Great companies are built on great products. And great PMs are the ones who make that happen. Our guest writer is a superstar product manager with endless experience in bringing great products to life.
He’s speaking to us about the skeleton behind it all – product development, in 10 steps.
Valentine Cem Aseyo is the SVP of Product @ Bandsintown, the #1 concert discovery platform that connects 40 million fans with 450 thousand musicians. Valentine has a very unique background: before Bandsintown, he spent 8 years working at Facebook in Ireland, India and the US spanning many roles from User Experience to Advertising Products, to Marketing & Sales, which made him an expert in Product Management. Prior to that, he worked at IBM and Colgate – Palmolive.Valentine has built many products, apps and services throughout his career: B2C, B2B, internal products, advertising solutions and more. He’s always interested in sharing his best practices and contributing back to the growth of Product Managers.
A conductor once said: “My orchestra plays the instruments. And I play them”. This couldn’t be more true for a Product Manager. It takes a village to build a product. Even a small feature development will often involve many cross-functional teams or people with different roles. As a Product Manager, your role is to be the glue that holds all the pieces together, making sure everything works like a well-oiled machine. This is not an easy task. You have to be incredibly organized and communicate very often. There will be many moving pieces progressing at the same time, so it’s important to follow a basic step-by-step approach.
Of course, everything starts with Phase Zero: Ideation! First, you need to have an idea or a business problem to work on. You may spot an opportunity to improve your product or build a brand new one. Brainstorming sessions are essential to the ideation phase but sometimes you’ll just wake up with an idea. Either way, you will find teamwork very useful while ideating on a topic because collective intelligence is golden.
The important thing to remember is, while you may think you already have a solution, you merely have a hypothesis. It needs to be tested before you proceed to building it. You need to collect as many data points as possible through a variety of methods.
- Market research: are you the first to come up with this idea or attempt to solve this problem? Probably not! Start with researching what has been done in this area, learn from others’ mistakes and experiences, find external data points, studies, research papers and stats.
- Competitive analysis: take a look at what your competitors are doing. You should not be copying them, however, you need to do this analysis to be different and even superior. Look at how your target audience is engaging with their product and beat them at their game.
- Focus groups: do you know the best way to understand what your customers want? Ask them! I was once asked the most important quality of a PM and I said “empathy”. Focus groups will help you put yourself in your customers’ shoes. This doesn’t need to be conducted in a group setting where you watch people behind a mirrored glass. You can simply ask questions in a very informal manner. You should also interview your colleagues. For example, you should definitely sync with the Sales team that sell your product or the Customer Support team that is the bridge between you and your customers.
- Use your own internal data: if you have any users at all, then you have data. Look at how your customers are engaging with your product or service, see where the pain points are and monitor any drop or abnormality in data. Without data, you don’t have anything to base your decisions on.
This is the phase where you start putting together a business plan. You need to outline all details such as branding, pricing, budget, resources needed, requirements or dependencies and many more. In order to do that, you start the broader communication with all the impacted stakeholders. For example, you need to get in the room with your Marketing team to get their input. During this phase, you also work on an initial timeline for the project. In most cases, the development time/cost will be determined by the specs and design but you should tentatively draft one as a starting point. Lastly, pick a framework that will help you paint the landscape of the ecosystem you are in. You could use Value Proposition Canvas or an old school SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) — or any other acronym you’d like to use! Make sure you look at your hypothesis from multiple angles.
Once you have a clear vision, you kick-off the design phase by writing user stories, specs, requirements, objectives, etc. This will primarily be owned by UX/UI designers with the contribution of PMs. It’s crucial that you run your preliminary designs by the engineering team to get their thumbs-up on the feasibility and efficiency. Engineers will always have great feedback on the design based on what’s possible, what’s not, and what can be done in a much shorter or simpler way. Make sure to get their seal of approval before you start the production phase. The market research you conduct prior to the design phase will help you shape your product in many ways. First, you’ll adopt the technology or design trends. For example, ‘swiping left on an item will delete or show more options on iOS’ or ‘the three-dot icon stands for menu while human icon stands for profile’. This way, you’ll make sure you have a very user-friendly and intuitive design. Secondly, you need to be very familiar with the designs of similar products so that you can differentiate yours.
Once you lock down the design of your product, you need to get as many critical eyes as possible to look at it to get feedback. You need to conduct focus groups or interviews to test the prototype of the product prior to coding it. Do people get the flow? Do they understand the placement and functionality of each button, menu item, or tab? Ask them questions, make them take actions on the prototype and get real-time feedback. This is one of the most crucial steps in the product development cycle as you want to surface all issues and areas of improvements before you begin the production phase. Doing your due diligence at this step will save you a lot of time and headache later.
While there are several phases of product development, some of them progress in tandem and this is a great example. You don’t necessarily need to wait until you collect all the feedback and finalize the design in order to start the strategy phase. This should be an overarching theme throughout the development cycle and it will evolve over time. This is when you start the launch planning: the timeline for marketing, product release, communication, resource allocation, trainings for internal employees or partners and internationalization. During this phase, you need to sit down with all cross-functional teams that may be impacted by this product (e.g. people who sell it, market it, support it or troubleshoot it).
As you design your product, it’s important to contemplate how you will measure success. Your main KPI will often be an obvious one: think about what you’re trying to solve for; success will typically be an increase or decrease in that metric. However, there’s more to measurement. Sometimes you may need a dozen metrics to monitor as you launch a product. Identify each of them and determine how you are going to pull each data point. Put together a plan to build dashboards or use existing ones.
Even though the description of this phase is rather easy, it may take the longest time. In this phase, your team starts coding based on the final design of the product. Hopefully by now, all engineers have seen the designs many times, given constructive feedback and asked all their questions. Once you’re done with back-end and front-end development, you can proceed to QA. Of course, you don’t have to wait until the entire product is built before you can QA it. Ideally, you will QA continuously as you build.
Once the product is fully built, it’s ready for testing internally and externally. Most companies give all their employees access to alpha testing. You want as many internal people as possible to test your product and be confident before you have external eyes on it. If you have the resources, I’d strongly encourage you to do beta testing with a small subset of users. These can be trusted power users, 1% of your user base, or people from the industry. The more people you involve in testing, the faster you will complete debugging and get ready for the big day.
And the day has arrived: you have a killer product in your hands with solid marketing plans in place. You’re ready to pull the trigger. Keep in mind that opening the floodgates at once is never a great idea because there will always — I repeat, always — be issues. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to launch a single product without any bugs in my entire career. Sometimes, you may break the entire system unexpectedly. Best case scenario, there will be some crushes, latency issues, or a few bugs. Either way, a gradual rollout will help you identify these issues early on before your whole user base is exposed to them.
You launched the product and you think your job is done, right? Not so fast! The post-launch phase is crucial to the overall success of your product. In this phase, you will
- Monitor data daily to make sure you are aligned with your KPIs
- Keep a pulse on the market by reviewing app store reviews, sending out surveys, etc.
- Brainstorm ideas to iterate the product in future versions
- Leverage all your internal resources to get more feedback from your users, partners, advertisers, etc.
And that’s it. When you’re done, you rinse and repeat. No one said it would be easy but it’s fun, for sure. There isn’t one single framework for product development and it really doesn’t matter what methodology you use as long as you use one. The bottom line is, you need to be very organized and communicate at every step. Strong communication is the best virtue a PM can ever have and it will come handy in every phase of the product cycle. Good luck!
If you want to become a pro like Valentine, then you’re in luck – he will be teaching the Product Management course at our New York campus starting October 13th. To find out more, visit our course page and schedule a call with our admissions team!