Product Management Best Practices: Look at the Big Picture
One of the key skills of product management is being able to put things into context. Justine Wang, senior product manager, walks us through some of her best practices and shares her approach to building customer-centric products.
I’m Justine, a senior product manager at GetYourGuide. Originally from Cupertino, California, I moved to Berlin five years ago. As a PM, my interests have revolved around quantitative analysis and translating big dreams into doable bits. I develop product requirements and roadmaps, coordinate with engineering, marketing, and other teams. The role of a product manager is to create a product customers love by incorporating their feedback into our web and mobile platform.
What are the three stages of product management?
The responsibilities of a product manager roughly consists of:
- Setting the vision: Identifying what you want to accomplish
- Strategy and leadership: Rallying people behind it
- Execution: Ensuring it happens in a way that delivers maximum value to customers.
Some roles may be more technical and others may require heavy domain expertise, but each of the three areas above have their own specific purpose and challenges, and product managers often have different strengths and preferences for how to approach things.
For me, one of the most fascinating parts of the role is getting to the bottom of why things matter - to people, teams, and organizations. This is important because so much of product management relies on putting things into context — like getting to the root of requests from stakeholders or customers, finding out what makes your team tick, or arguably most importantly, identifying users’ needs relative to how they prefer to interact with the world.
In this post, I’ll walk through how context factors into the main areas of product work, and why it matters.
I. Setting the product vision
Identifying what it is you want to accomplish as a team or organization requires intimately knowing the problem you’re trying to solve and why it’s important to solve it.
While it’s exciting to have an idea or set of ideas, before throwing in a ton of effort, it’s crucial to validate them against user contexts to see whether your ideas actually fulfill a need or add value for enough people.
This is where things get very interesting, because you get to do some sleuthing about how users behave and what they care about; what often becomes apparent is that what you think you know is either not totally correct, or not the full picture. There is always something new to learn, as people are endlessly diverse, strange, and fascinating. Here are some places to look for clues:
- Using data you have access to is a great way to start — whether it’s data collected from tracking interactions on your product, or customer feedback and customer service contact reasons. Existing data lays the foundation for understanding what people are doing today and can provide some of the most concrete hints as to what has to be improved.
- Doing qualitative user research. There are many approaches to user research that can answer different types of questions with differing levels of granularity. For example, generative research can help with a broader mapping of people’s behaviors and preferences in a given domain, e.g. what devices or tools do they use? How does having kids change things?, while usability tests will reveal how someone interacts with specific features or a product, e.g. do they notice this important thing they’re supposed to see? Are they looking for something that isn’t there at all? Both reveal information about users’ personal contexts, and can help inform decisions about what to build.
- Consider what’s happening in the market as a whole. Where have new technologies or trends started to take hold, and how might you stay ahead of the curve in leveraging them to create a unique, exceptional customer experience? While it’s helpful to benchmark your features, strengths, and weaknesses against competitors and look to them for ideas, focusing too much on playing catch-up or assuming others know better with a “We should do it because they do it” mentality will limit the potential of your product.
Using the gathered intel, the goal is then to formulate or maintain an up-to-date picture of what your users are trying to accomplish, and how your product can get them there. In product management, there’s no such thing as perfect information, so in general, it’s better to get started, learn, then iterate. It’ll help to stay open to and continually seek new information, and update your vision in light of new evidence.
Lastly, setting the vision should also include fitting your plans and ideas into a coherent narrative about why it all matters. This is the foundation for putting things into context for your stakeholders, which we’ll look at in the next section.
II. Strategy and leadership
Just as critical as having a vision of what could be, is 1) that other people see it too, and 2) they believe in your path to get there.
1. Sharing the vision. Within an organization, the most important stakeholders for product managers are probably the management team and your product team. For your vision to have a fighting chance, at any given point, it should have sufficient buy-in from management, and be crystal clear to you and your team what you’re working on and why it matters to the business. Here again, context is key, and this is where a coherent narrative of what you’re trying to achieve can be a major ally.
Arguably the main ingredient in successful stakeholder management is trust. There are some distinctions between managing up and managing a team, but much of it boils down to the fact that people at all levels and functions need to trust that a product manager’s heart and mind are in the right place, and that they’re able to deliver on things that count.
Proactively find out pain points within the team. Get to the bottom of root causes, and do what’s in your power to remove blockers.
Some of this comes with execution (more details in the Section III), but just as important is maintaining control of the narrative via clear, timely, and accurate communication that puts your team’s work into a larger and more meaningful context.
It’s crucial here is that the communication is two-way: At the end of the day, everyone within an organization has their own goals, but, ideally, they’re all meant to help the organization succeed as a whole. The more you make an effort to understand your company’s, stakeholders’, and team members’ contexts and find out what they care about, the more likely you are to find paths that can achieve the best collective outcome.
2. Laying the path. The point is about achieving the vision. In this area, a PM’s most powerful tools are being armed with evidence, and breaking down big dreams into doable bits. The first ensures you’re always able to answer the question “Why are you doing this?”.
The latter lends your vision credibility and achievability, and de-risks the effort by making the path both analyzable and adjustable. As mentioned earlier, once you have some initial validation, most of the time it’s best just to get started. Identify what’s the least amount of investment possible to create a minimum viable product (MVP) to prove a concept and get learnings, then ship and iterate based on what you find out, see: more evidence collecting.
III. Product execution
The last broad area of product management is about maintaining alignment — with stakeholders, your objectives, delivery milestones, within the team — and keeping up motivation.
To stay aligned with stakeholders, including your customers: communicate regularly and often. Ask for their opinions, get their feedback; start early and maintain the habit. Be deliberate about opening up channels for sharing information and keeping them open. Encouraging the flow of information as best as you can across the entire stakeholder ecosystem will pay off tremendously, because information is a product manager’s best friend.
If you’re interested in how our engineering team manages stakeholder happiness and how to maintain alignment, check out our article.
To stay aligned with your objectives: ship fast and iterate. It’s important to set up experiments and qualitative tests to answer the most important questions as unambiguously as possible. That being said, ‘good enough’ will frequently be better than ‘great’, when it comes to just getting started. You can continually temp check along the way, by asking yourself, “Are we still on track to deliver the intended value? Has anything changed that changes the context we’re executing in or the path we should be on?” And of course, always keep tabs on the data - qualitative and quantitative, to maintain a clear picture of how things are shaping up against your vision.
If you’d like to know more about how we set up experiments, read our story on how we scaled up A/B testing.
To stay aligned with your team: keep your teammates involved and up to speed. Ensure forums for internal and external alignment exist and work well. Involve everyone in generating ideas and decision making. Share findings from research and experiments readily, as well as feedback from stakeholders and customers. Motivation can come from many places, but in my experience, a lot of it comes from doing valuable, high-quality work, seeing the results, and feeling acknowledged for your accomplishments.
If you’d like to know how we align on issues as a company, read about how our Global Update maintains clarity for our 600+ team members.
The flip side is just as important. Proactively find out pain points within the team. Get to the bottom of root causes, and do what’s in your power to remove blockers. If this means painful data entry to get an MVP launched, then do it. If this means improving your documentation, then do it. If this means modifying meeting times, then make the adjustment. Ultimately, this is the spirit of agile. Do whatever needs to be done, so your team can focus on doing their best, making an impact, and being proud of their work.
If you’d like to know more about managing pain points within your product or engineering teams, check out or article on team health and how to build trust that lasts.
Last but not least, always keep the impact you want to deliver top of mind for yourself and the team. Executing on something out of context for your customers or company will likely not lead to success. Expecting a team to execute without context also won’t. Context is once again, everything.
As a final note, I think it’s important that product managers have a streak of daring to be different. Not being different for the sake of being different, but more about constantly challenging yourself and others to imagine something that hasn’t been done yet, because that’s likely where the value is.
It’s easy to get swept up by the requirements and ceremonies of each day, or culture and politics of the company, or what other people are doing. Those things have their purpose, but alone won’t create an extraordinary product. There needs to be an element of pushing the boundaries to find out how far you can go. In the end, it’s the craziest things in the right context that change the world.
Other articles from this series
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Our UX Design Process and How We Adapt to Change