The Ultimate Guide to SaaS Product Management

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on June 10, 2019. 

Special thanks to Ned O’Leary, Miriam Richter, Adelina Irimia and Adina Mic for helping compile this guide.

It’s easy to forget that SaaS product management is a relatively new, and still emerging, function. (For proof, might I suggest the classic post Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager, which presents a very different vision for the role of product manager than most of us have today).

Product managers have an extremely difficult and amorphous job, filled with potential contradictions. They’re responsible for building amazing, market differentiated products that users love. But, they’re urged to de-scope products to a ‘minimally viable’ version in order to release features as fast as possible. They know the immense value of user input and customer development. Yet, they’re tasked with inventing a future that users may not be able to imagine and haven’t even known to ask for.

Here’s some good news: there are tons of amazing product management resources out there. We’ve compiled our favorite articles, advice, podcasts and interviews in this guide. The content comes from both OpenView as well as external experts like our friends at Point Nine Capital, Intercom, ProductPlan, Alpha, SendGrid, Pendo, Fresh Tilled Soil and Toptal.

Table of Contents

Best Practices

What does a product manager do?
This article is a must read for anyone who is still confused about the role of a product manager and whether it’s the right path for their career. Find out how Brent Tworetzky, SVP of Product at InVision, defines the three major roles of product management: strategy, execution and user understanding. This article also takes a closer look at key skills needed to be a successful product manager.

SaaS product management explained by 6 product managers
Six SaaS product managers share best practices on how their role differs from an “old school” software PM — and, more importantly, what it really takes to be a SaaS PM. Breaking down everything from must-have skills to mistakes to be avoided to up-and-coming trends within the SaaS product management space, these insights from Roadmunk are a worthy primer on the discipline of PM.

Product Differentiation: A Guide to the Do’s, Don’ts, And Companies That Get It Right
Product differentiation is a way to establish uniqueness and superiority in a crowded market and can be key to your business’ success. Want to get deeper insight into how product differentiation can help you win against your competitors? Check out this comprehensive guide if you want to learn more about best practices of SaaS companies that do well, common pitfalls you should avoid and ultimately drill deeper into how to establish a solid product differentiation strategy.

5 Common Pitfalls in Data-Driven SaaS Product Management
SaaS product managers should use data to drive decision making, right? But how do you become data driven without falling into common traps like analysis paralysis or cognitive bias or inaccurate conclusions from data misinterpretation? This article from ProductPlan walks through some of the most common risks that could trip you up as a data-driven SaaS product manager.

The Key to Building Smarter Software: Deliver Insights
If you are building software that generates, collects, or manages data in any way, ask yourself: can customers easily gather insights from my data? There is a remarkable opportunity for us to build smarter software that gives customers what they want, it just takes a little more work. David Skok from Matrix Partners built a list of what is required to build smart data analytics software that can automatically and proactively deliver insights to users.

317 Free Resources for Product Management 
Sometimes the most useful resources are simply tactical examples. For instance, what questions are relevant for a post mortem? In this resource, the team at FYI has compiled more than 300 reproducible templates for product managers. From roadmaps to presentations to interviews, these templates will help guide your thinking, set you in the right direction, and save you time.

Creating a PM Function

Inner Workings of Product Management at Product Led Growth Companies
At product led growth (PLG) companies like Atlassian and Intercom, product management may look very different from a ‘traditional’ SaaS company. These companies have fewer sales reps (or none at all), meaning more resources get invested into product and engineering. They invest heavily in UX as a core element of product management because they recognize it’s critical to build products that users actually want to buy. And they’re extremely empathetic to the needs of the customer. Read on for more insights from OpenView’s interviews with product experts.

Product Management Mental Models for Everyone
Mental models help speed up decision making by enabling quick pattern recognition. Brandon Chu, GM of Platform at Shopify, explains 16 different mental models that are extremely useful for product managers. These mental models will help readers figure out where to invest, how to better design and scope products, and then how to ship and iterate products once they’ve been built.

3 Step Guide to Successful Product Management
Ever wonder how to get started with product management in your business? Read this article to understand the role of product management and learn the critical steps to successfully implement product management and recruit a dedicated team for it.

PLG and Product Management: Tips from Sendgrid’s VP of Product
Wondering how product management differs between companies that follow distinctly different growth strategies? Scott Williamson shares insights and differences he observed from working at CA, a company that follows a more traditional sales- and marketing-led go-to-market strategy, versus SendGrid, where a strongly product-led approach to growth (PLG) is employed.

How Do You Introduce Product Management Into a Business?
You might know where you want the product management function to go in the long run, but it’s not as clear where you can take it in its first few months. This guide from Mind the Product is especially useful for framing your expectations around what can be done in the early days and what you can expect from the team in that transition period.

Product KPIs

Data-Driven Product Roadmaps: Choosing the Right Metrics
An effective roadmap requires both a product’s manager intuition and vision, but also a scientific approach to analyzing real world data. In this post, Jim Semick – Founder & Chief Strategist at ProductPlan – shares 6 steps to base your product strategy and roadmap on key metrics that support your strategic decisions. He emphasizes how to identify, prioritize and communicate metrics you use for your strategic goals and roadmap decisions.

Creating Success – A Guide to Product Manager KPIs
A strong product manager should know his or her key performance indicators (KPIs) as they enable defendable decisions and are important for monitoring the success or failure of products or the company. This guide from Toptal gives an overview of the various KPIs associated with product management and synthesizes them into four categories. Furthermore, it explains when to use which metric and how to use them for clear communication as part of building credibility, celebrating success or identifying trends and issues.

The SaaS Product Metrics Pyramid
Need a refresher on the most common SaaS business and product metrics? ProductPlan provides clear definitions on some of the countless metrics that you have all heard of – MRR, CAC, LTV, NPS, etc. Even though it’s safe to say that all these metrics can be relevant, tracking all of them can be overwhelming and could leave yourself drowning in data. To avoid this, Shaun Juncal from ProductPlan introduces the SaaS product metrics pyramid. Ultimately, this framework facilitates evaluating metrics critically and identifying the ones that actually matter for your business.

From Product-Market Fit to Product-Market-Price Fit
90% of startups fail. A large majority of those failures can be attributed to premature scaling and underestimating how long it takes to validate the market for a given product. But, the focus on product-market fit isn’t enough. Kyle Poyar, OpenView’s VP of Market Strategy, explains why you need to include pricing in the equation.

Stop Using the Wrong Product Metrics: Valuable Metrics Framework (Part One)
This framework from Gainsight lays out 8 steps to identifying the valuable metrics you should be tracking as a product manager. It’s very relevant for getting started with a product management function, but it’s also useful for relatively mature organizations. Getting bogged down in unhelpful metrics is a common pitfall for software businesses, so use this framework to drive clarity around the ones that deserve focus.

Roadmap and Prioritization

RICE: Simple prioritization for product managers
The main conflict for Product Managers is to decide what to work on first when building a roadmap. Curious what could help you make better-informed decisions about the prioritization of projects? Sean Mcbride – Product Manager at Intercom – developed a scoring system for prioritization from first principles called RICE. RICE is an acronym for the four factors used to evaluate each project idea: reach, impact, confidence and effort.

A Radical, And Simple, Approach To Product Prioritization
Prioritizing what items are critical for your product and what items can wait keeps PMs awake at night. Check out this article from Richard Banfield, CEO of Fresh Tilled Soil, which provides a simple instruction manual on determining the fit between the features and the product vision which ultimately facilitates prioritization.

Align Your Product Roadmap to Your Company Strategy
Having a strong product roadmap isn’t enough. You need a strong product roadmap that makes sense in the context of a broader company strategy. Otherwise, you could be wasting your time.

Dear Product Roadmap, I’m Breaking Up with You
Dear Product Managers: most of you have probably experienced designing the product roadmap as one of the most difficult and sometimes frustrating parts of your job. You are not alone. Actually two thirds of enterprise product leaders report to struggle with the prioritization of projects, features and functionality. Read this article to learn more about the top product roadmap challenges according to product leaders, and what you can do to overcome them.

Role of Product Manager

Product Manager: The Role and How to Master It
Whether your team practices Scrum will make a big difference in the role of a product manager. Does it make sense to have a product owner in addition to a product manager role? This article from Atlassian lays out some of the differences in the roles, and it offers some perspective on what a product manager needs to be exceptionally successful.

How to Double Your Value as a Product Manager in No Time
Have you ever wondered how you can take your product management skills to the next level / climb the ladder of product? Tommi Forsström uncovers how improving your understanding of finance and economics can propel you from a good product manager to a great product manager. This guide provides hands-on advice on how product managers can start to level up their “financial intelligence”.

7 Reasons why Product Management continues to play a greater role in SaaS
According to Kyle Poyar from OpenView it is “It’s a rough time to be a startup.” Robin Dechant from Point Nine Capital agrees that differentiation is getting more difficult within the current SaaS landscape. Check out this article to find out seven reasons why the role of product management is more important than ever.

Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Listen to His Customers
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs.

This article from HelpScout critically discusses the famous quote from Steve Jobs and the underlying question of whether product managers should focus on internal innovation or if they should gain insights from customer feedback and listen to them to understand what they want in the future.

28 Practical Activities to Level Up as a Product Manager
There’s abundant advice out there about being a great product manager. It’s rarely actionable advice, though. More often than not, if you want to improve, you’re looking for steps you can take right away. This piece from UX Collective gives you exactly that. Here are 28 things you can actually do to improve as a product manager. Even if you’re not a product manager now, it will help to clarify the product manager’s role in concrete terms.

Product Managers – You Are Not the CEO of Anything
This article elaborates on why product management is a team sport after all, and challenges the idea of Ben Horowitz that the product manager can be seen as the CEO of the product. Furthermore, it gives advice on how you can strive to be a good coach for your product team and also covers the skills needed to set your team up for success – skills that define great CEOs, too.

Team Alignment

37 Roadmap Tips to Align Stakeholders
Product managers have to strike a tricky balance, as they often sit at the intersection of competing internal priorities. That’s why it’s such a critical skill to be able to drive team alignment. Here, Productplan lists 38 helpful tips on getting your team aligned around a product roadmap. It covers everything from content to formatting to your communication style.

The Key To Happier Customers? Customer Success And Product Management Alignment.
The Age of the Customer demands that companies focus on the post-sale customer experience. The two groups responsible for making this work seamlessly are customer success and product management. It is critical to align these two customer-facing teams to understand user needs and drive growth proactively. Want to find out how your CS and PM alignment stacks up to best-in-class companies? Check out this article, which summarizes the four key insights of the 2017 Benchmarking Report for Customer Success and Product Management Alignment.

Scaling Product Management at SendGrid: Part 1 – Growing the Team
Curious how to install and grow a PM team at a rapidly scaling company? Scott Williamson, formerly SendGrid’s VP of Product Management, shares his experience and best practices on unifying your team, choosing between “growing” vs. “buying” PM skills and nailing the hiring process.

Product Management, UX, and Development: What Ratio is right for your company?
Looking for advice on how to allocate resources within your product team? Nick Petri assesses how to find the right ratio of headcount between product management, UX and development. This article will help you determine whether your current ratio needs adjustment or whether it is right on the money.

Podcasts

OV BUILD Podcast
Building your startup is hard. OpenView’s BUILD podcast is here to help. Each week OpenView sits down with founders and operators from some of the world’s leading SaaS companies. We especially recommend Season 5, which is all about Product Led Growth, and includes interviews with product leaders at Calendly, SendGrid, Trello, Expensify and Malwarebytes.

This Is Product Management
This is Product Management, hosted by Mike Fishbein at Alpha, interviews brilliant minds across the numerous disciplines that fuel the modern product manager. Episodes span from arts to science, tactics to strategies, confessions to professions. Take a deep dive into user experience, statistics, innovation, differentiation, design, development, metrics, and more with this podcast for product managers.

Product Love Podcast
Eric Boduch, co-founder of Pendo, defines Product Love as the feeling you get when you have that incredible and joyous connection towards your favorite products. This podcast is essential for anyone who wants to learn about product management from the best product leaders across various disciples. Dive into topics about the evolving craft of product management, trends in the industry, and get even more insight into how the modern PM makes you feel “product love.”

Product to Product
This product management podcast is for and by product people. Listen to candid conversations between two product people about, well, product. Featured guests include product people from Amazon, Intercom, Pinterest, Dropbox, Atlassian and Venmo.

100 Product Managers
100 Product Managers interviews one hundred product managers from various startups to well-established enterprises every season. It was named one of the best 30 podcasts for entrepreneurs, offering free resources to excel in product management.

 

If you’re building a B2B SaaS company and you’d like to talk strategy or fundraising, we want to hear from you. Please reach out to hello@ov.vc.

VP, Market Strategy
OpenView

Kyle helps OpenView’s portfolio companies accelerate top-line growth through segmentation, value proposition, packaging & pricing, customer insights, channel partner programs, new market entry and go-to-market strategy.
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