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What is Product Management?

Product management success is critical to driving revenue — so why do so many companies struggle with it? Here’s everything you need to know about PMs.

Product management teams are the masterminds behind the entire commercialization process. They delve into what customers want and are willing to pay for. They chart courses through unexplored markets and customer psyches – an exciting gig. 

Unfortunately, this means PMs wear the brunt of it when a new product blows up on the launch pad. And the numbers don’t look good — over 40% of new product launches fail to meet targets. As a result, executives are putting product managers and their teams under the microscope.

In this piece, we'll unpack the role of the PM, exploring how they blend market insight with product development to create products that exceed expectations. We’ll also look at the common challenges that impede their ability to turn customer needs into tangible products.

What is product management?

Product Management (PM) is about guiding the product lifecycle from conception through development to benefit both the company and the customer. PMs read the market pulse, identify specific problems, and solve them by commercializing new products. Bringing new products to market is at the core of product management.

Here’s how PMs help guide the planning, development, and launch of new offerings:

  • Ideation and brainstorming — rooting through customer feedback and market insights, seeing beyond the obvious, grasping unmet needs, and translating them into viable product ideas. 
  • High-level strategizing — crafting a product strategy and developing a roadmap that aligns with the company's broader business goals and market potential.
  • Defining OKRs and KPIs — identifying product objectives,  key results (OKRs), and key performance indicators (KPIs) to set measurable targets and meet business expectations. 
  • Product roadmap development — charting the course for development, feature roll-outs, and iteration – all while keeping a close eye on the shifting sands of the market.
  • Stakeholder collaboration — the lynchpin between engineering, marketing, sales, customer support, and other key stakeholders. They ensure everyone's on the same page. 

Product management is about building a solid sense of your market, spotting commercializable opportunities, and guiding the product from an idea on a napkin to a market-fit reality.

Why product management is important

Given the competitive nature of tech, retail, and media, it’s hard to overstate the importance of successful product development. These figures alone speak volumes about the challenges PMs face in the current landscape:

  • The cost of new product development often skyrockets beyond $10 million 
  • A staggering 40% of new products fall short of meeting their targets
  • Customers ignore 80% of new features

The bottom line for PMs is clear — keep product development on track and cost-effective, and ensure it resonates with your market to generate revenue. 

Meeting this high bar requires a deep understanding of the customer needs that are so urgent and pervasive that they are willing to pay for a solution. 

The true value of product management lies in its ability to discern and fulfill unmet market needs.

Effective PMs don't just build products; they build solutions to real problems. They act as the bridge between a technical solution and a market need, ensuring that the products they oversee are so functional and well-designed that they become essential to customers. This alignment with market needs ultimately drives revenue and justifies the substantial investment in product development.

As the demands of modern product design have increased, PMs have started to implement strategies used by some of the most flexible, effective builders out there — software developers.  

The Agile Manifesto and product management

If you now work as a PM, you owe plenty of thanks to the Agile Manifesto. The revolutionary set of principles was introduced by software developers in 2001 and has reshaped the landscape of product development and, by extension, the role of PMs. 

The Agile Manifesto outlines four key values that separate it from the rigid, linear methods of old:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

One of the most significant impacts of Agile on product management is its emphasis on customer-centric strategies. It champions customer feedback as a vital component of the development process, ensuring your product remains aligned with customer needs and market trends.

Agile encourages PMs to act as facilitators who work closely with cross-functional teams and break projects down into manageable, iterative cycles. It also strongly emphasizes transparency and communication between the development team and stakeholders.

By adopting Agile principles, product management has transformed into a more adaptive, customer-focused discipline. This shift has enabled PMs to navigate the complexities of product development with a renewed focus on delivering value to the customer, aligning product features with customer expectations, and rapidly responding to market changes.

What does a product manager do?

At its core, the role of a PM is to align product strategy with the company’s main goal — driving revenue and market share. 

But what does this entail in practice? 

Well, it means extracting new product ideas and guiding them through your company’s commercialization process — from ideation to building to launching the Go-to-Market strategy. Let’s take a closer look at those steps now. 

Identify new product and feature opportunities

Product Managers (PMs) have a knack for uncovering gems in the form of new product and feature opportunities. This process starts with diligent market research, where PMs immerse themselves to understand the following: 

  • Customer needs
  • Market trends
  • Technological advancements 

They then leverage data, customer feedback, and competitive analysis to spot unmet needs or areas for innovation. Evaluating these opportunities involves a rigorous assessment of the following: 

  • Product feasibility
  • Customer adoption potential
  • Expected revenue impact 

Ignition makes it easy for PMs to incorporate competitor analysis into the brainstorming process

Incorporating customer feedback and competitor analysis into the brainstorming process ensures that every new feature or product idea aligns with market demands and business objectives.

Create an idea/backlog hierarchy

Creating an idea or backlog hierarchy — a running list of potential products and features — is where PMs prioritize the slew of ideas and potential features. 

This stage involves aligning new products with strategic objectives and market demands to optimize product portfolios. 

PMs must balance innovation with practicality, ensuring that each item in the backlog contributes to the company's overarching goals and addresses the users' needs. The best way to do this is by tracking the revenue impact of feature gaps on blocked deals. 

Manage the product development cycle

Navigating the product through its development cycle is a PM's forte. They are the conductors of this orchestra, ensuring each section — from engineering to design — plays in harmony (Or as close as is humanly possible). 

PMs oversee the product’s progression through various stages, from initial conception to final iterations. Their role involves close collaboration with engineering and design teams and communicating development timelines and changes to other stakeholders. This coordination is vital for maintaining the product's vision while adapting to practical constraints and feedback.

Liaise with engineering teams

The coordination between Product Managers (PMs) and engineering teams is an undeniable aspect of today's product management landscape. This intersection is not what primarily defines a PM's career success or growth, but it's a vital cog in the machinery of product development.

This is especially true considering about one-third of engineers report to product leadership, according to ProductPlan’s State Product Management Report.

In this liaison role, PMs act as translators and negotiators, helping to convey the following key information back and forth with engineering teams: 

  • High-level vision
  • User needs
  • Market strategy
  • Requirement clarification
  • Development timelines
  • Feature trade-offs

It's about balancing the ideal product vision and the practicalities of engineering capabilities and constraints. This constant interaction helps align the minutiae of technical development with the broader product goals. 

The core of a PM’s role is still to champion the product vision and strategy, but this becomes more difficult without good rapport with the actual product builders.

Coordinate launch with marketing and sales

PMs are the key facilitators when it’s time to transition from development to the Go-To-Market (GTM) launch. They work closely with marketing and sales teams to ensure the product is market-ready and its launch aligns with business goals. This involves sharing insights on product features, target markets, customer personas, and collaboration on launch strategies that maximize market impact. 

Ignition helps product managers collaborate with marketing and sales during the launch process

The PM’s ability to bridge the gap between product development and market introduction is crucial for a successful launch that resonates with customers and achieves business objectives.

Product management vs project management: distinct but collaborative roles

Mixing up product and project management is easy with all the “PMs” flying around in tech. They have intersecting functions (management being the obvious one), but they have distinct focus and responsibilities.

The Spiderman meme is relevant to the situation with product managers and product marketers

Product Management is inherently strategic and envisions what to build and why. The goal is to create products that align with market demands and customer needs while contributing to the company’s long-term strategy and success. 

Project Management, on the other hand, is primarily operational. It’s the realm of execution, focusing on the 'how' and 'when' of things. Project Managers plan, execute, and finalize projects according to strict deadlines and within budget. 

This includes:

  • Acquiring resources
  • Coordinating team efforts
  • Delivering projects aligned with the organizational objectives

Project managers make sure your products make their blast-off window. 

What product, project management, and even product marketing leads need to realize is that silos and other challenges typically hamper the interaction between these roles.

Top product management challenges

PMs face challenges that can make or break a product's success. 

These challenges range from creating products that resonate with users to managing complex development processes and tracking success. Let's explore these top challenges in detail.

1) Creating products customers will use

One of the most daunting tasks for PMs is developing products that attract and retain customers. Take this recent statistic from UserTesting:

The average mobile app loses 77% of its daily users within just three days of installation and a whopping 90% within the first 30 days. 

The key to success here lies in continuous customer feedback. PMs must engage in ongoing dialogues with their users, gather insights, and iterate their products accordingly. This feedback loop helps ensure that products stay relevant, useful, and appealing to customers, increasing user adoption and retention.

Ignition uses blocked deal revenue to help product managers identify high-priority products and features

Ignition integrates with key sales tools like Gong, Zendesk, and Intercom to extract specific features that may be blocking deals. This makes it easy to create a backlog of products that you know customers will use and will positively impact revenue. 

2) Communication and information silos

Effective communication across various departments — product, marketing, and sales — is another significant hurdle. Information silos can impede the seamless flow of information, leading to disjointed strategies and misaligned goals. Breaking down these silos is essential for a cohesive product strategy.

Strategies to overcome this include promoting cross-departmental collaboration, implementing tools that facilitate transparent communication, and establishing common goals that unify different teams. PMs are pivotal in bridging these gaps, ensuring that all departments are on the same page and working towards a unified vision.

Ignition combats challenges with information silos and a lack of collaboration by providing a single space for PMs to interact with stakeholders. 

3) Roadmap visibility and prioritization

Creating a transparent and well-communicated product roadmap is a major challenge, with 44% of PMs citing it as a top concern. This issue becomes more pronounced in companies with extensive product portfolios or those undergoing scaling.

PMs must ensure their roadmaps are clearly detailed and accessible to all relevant teams. This involves setting priorities aligning with the company objectives and market demands. Effective roadmap management ensures that everyone involved in the product lifecycle, from developers to marketers, understands the direction and priorities of the product.

Ignition makes it easier for product managers to communicate roadmaps and other key information

With Ignition’s centralized roadmaps, Product, Marketing, Sales, and other internal and external stakeholders have a single source of truth for the development process.  

4) Handoff between development and GTM

The transition from product development to Go-To-Market (GTM) launch is challenging. Many companies struggle with unifying these processes, leading to fragmented approaches. 

Key issues include departmental silos, lack of collaborative spaces, and the use of disparate solutions instead of integrated tools.

A set of well-integrated tools and good teamwork can significantly improve this handoff. Creating a workplace where information moves easily between the development and marketing/sales teams allows project managers to achieve a more coordinated and successful product launch.

5) Tracking and measuring success

Finally, product teams often find it challenging to track and measure success across various product lifecycle stages. Each stage requires meticulous tracking to gauge effectiveness, from strategizing and developing the roadmap to collecting customer feedback and launching new products or features. 

PMs need to establish clear metrics and KPIs for each product lifecycle stage. Tools and systems that provide real-time data and insights can aid in this process, allowing PMs to make informed decisions and adjustments.

Tracking success in sales and revenue, customer satisfaction, and engagement is crucial for fully understanding a product's impact.

Ignition helps product management teams track the success of product development milestones and other key events

Product managers encounter a number of challenges that impact their ability to turn product and feature ideas into new customers and boost revenue. These include: 

  • Creating products customers want to use
  • Communicating and collaborating across departmental silos
  • Ensuring all stakeholders have roadmap access
  • Navigating the handoff to product marketers during GTM
  • Tracking progress and refining processes

Ignition shrinks the gap between PMs and key information and stakeholders, creating a single space for the entirety of the product management lifecycle.  

Connect product management to revenue with Ignition

Product managers are struggling. The management team is siloed from key stakeholders in marketing and sales, not to mention other stakeholders like executives and customers. The key problem is beyond any one department — companies need a unified platform that takes you from product development to launch. 

Ignition now powers the product management process for companies across several industries — results (and revenue) are in. See for yourself how seasoned PMs feel about our unified platform:

Book a demo today and see how Ignition uses AI and automation to help PMs create products that fill a market need, satisfy customers, and drive revenue. 

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