Continuous Improvement in Product Management by ServiceNow Sr PM

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When making a digital product, if we pay attention to the development phase only, and not the product management phase, then it surely would lead to the failure of that product. Also, the product has slim chances of doing well if it’s just developed at a stretch and delivered to the customers, without giving much thought to their real problems, and leaving any room for future improvements and modification.

In this talk, Manjeet explains the importance of Product Management, and the crucial role that the Product Managers play in a company in making their product a success. He narrates the different phases of the product life cycle that a product manager and the concerned teams should adhere to, so that continuous improvement is possible.

A PM Focused on Employee Experience

Manjeet Singh is a Group Product Manager at ServiceNow, where he focuses on leading innovation throughout the Service Management portfolio in the domains of service optimization and employee experience. During his extensive professional work, he has hired, managed and led large-scale cross-functional teams across the globe, helping companies such as Phoenix Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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How to Apply Continuous Improvement to Your Product

Manjeet begins by mentioning the three main reasons of keeping product managers in a company:

  1. To understand and solve a real customer problem
  2. To reduce uncertainty of the product succeeding
  3. To drive sustainable business growth

Next, he introduces the product life cycle and the different stages in it:

  1. Discovery
  2. Planning
  3. Execution

There are many subphases in each of the above phases of a product life cycle.

The product manager in a company is responsible to spearhead the various phases of the product life cycle in order to make it a success. The above depiction of a product life cycle is not a one-size-fits-all. It is contextual. The various phases heavily depend on the type of product, the product market, whether the company is engineering-driven or management-driven, etc.

What is Continuous Improvement?

Manjeet explains that though companies do follow agile methodologies and continue to work on their product in a continuous cycle, somewhere some of them fail to analyze how to improve this cycle as well.

There are three building blocks of CI:

  1. People: Leadership buy-in and employee engagement
  2. Process: Simple improvement methodology
  3. Technology

A product manager should always be on the lookout of how Continuous Improvement can be implemented by looking into any of these three building blocks. For example, if a task is completed manually and is of a repetitive nature, a product manager can sort a way through which the same task can be automated, and hence the resources (people) can commit their time to something more significant, through the aid of technology.

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Continuous Improvement Framework

It is a simple structured process of working. Align data, people and business goals to achieve continuous improvement at all levels in a structured and efficient manner.

Power of Continuous Improvement Mindset

Next, Manjeet addresses a question that many product managers have. Should a change be radical, or small with increments? He suggests that even a small percentage of change, if done on a regular basis turns out to be a gamechanger. He explains this with an example: If there’s 1% change or improvement each day, it compounds to ~3800% in a year, and that’s a massive difference.

He lists three traps that a product manager should avoid – building products without fully understanding the customer problem, building feature after feature that nobody uses and losing sight of customer experience.

Another major problem of the companies while building a product is that in the process of focusing on the solution, they lose track of what the problem exactly was about. Hence, it’s crucial to align problem space with solution space.

There are certain process steps that a PM has to follow in the various phases of the product life cycle. The agile methodology falls into the execution phase.

Lightweight Business Model Canvas

Use this model to ascertain whether your product idea is feasible enough to push forward. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What value is my organization providing?
  2. How is my organization creating value?
  3. How is my organization delivering value?
  4. How is my organization capturing value?

Manjeet also emphasizes that the goals/KPIs of product managers should be clearly defined. Important KPIs of a PM include:

  1. Drive sustainable growth to your business
  2. Solve a real customer problem
  3. Customer acquisition/retention/revenue (business focused)
  4. CSAT, NPS, average bug rate, MTTR (customer focused)
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Pick the metric and tie back to business goals:

  1. The metric depends on what industry you are in, the business model and the state of the product.
  2. Good metrics are actionable, understandable, can be audited and change based on how you behave.
  3. Metric becomes meaningful when you have benchmarks and historical data.

Later Manjeet narrates about the steps that should be taken in the various stages of the product life cycle:

Discovery phase

● How much time are you spending in customer shoes?

● Learn to stay in learning mode (not fixing mode)

● Learn by prototyping and demoing the concept

Testing your idea

● Timing and execution are critical once you have a good idea

● Share it internally within cross functional teams

● Prototype and early customer feedbacks

● Share externally: friends/blog/Quora

● Learn and adapt – A/B testing, usage behavior tracking

Design Phase

● Rapid Experimentation & Design Thinking – because it allows to frame and reframe the problem

● Become self dependent if UX resources are not available

● Keep it simple – complex solution has a huge cost

● Whiteboard all ideas and carefully look at intersection for new innovation possibilities

three people around a barbecue fire

Execute

● Build relationships with the people

● Kickstart meetings early and identify experiment areas

● Never lose sight of social and emotional aspect of the customer. Critical for B2B products as well

● Avoid specials (no customization for one customer)

● Leverage data to make decisions – data is most useful when you come to it with a question

Manjeet concludes by saying that no matter what comes up, the most important thing to keep in mind is taking care of one’s health, both the mental and the physical. If one’s health is not sound, they can’t bring the values that they want to in the world.

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This post was adapted from content summarized by Varsha Jayaraj

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