customers’ pains and needs.
To truly understand customer needs and pain points, product managers must shift their focus from jumping straight into solution mode. By deeply analyzing the problem space, one can gain valuable insights and then design innovative solutions that address core issues. Thinking from the problem space allows for a more empathetic approach and leads to customer-centric product development as it focuses more on the primary drivers and motivations of the users.
During my Business analyst days – almost a decade and a half ago, while working on a Banking and finance project, there was a requirement from the business team on building a simple interface for processing invoices from the vendors. After a simple brainstorming session on the actual problem faced, we arrived at a simple backend solution that could do the job without having to have an interface at all! That saved a lot of money, time, and effort for all stakeholders. So, yes, jumping to solutions mode without a care for the actual problem at hand is taboo for a PM.
Empathy lies at the core of product management. Product managers strive to understand the emotions, motivations, and challenges of their target users. One must practice active listening, conduct user research, and engage in customer feedback loops to develop a deep sense of empathy. This empathetic mindset enables you to design and build products that truly resonate with their users.
Being Inquisitive About Everything
Curiosity is a powerful asset for a product manager. By continuously seeking knowledge, exploring new trends, and staying updated on industry developments, product managers can make informed decisions and drive innovation. You actively seek out opportunities to learn from different perspectives and disciplines, fostering a mindset of continuous improvement.
The ability to question assumptions and challenge the status quo is vital for a product manager. By constantly challenging the status quo, you can uncover underlying motivations and understand the true drivers behind customer needs. This mindset enables you to make strategic decisions based on a deeper understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve.
Product managers are not afraid to dive into the details and ask how things work. By understanding the intricacies of technology, processes, and user experiences, you can bridge the gap between technical teams and other stakeholders. This knowledge empowers you to effectively communicate requirements, make informed trade-offs, and drive successful product delivery.
Having an Opinion and being vocal about it!
Product managers are expected to be opinionated and provide clear direction. While you should be open for discussions, challenge ideas, and encourage diverse viewpoints, you also shouldn’t hesitate in voicing your opinions with the stakeholders and back your opinions with data or evidence. For sure, Product managers are not “Yes men” and they are expected to question everything in the interest of the product and are not afraid of having an opinion and being assertive about it.
Product managers operate in an environment of uncertainty and ambiguity. You should be comfortable navigating through uncharted territories and making decisions based on limited information. Embracing ambiguity allows you to adapt quickly to changing market dynamics and leverage emerging opportunities. You should see ambiguity as an opportunity for growth and innovation than as a hindrance.
Listening is one of the most underrated skills and as a Product manager, you should be a good listener. You should actively seek feedback from customers, stakeholders, and team members and also have an ear for the market and systems. By listening attentively, you can uncover valuable insights, identify pain points, and gather actionable feedback. Effective listening allows you to iterate on your product strategy and continuously improve the user experience and sometimes the value proposition itself.
In a world of competing demands, product managers should excel at prioritization. You analyze data, evaluate market opportunities, and consider stakeholder input to make informed decisions about what to prioritize. By focusing on high-impact initiatives and strategic goals, you ensure that resources are allocated efficiently and product efforts are aligned with business objectives. ‘Must have’, ‘Need to have’, and ‘Nice to have’ lists could provide clarity on what to build and in what order.
Everything is an Experiment!
Product managers should approach their work with a mindset of experimentation. You should understand that product development involves continuous learning and adaptation and hence framing initiatives as experiments, you can validate assumptions, gather data-driven insights, and iterate on your product strategy. This iterative approach enables you to make informed decisions based on real-world feedback. Whether it’s for a new feature or a new design or a new idea in general, an experimentation mindset facilitates better decision-making and reduces the risk of failure.
SHIP. SHIP. SHIP!!
Product managers prioritize delivering value to customers. You should understand the importance of timely product releases and iterate based on user feedback. You foster a culture of execution and hold yourself and your team(s) accountable for delivering high-quality products on time. By consistently shipping and iterating, you create a cycle of continuous improvement and customer satisfaction.
Sounds like a heck of a job? Yes, it indeed is 😄
This is just a speck of knowledge on your journey to becoming an expert in the industry. If you have any doubts or require career guidance, feel free to connect with our Industry experts and trainers for 1-on-1 coaching.
You are already a step ahead. Keep learning and growing!