Product Management in Practice: Blending Theory with Reality

Let's face it: product management is complex.

It can be tricky to apply the theory of product management in the real world, where things are not always as they seem. Many product managers make the mistake of thinking that theory is the same as reality, which can lead to disastrous consequences.

Just because it looks nice in a Gantt chart doesn't mean it actually helps solve problems for your customers.

It's important to understand the difference between the two and how to apply product management in a way that is realistic and achievable. In this article, we will explore some of the challenges that product managers face and offer advice on how to overcome them.

Before we talk about the balance between product management theory and product management in reality, let's start by describing what a product manager is and what they do. Let's go!

What is a product manager and what do they do?

A product manager is a professional who is responsible for the development and execution of a product strategy. They work with cross functional teams to create products that meet the needs of customers and stakeholders. Product managers are involved in all aspects of product development, from initial conception to final release and ongoing sales and marketing efforts along with continual updates to the product.

Let's review some of the common product management skills of an aspiring product manager.

  • Defining the product vision and strategy - this includes establishing product-specific goals and objectives, metrics to measure success, and a plan for how to get there.
  • Collaborating across teams -  this includes working with other product managers, engineers, designers, support teams and marketers.
  • Gathering and analyzing customer feedback -  this includes making sense of customer research, support tickets, and other sources of feedback. Most importantly, customer interviews are at the heart of a demand-side sales strategy and should be the guiding light when designing your product roadmap.
  • Coordinating with engineering and design teams - engineering and design teams need to work closely together and the product manager is the liaison between both.
  • Tracking and measuring goals - product managers need to set and track key metrics like monthly active users, retention rates, etc.
  • Managing marketing and sales efforts around the product - this includes creating or collaborating with teams to design marketing campaigns, writing copy and helping to determine product pricing.
  • Monitoring competitive products and market trends - to stay ahead of competitors and understand what's happening in your industry, product managers should monitor competitive products carefully. This includes staying up-to date with new technologies and how they might impact your product.

Now that we have a sense of what a product manager is responsible for in theory, let's talk a little bit about how product management theory doesn't always pan out in the real world.

The pitfalls of product management in the real world

In the real world, the role of product management is often much different than what is outlined in theory. In practice, it can be difficult to balance the needs of customers, stakeholders and the company. There are a few common pitfalls that product managers should be aware of.

Trying to please everyone

The first pitfall is trying to respond to everyone's feedback. It's important to remember that you can't please everyone and that some compromises will need to be made when you gather feedback. Trying to appease everyone can lead to watered down products and a loss of focus.

As difficult as it may seem, there is one group that should be prioritized over all others. That's the customer.

It's always a good idea to prioritize customer feedback over all else, even that of internal stakeholders. This may be easier said than done but doesn't make it any less true. Nobody ever said a product manager's job was easy.

Who should ultimately be driving your product roadmap? Your customers. Period.

That's why we made our product roadmap open to the public. Our customers can share their own ideas and see what we're working on next.

Getting too attached

Sorry for getting so heavy here. But it's true. Get attached leads to suffering. And in the world of product management, it's no different.

Another pitfall for product managers is getting too attached to your ideas. It's important to be open to feedback and to be willing to make changes based on the feedback loop from customers first, followed by other stakeholders. If you're not willing to compromise, you can end up with a product that fails in the market because it ultimately didn't help customers make progress against their problems

It's never easy to let go of an idea that once seemed promising. But sometimes what seemed like a good idea doesn't improve customer experience or contribute to business objectives.

It's even harder to let go of that idea if it was initially your own. But just like George Harrison always said, "All things must pass."

Try to get your ego out of the way and let bad ideas go. It may be tough for your development team or your sales team but it's ultimately good for the most important folks - potential customers.

Not believing in your product

The third pitfall is not believing in your product. Sometimes you need to take off the product management hat and be able to answer 'Why should anyone care?' You need to believe that what you're doing has value and will help others, otherwise no one else will either.

Believe in your product and validate it with customer feedback

But how do you know your product is providing value? That's a great question. You'll find the answer in customer interviews.

Listen for the problems that customers are struggling with and make sure that your products helps them make progress against those problems. That's how you know your product and your team is providing genuine value to customers.

There are a number of sources of customer feedback. The first and most valuable is one-on-one customer interviews. Spend an hour with a customer and listen to their problems. Don't dig to deep into the specifics of your own problem. Instead, listen for their pain points and how they impact your customers. Focus on reducing or eliminating those pain points.

Another great way to gather feedback is from customer support. Are customers writing in with the same issues?  If so, then you know that you have a problem with customer education or customer experience. Those are friction points you'll want to smooth down.

This is why it's important to use a tool that lets your support team collaborate with your product team. Harness support feedback to drive your product forward.

Thinking you can do it all yourself

Product managers tend to try to bite off more than they can chew. We may want to be involved in everything but we can't actually do everything ourselves.

Product management is really the sum of a number of projects happening at once. From marketing campaigns, to project management, team leadership, analyzing product market fit and providing feedback on design prototypes, there's always a lot to do.

Consider hiring a project manager to take some of these day to day responsibilities off of your plate. You can't herd all the cats on your own.

This will help you focus on the product roadmap to and ensure that your product teams are working towards achieving your product strategy.

How to apply product management theory in practice

Now that we understand some of the pitfalls of product management in the real world, let's talk about how to apply product management theory in a way that is realistic and achievable.

One of the best ways to do this is by blending theory with reality. This means being flexible and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to product management. As a product manager, you need to constantly be adjusting your approach based on the situation you're in.

Here are a few examples of how product managers can apply product management theory in real world scenarios.

Failing fast

In product management, it's important to be able to try out new ideas and accept failure when it happens. This doesn't mean that you should expect failure or ignore the need for planning ahead but being able to fail ahead of time helps mitigate risk in a way that is responsible and feasible.

It's always better to discover something doesn't work now as opposed to later.

Customer interviews

We already mentioned customers interviews, but they really are the best way to determine where value lies. Wherever your customers are struggling, it's up to you and your product teams to help them make progress.

Make a decision quickly and improve

It may sound cliché but it's true. Perfection is the enemy of progress.

Here at DoneDone, we always try to make the best decision we possibly can at any given point in time. We don't expect it to be the be a perfect decision. We expect it to be the best for right now.

We'll then go on to continually iterate and release a series of 'best for now' improvements, each incrementally better than the last.

Make a decision quickly and iterate

This helps your software development team maintain a healthy development speed while continually addressing customer needs.

Is it better than what customers have now?

Product management is a combination of theory and practice, which necessitates product managers to constantly alter their approach based on what they're doing and need to accomplish at any one moment.

Try not to get hung up on perfecting your product ahead of time because you'll only slow down the release of improvements to your customers. If it's better than what they have now, release it.

The importance of balancing theory and reality in product management

As product managers, it's our job to make sure that the products we create are feasible and achievable within the real world. They need to be attainable with the resources that teams have at their disposal. They also need to help customers make progress towards their problems.

How do we do that as product managers? By finding balance.

Balance idealism with realities of your circumstance

One of the biggest challenges in product management is balancing theoretical idealism with practical realities. On one hand, you want to come up with innovative, groundbreaking ideas that will revolutionize your product category. But on the other hand, you need to be realistic about what's achievable and what will actually benefit your customers. It's often difficult to find the right balance.

A good senior product manager knows when to take the middle ground.

Closing thoughts on product management

Proper product management is a complicated process that requires product managers to balance theory with reality. Product management can be tricky in the real world because product managers often make the mistake of thinking that theory is applicable without taking into account how it will affect their product and customer base.  

To help identify potential pitfalls, here are some real world examples of where product managers should find balance between theory and the constraints of the real world: Failing fast, one-on-one interviews, feedback from support teams, being flexible based on what they're doing at any given moment (for example iterating new ideas quickly).

If you're a product manager looking to manage your product and customer support in the same, simple tool, we recommend using DoneDone.

Our product is designed to help product managers get a quick and accurate snapshot of their product's progress, as well as the ability to easily communicate with their support team and customers. Give a try for free. No credit card required.

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