Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Pendo blog.
There’s no denying that the product manager role is an ambiguous one. And even once you’ve nailed down the foundation of the job, there’s always conflicting opinions — for example, “you should always listen to your customers” vs. “the customer isn’t always right” and “stick to the roadmap” vs. “don’t get too attached to the roadmap.”
With all of the schools of thought out there, how can product managers ensure they stay on course, without feeling boxed in by process and requirements?
Jeremy Saenz is the VP of product at Kajabi, an all-in-one platform that empowers entrepreneurs, experts, and influencers to achieve success in their online businesses. Jeremy led a session at Pendomonium this year where he shared his path into product management, advice for establishing processes that fuel — rather than stifle — innovation, and his experience using these tactics at Kajabi.
His biggest takeaway? Product managers don’t necessarily need a fully-baked, step-by-step framework to tell them how to do their jobs — they need good tools, and (more importantly) good habits for utilizing those tools to drive results.
Here are Jeremy’s five habits for continuous product discovery (an anti-framework, if you will):
Product managers are always looking for problems to solve. Jeremy emphasized the importance of discovering, understanding, and falling in love with your customers’ problems — and then centering those problems around your existing business objectives. This begins by making a point to talk to your customers, in whatever way and cadence (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.) that works for both sides.
Although coming up with creative solutions to problems is a large part of the product manager role, Jeremy made a point to remind PMs this: you are not the only “ideas” person.
In fact, ideas can (and should) come from a variety of different sources, including: you, your team, your customers, stakeholders, and other departments across your company. Just because you’re considered the product expert, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to gain from seeking ideas and inspiration from outside your bubble.
Jeremy’s biggest piece of advice is to collect as much product feedback as possible and set up a feedback management system (both internally and externally). Start by writing a product feedback policy to ensure processes are clear and the expectations are set. This way, you’re not promising your constituents a “yes” to every single request — but you’re making it clear that you value their opinions, and want to ensure each bit of feedback is captured, reviewed, and (when applicable) implemented in an effective way.
This habit helps answer the question: how do I know if I’m building the right thing? Jeremy offered four questions to ask yourself, and some ways to get the answers you need:
Is it valuable? This isn’t necessarily a yes or no question — your answer could be nuanced. But, two good ways to find out if your product is valuable include desirability interviews (qualitative and quantitative questions that assess users’ attitude toward your product’s visual appeal) and collecting customer feedback.
Is it usable? According to Jeremy, the answer to this question comes from booking usability tests with the right people — aka make sure you’re testing the UX with a variety of users and not conducting a test that will give you skewed results.
Is it feasible? It’s important to talk to your tech lead and understand if the product you want to build is within the team’s scope. Make sure you’re asking well in advance and giving this person enough time to assess feasibility accurately.
Is it viable? For this question, you’re really trying to determine if you have buy-in from your leadership team and other departments — and if what you’re building aligns to company values.
He also suggested using guides and polls in Pendo to validate new products and features with customers as they use your product. This offers a way to immediately know if what you’re putting out there is resonating with your users.
This one probably goes without saying, but the process of shipping products enables continuous discovery, too. By shipping weekly and learning after each delivery, you can help foster a continuous discovery process. With this, be sure you’re committing to timelines but also celebrating when you meet your goals — no matter how big or small.
And lastly: communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure your customers and the rest of your company have visibility into what’s being shipped. This helps build trust with your customers and in the end, everyone (no matter their role) is better off when they’re informed about what the product team is building.
The work doesn’t end once you’ve shipped that new product or feature. Make sure you’re regularly circling back on what you’ve shipped and measuring results, for example through NPS or CSAT surveys. Jeremy noted that as your company scales and the product becomes more important for the business, product lifecycles are extended — making it crucial to continuously monitor, adjust, and ultimately improve the products you build.