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What is the product management process?

Last updated

27 April 2023

Reviewed by

Sophia Emifoniye

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Developing a product takes a lot of work and coordination. A product manager oversees the development and life of the product to keep everyone working on its evolution. 

The product management process is ongoing and differs from product development. We'll explore the entire process and explain how successful companies approach the issue. 

Understanding the product management process

Product management focuses on managing a product throughout its lifecycle. The product’s life starts at conception and ends when it's discontinued. 

Product management involves different teams collaborating to ensure the product meets customers' needs, aligns with the company's goals, and brings in profit. It’s a continuous process. 

The product manager works with different teams, including product development, customer support, sales, and marketing.

Product development vs. product management

While product development and product management sound similar, they’re distinct concepts. 

A major difference is the lifecycle. Product development takes place during active product development. This can be the initial development or later refinements of the product. 

Meanwhile, product management lasts the entire life of the product.

The product management team creates the overall strategy for the product and ensures it meets customer and business needs. This includes doing market research and competitor analysis even before product development. 

A product management team will monitor project development and continue to evaluate the product throughout its life. They’ll identify areas of improvement and make plans for revisions.

Product development teams take the product specifications, refine them, and develop, test, and deliver the product to the end user. While the product management process is continuous, product development’s role ends with the finished product.

The role of a product manager

A product manager oversees the development and management of a product throughout its lifecycle. This makes the product manager an essential part of a product’s success. 

In addition to planning the product strategy, they coordinate with teams across the company.

Responsibilities of the product manager

Being responsible for the entire life of a product means the product manager has many roles to fill. Their responsibilities include:

Defining the product strategy

Conducting market research and taking time to understand customer needs means the product manager can determine the ideal path forward for a project.

Creating a product roadmap

With the strategy mapped out, the product manager outlines a high-level roadmap of milestones for the development process.

Managing the product backlog

The product backlog contains a list of features, tasks, bugs, or other related product development activities. Developers implement these during the product development process. A product manager uses the backlog to prioritize tasks and keep the project on track.

Coordinating with teams

Developing a product takes multi-disciplinary effort. During its lifecycle, the product manager brings in and coordinates the necessary teams.

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The 7 stages of the product management process

Businesses have refined the best product management processes over the years. Nearly every business relies on these seven steps to take the product from ideation to launch.

1. Gathering and managing ideas

This happens before product development begins. The product manager will consult with customers, key stakeholders, and industry experts to generate product ideas. 

Through market research, feasibility research, and profitability predictions, the product manager will prioritize the ideas for development. Once they've determined priorities, development on the first product can start.

2. Determining product specification

With an idea on the table, it's time to start fleshing out the product by determining specifications. The product manager will define the features, functionality, and requirements that guide the development process

During this phase, the product manager works with several teams to ensure realistic and achievable specifications. They may conduct further market research to determine which features to include or prioritize.

3. Prioritization

Keeping development on track requires prioritization. The product manager will look at factors such as customer needs, market demand, and ease of implementation to rank features and functions. 

This process requires trade-offs and difficult decisions, so key stakeholders will provide input.

4. Creating a product roadmap

The product roadmap is a high-level plan that outlines the product vision, goals, and development timeline. 

During this step, the product manager will: 

  • Define the milestones

  • Document the features and functionality to develop

  • Ensure the timeline aligns with the company's strategy and objectives 

This roadmap will guide development throughout the process, keeping everyone focused and on track.

5. Product development and delivery

All the required teams work together to design, build, and test the product at this stage. The product managers oversee the entire process and ensure the result meets the requirements. 

During this process, key stakeholders will be in close communication. The product manager will update them on the roadmap progress and get input if difficulties arise.

6. Running analytics and experiments

As product management continues throughout the product's life, delivery isn't the end of the process. 

After the product launch, the manager will gather data and analyze its performance. They'll use analytics to measure user engagement, retention, revenue, and other metrics. 

With that data, the product manager will plan to refine and optimize the product. They'll have the development teams change features to adapt to customer needs and changing business goals.

7. Gathering customer/user feedback

Although this is the last step on the list, it's only the end of a cycle that repeats until the end of the product's life. 

After the first round of optimizations, the product manager will continue to gather customer feedback, examine market trends, and keep the product evolving. The development team makes the next round of changes, and the process repeats. 

Product feedback templates

Product management best practices

Beyond the seven steps, the product management process follows several best practices. When a product manager keeps these practices in mind, they'll be better equipped to handle bumps and ensure a solid product.

Define the project scope

Early on, the product manager should discuss and agree on the project scope with all stakeholders and stick to it. Scope creep is one of the quickest ways to delay or sabotage a product. 

Establish a project plan

A project plan organizes several of the seven steps. It will include key milestones, deliverables, and project resources. Think of it as a much more detailed version of the product roadmap.

Practice risk management

It isn't wise to wait until something goes wrong to fix it. Identifying potential risks early on and developing a plan to mitigate them will keep things running smoothly.

Monitor and control progress

Continuously monitor the project's progress and ensure it stays on track. Use key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress and adjust the project plan as necessary.  

Communicate effectively

Stakeholders being out of the loop can cause delays when something goes wrong and they need consulting. Put a clear communication plan into place to provide regular and detailed updates to everyone who needs them.  

Manage resources

Another problem that can add significant delays to product development and maintenance is the lack of resources. Properly anticipating and securing the required resources before the need arises mitigates this problem.

Use agile methodologies

Even with the greatest plan, something will go wrong. Product teams need to pivot quickly and roll with the changes. That’s where agile methodologies come in.

Conduct regular reviews

Keeping a project on track requires the product manager to be aware of situations. Regular reviews catch problems early and anticipate and prevent other issues.

Product management successes and failures

The real world is full of examples from major companies that launched revolutionary products. On the other hand, many companies thought they were on to the next big thing, but their products fell flat. 

Understanding a few examples can help product managers imitate the good and avoid the bad.

Successes

Apple's iPhone and Netflix's streaming service have undoubtedly made a lasting impact on their respective industries. Their commitment to excellent product management was critical. 

Apple iPhone

Steve Jobs was famous for putting user-centered design at the forefront of everything Apple produced. Its use of cutting-edge technology brought the smartphone from the business class into everyone's home. 

Apple continued the product management lifecycle long after finishing the first iPhone. It created a strong marketing package to draw public interest and continually refines the product with innovations. 

Apple even developed its version of the ARM processor.

Netflix streaming

Netflix started by mailing DVDs to customers. This was already disruptive to the brick-and-mortar video rental business. However, the entertainment landscape changed dramatically once its streaming service came out. 

Netflix sought out strategic partnerships to test this new content delivery method. Establishing the format with early adopters gained credibility across the industry, and Netflix was able to offer more shows and movies for streaming.

The company has also stayed ahead of the curve. Once its finances were strong enough, it began producing original content to address what audiences wanted to see without worrying about what advertisers will pay for. Netflix has a closer alignment with its customers than ad-dependent content is capable of.

Failures

Plenty of companies have failed. Sometimes, even large companies like Microsoft misread what makes a competitor's product great and flop in their attempts to compete. 

Other products fail spectacularly before they even get started.

Microsoft Zune

The Zune was Microsoft's attempt to compete with the iPod. But poor product management doomed the product to be a mere historical footnote. 

Microsoft failed to understand what made the iPod so popular. They released the Zune without the ease-of-use and large music collection that made the iPod popular. On top of that, they added nothing that would differentiate them from Apple's already dominant product. 

Delays and poor marketing were the final nails in Zune’s coffin.

Juicero

One of the biggest product failures was the Juicero Press. The company advertised the product as a step above the other consumer juicers on the market. 

It used a juice press technology like the commercial juicers. However, the company over-engineered its juicer. The machine required a Wi-Fi connection and used special juice packets that were only available through them. It was loud and operated slowly. 

The machine retailed at $700, a hard sell when users aren't interested in the most expensive features. The Juicero's fate was sealed when users realized they could hand squeeze the juice out of the packets quicker than the machine could.

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