How Product Managers Assess their Products and Users

Assess strategies, assess decisions, assess roadmaps… What about products and users? How do Product Managers assess their products and users? Throughout your career, as implausible as it might sound, you might forget the two most important things that guide your work. Lost in the myriad day-to-day demands of orienting a tech team, you can overlook the long-term importance of crafting a great product for a targeted audience.

One of the fundamental traits for any successful Product Manager is honesty. Without facing the facts of how you are doing, you will certainly fail. Even if you are doing fine right now, you will lack the ability to react once you are in trouble.

Avoid this all too common pitfall. It is very simple! There are plenty of methods and tools that can help you fill the gaps. You should no longer feel like your product or audience are strangers to you or your expanded group of stakeholders. Check out these essential tips to assess your products and users.

People in the NYC subway

How Product Managers Assess Their Products

There is a fairly extended myth about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. It centers on their sources of inspiration. They are often portrayed as Renaissance artists, suddenly enlightened by a course of action that emerges from nowhere. The truth is, achieving this level of creativity requires a lot of work. More than anything, tech work is guided by careful collection, selection, and analysis of relevant data.

Now, this is the theory. How does it work in practice?

On the product ideation side, there are product development concepts like Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The MVP aims to build a product with enough essential features; which can be tested with selected audiences and then with the public. It provides an “Agile” solution for the financial and time constraints most Product Managers face. Whether big or small, all tech companies confront dynamic competitors who will take advantage of any delays to adapt your proposals and advance their own solutions.

Whether you work with MVPs or with other conceptual tools like Jobs-To-Be-Done, your ultimate decision relies on some sort of “product requirements” list. And defining these requirements can be extremely challenging. Supposedly, you have identified a list of problems, came up with solutions and narrowed them down to a manageable number. But this involves answering a lot of questions.

Some are publicly available and simply take time and dedication to get ready (market size research). But others require specific tools to be undertaken. For instance, you will need to agree with other teams what exactly will your USP be. How can you agree on the features that you want to leave in, or cut out?

One particularly useful tool in this respect is conducting a survey. Remember, Product Managers need to generate consensus to carry out their functions. They deal with many different teams, and rely extraordinarily on their negotiating skills. An open survey with your close collaborators, later including close teams across the firm, can help you move the discussion forward. The fact that you opened up a space for deliberation will solidify commitment to the project.

Product Discovery, certainly, happens in many different ways and with differing quantities of data and individual hustle. There is a degree of creativity required. Otherwise, it is hard to discern which of the actionable tasks can return positive returns in the long run. However, to believe that this is the only thing that matters would endanger any company’s product operations. This applies even once the product is in the market.

Calendar with sticky notes

After a product is launched other considerations gain prominence. Remember that Product Managers have moved beyond project-centric thinking: their tasks are based on conducting several iterations, sometimes even at the same time! This means that consensus-creating work never really finishes.

At this point, it is likely that some teams will be working on already-existing products; others will still be dealing with the development phase. Or perhaps they are mixed. Your first initiative as a Product Manager should be gathering feedback from the teams that already launched; so you can hopefully improve operations for the next release.

One productive approach is to implement a product scoring mechanism. The idea is simple. You take the product and unpack it, across different categories. This does not simply involve breaking features up. We are talking usability, accessibility, even marketing! Perhaps the branding teams really messed up when offering your features to the public.

You can involve your closest team to develop the scoring mechanism. After that, you should release the survey (perhaps in a personalized way) and distribute it with internal stakeholders. There are plenty of opinions that favor keeping it anonymous or open. It is really up to you: Do you value honesty? Or would you rather know where feedback is coming from? All in all, it is your users who will have the final say.

two men talking in a restaurant

How Product Managers Assess Their Users

If we could only enter our user’s minds, right? Sadly, this is impossible. Ever since the creation of markets, businesses have been trying to find the best way to understand their public. From focus groups to psychological analyses, the industry of “market research” has aimed to clarify how customers relate to products. This has evolved significantly in the era of digital products.

Twentieth century innovations were focused on providing value through function. While design was obviously important, the modernist dictum “form follows function” summarized the efforts of development teams. More than anything, what mattered was to fulfill a perceived need, whether it was through faster cars, reliable washing machines or sharper color TVs.

But, in the digital era, function is supplemented by experience. More than anything, digital teams are trying to understand how customers feel when they employ their services. Is it a quick and easy operation? Does it offer the right rewards? Is safety guaranteed? All these multifaceted and criss-crossed concerns are a true challenge for product teams.

a coffee shop full of people

Of course, nothing beats meeting your users on the ground. Conferences and exhibitions are great opportunities to do that. Interviews and company visits are harder to arrange, but they are also fantastic avenues to meet potential or current users. However, even in these close-contact situations, you will need some sort of tool to collect their thoughts.

Whatever you do, the most cost-effective option is to conduct a well-prepared questionnaire. What does this preparedness involve? Basically, that questions are accurate and easy to understand, so results can be compared within large datasets. This is a bit of a hard task for product teams, who will for obvious reasons lack an unbiased perspective to judge the product. However, the exercise in itself offers them a chance to rethink their approach to the product.

All in all, with your public you can only get so close. But, with everyone trying to captivate the user with satisfying product experiences, any information you can translate into actionable data will prove of great value.

The Future of Product Management Evaluation

If advertising and user research were two of the great business discoveries of the twentieth century; this century demands more of that, but faster! Assessing products and users is a necessary step that will definitely not go away. Product discovery, launch and feedback are closely tied to public perceptions. Research on and across these areas complement your unique vision as a digital creator.

Surveys, quizzes and personalized reports are extremely user-friendly, both for those who create and those who complete them. This makes them particularly solid additions to the Product Management repertoire. They add speed and efficiency, filling the knowledge gap and allowing product people to feel like they know where they are going.

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