Product Management Implementation: A Real World Case Study (Part 3)

This is the third post in a series about developing an expansion stage product management team. To read the intro to the series, click here. To read the first and second posts, click here and here.

Throughout this series, I’ve talked about how creating and implementing a formal product management function into an expansion stage company can help it remove impediments to growth, increase market clarity, and build a whole product that answers a specific target market segment’s needs — without having to rely heavily on professional services and extreme customization.

I’ve made analogies between product strategy and the car buying process, shared some of my own insight on why product management is so important, and made a case for hiring and integrating an official product management team to be the buffer between stakeholders, product development, and the executive team.

But the best way to really illustrate the value of a product management function is to paint a picture with real world results.

In my previous post, I shared some thoughts on product management implementation from the VP of Product for one of our portfolio companies. That post explored why and when his company decided it was time to create a PM department.

In this post, I’ll share some of the specific actions the company took to get it ramped up. So here, in that VP of Product’s own words, is “Part 2” of that business’s experience implementing product management: 

On the company’s new product strategy with an official PM function…

First, we are currently working to make sure that every product that we sell has a product manager who is directly responsible for the success of the product. While we all share the responsibility to sift through the noise to determine what is best for our customer — whether they know it or not – product managers have two key responsibilities: assessing product opportunities and defining the product to be built.

Typically, new ideas can come from anywhere — company executives, discussions with customers, usability testing, our own product team, our sales or marketing staff, or industry analysts, to name a few. But then someone needs to take a hard look at the idea and decide if it is something worth pursuing. The product manager is responsible for this assessment (many companies call this an MRD — Market Requirements Document — but we use a lighter-weight version of this called an Opportunity Assessment).

On how that translated to product management…

Once senior management has decided that we have a good opportunity and our company is well-suited to pursue it, then someone needs to discover what the solution — the core product — actually is, including the necessary features and functionality, the user experience, and the release criteria. Again, this someone is the product manager, and this task is the heart of his or her job.

Recently, a cross functional team of employees conducted a product workshop with the explicit goal of answering 4 big questions:

  • What problems are you solving?
  • What is the value of your solution?
  • What about your solution is unique?
  • What is the single overriding benefit?

The answers to those questions were used to craft the following value proposition for the product:

  • For: (target customer)
  • Who: (key purchase motivation insight)
  • Our product is a: (customer language)
  • That: (key benefit)
  • Unlike: (key competitors)
  • Ours: (key differentiators)
  • At a price: (less than, equal to, or higher than competitors)

Next, the team created 6 epics (themes) that are important to our products’ customers:

  • Connect all of the stakeholders
  • Close the loop
  • Integrate documents, data and processes
  • Provide integrated training management
  • Support unstructured collaboration & external collaborators
  • Provide transparency and insight across the enterprise

Each team member was asked to write down as many features as they could think of for each of the epics listed above. The team then clarified, debated and rated how each individual feature helped support the 6 epics and the value proposition. Each feature to be prioritized was assessed on a relative 1-5 scale against the prioritized list of epics:

  1. Integrate documents, data, and processes
  2. Close the loop
  3. Provide transparency and insight across the enterprise
  4. Connect all of the stakeholders
  5. Support unstructured collaboration and external collaborators
  6. Provide integrated training management

The result of this exercise, known as theme scoring, resulted in a prioritized list of high level features that will be used to drill down on the user stories for each epic. Once we have user stories, we can start building.

Got it? So we started with a vision statement. Then we created a list of epics (themes), prioritized the epics (themes) and generated as many features that we could think of that would support each of the epics (themes).

After all that, we voted as a group on every feature to determine its value against an epic (theme). Product Management will now be consolidating the list of features and then reconvening with the team to start writing the user stories and working on a release plan that delivers incremental benefits over the near, interim and long term.

On where the company goes from here…

As we add more product managers to the team, we will start to reach out across the company and focus our efforts on augmenting our core products with what is needed to deliver a whole product to our customers. And as we get a better sense of these priorities during the current quarter, we will be working on publishing a product roadmap and release schedule for 2012.

So in order for us to deliver whole products, everyone has to understand what’s happening in Product and Product also needs to understand what’s happening out on the front lines.

Better products + Repeatable delivery = More satisfied customers.

End of story. For now…

So, there you have it. I owe a big thank you to that VP of Product for sharing such a detailed breakdown of his company’s product strategy evolution.

For startup and expansion stage businesses that haven’t transitioned away from an innovation and customization centric product strategy, be sure to look at how your current setup might present an impediment to future growth. Can you continue to innovate and iterate, while still scaling efficiently? My guess is no. And if that’s the case, it’s definitely time to create and implement a formal product management team.

The Chief Executive Officer

Firas was previously a venture capitalist at Openview. He has returned to his operational roots and now works as The Chief Executive Officer of Everteam and is also the Founder of nsquared advisory. Previously, he helped launch a VC fund, start and grow a successful software company and also served time as an obscenely expensive consultant, where he helped multi-billion-dollar companies get their operations back on track.
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