Tuesday 17 October 2023

Product management lifecycle

The product management lifecycle is how product managers conceptualise, build, launch and iterate on software products. It is a tried and tested high level framework for how great products are built or improved, it can viewed as a map to help guide product teams to a successful, value added product.

Define a business objective

The product management lifecycle begins with defining a clear business objective: Defining a business outcome from the onset anchors the product, the team, the stakeholders to a particular value added target; it allows the product manager to ask the question "does this benefit our objective?" if the answer is no, then it's not needed.

Some potential business objective could be:
  • Increase retention: what features & functions will provide value to users
  • Reduce costs: improve UX to decrease the burden on the companies support team.
  • Gain market share: Improve existing functionality or create new industry leading capabilities.
  • Digital transformation: transition a legacy paper system to a digital one, reduce user error, etc

Discover phase

During the discovery phase, the aim is to uncover the pain points of both your customers and the larger market; this phase is all about understanding the problems and challenges faced by your users and potential users, what do they want and need, what is stopping them. Here you can begin to identify potential solutions, however you will not settle on one until the validation phase. It is common to leverage the double diamond design thinking approach for the discovery phase.

The discovery phase is as much art as it is science, this is where the bulk of the solution forming is done. During this phase research is preformed, interviews are conducted, experiments are preformed. It is here that one or more potential solutions are designed. During the discovery phase there are three main research aspects, focused discovery (what the product is suppose to do), data-driven discover (what the evidence says people are doing); UX research: (what people think, say and actually do).  
  • Focused discover: Be as focused as possible during discovery, specifically on the issues that are preventing the business outcome. 
    • Why does the business want this feature/product?
    • What is the goal the features/product aims accomplish?
    • Is the solution the right way to solve the problem?
    • What customer feedback has already been received?
    • What job (jobs framework) is the customer trying to get done?
    • What customer personas/segments are we targeting?
    • What problems do users encounter in the product?
    • Are users doing what we expect in the product? if not, why?
    • What do power users do differently?
  • Data-driven discovery: Leverage the knowledge internal teams posses, Product data usage, and direct customer feedback
    • What does the workflow of our core users look like?
    • What do our successfully retained users do in the product?
    • Where do users we don't retain drop out of the product?
    • What are customers actually trying to accomplish?
    • What features do retained customers engage with the most?
    • Do you see usage patters in the rest of your user base?
    • Where did users who churned drop out of workflows?
  • User research: Also referred to as exploratory research, product managers usually conduct this during the discovery phase to get the lay of the land and gain a contextual understanding of their users.
    • User interviews: 1on1 interviews where you can ask open ended questions.
    • User surveys: collect input from a large group at once
    • Card sorting: shows how users categorise and organise information
    • Observation: watching user's interact with the product or service.

Validation phase

During the validation phase the objective is to choose the right solution(s) to move forward with, this is accomplished by collecting data and leveraging it to make an informed decision. The knowledge gained from discovery phase feeds directly into the validation phase, here you can validate one of your preliminary solutions, or come up with a completely new one. The import thing is to make an informed decision as to which solution(s) to pursue. One of the most important answers that you will find during the validation phase, is the why we are pursuing one solution over another. Some questions you may ask yourself are:
  • What outcomes are resonating most with customers?
  • How can we best solve for our customers' pain?
  • What don't we know about customers' workflows that may help in building the solution?
  • How do we curate a diverse set of customers for interviews? 
  • What pain is so deep that customers would pay for a solution?
The validation phase provides the product manager with the needed information to:
  • Priorities which solutions to build
  • Manage stakeholders better, by reinforcing decisions with evidence
  • Invest in the most value added resources and features

Experimentation & Testing

During the Validation phase, once a solution is selected, the project manager should run some experiments in order to test their decisions: 

Evaluative testing: (if you do not have an existing product)
  • Prototype testing: Upfront testing executed before building anything
  • Fake door test: inviting customers to use a feature that isn't created/released yet to see gauge level of interest
  • Man behind the curtain testing: An orchestrated solution that does not actually exists, (an agent posing as a chatbot)
Live experimentation: (if you have an existing product)
  • Putting things into the product to see how they work
  • Making functionality available tow a small subset of your user base before going into a deeper build
  • A/B testing: putting out two versions of a feature and seeing which performs better. 

There are three main rules to experimentation:
  1. Choose the right experiment, decide what you want to learn, then leverage the appropriate experiment to gain those insights
  2. Choose your audience, ensure that the user's taking part in your experiment have an interest in what you are building.
  3. Use the data you've gained to make an informed and justifiable decision, whether to pivot or not

Build phase

During the build phase, the product manager must partner with engineers and product designers to ensure that the validated solution comes to life as intended; think of these three as the holy trinity of product development, only when the product manger can work openly and cohesively with the design and engineering teams, can the solution reach its full potential.

up to this point the defined solution is an idea, a theoretical solution to a problem. Now it's the product managers job to ensure that the implemented solution correctly aligns to the defined solution; keep in mind that feasibility may become an issue, your solution may have technical constraints and my require a pivot. This is why a close relationship with both the designers and engineers is essential. During this phase you will share and rationalise your product roadmap.

There are three main delivery models which Product designers must be familiar with with:
  • Waterfall: generally the waterfall model has five main stages: Analysis, design, development, testing, support. In this model the product moves through each phase once, this model relies heavily on analysis and design as well as accurate estimation.
  • Agile: a more common iterative approach in which teams work in sprints, time boxed iterations in which the team commits to a particular set of user stories to deliver, which are then validated at the end of each sprint. Between sprints the product owner decides whether to continue or not.
  • Continuous: a modern approach in which multiple features can be worked on simultaneously and as a feature is completed it is tested then released, sometimes multiple times a day.
The main responsibility of a product manager is to create and enforce the Product requirements document or PRD. This document captures and communicates:
  • Key project information: stakeholders, key personal, timeline, current state
  • The objective: The overall aim of the product, the value proposition for the stakeholders as well as the value propositions for the users. It clarifies the problem(s) we are aiming to solve.
  • Assumptions: include any assumptions which had to be made (technical, business or user), and why they could not have been validated through experimentation or data.
  • User stories: include any key information from discovery or interviews from users/stakeholders
  • Designs: Any prototype testing that was conducted, High fidelity screens, visual assets which describe the proposed solution.

Launch phase

During the launch phase the Product manager must create a launch plan to make ensure that customers adopt and continue using new functionality. Here the product manager must work closely with Marketing, Sales and Customer success teams to build a go to market plan that is scaled to the size and importance of the release. Some questions to consider for the launch phase
  • How to ensure that users know about the new feature or product
  • How to foster internal readiness within the organisation
  • How to educate users about the value of the new feature or product
  • How to encourage adoption of the new feature or product
When launching a release there are three main considerations the product manager must take into account.

The three main considerations when coming up with a launch plan are:
  1. What is the size of the release? is it a new product that requires a full PR campaign or is it a small feature release that can be communicate in product.
  2. Who is the target audience, is it the entire user base or a segment or multiple segments. what are the characteristics of the target audience.
  3. What is the desired action, what is the goal of the launch campaign, is to inform users, to encourage a particular action. Be sure to indicate a clear call to action.

Incremental launch tactics

Now a days, digital products are rarely released, but more often are trickled out, small MVPs are released sometimes to a wide audience, and sometimes to a small subset of users, here are a few incremental launch tactics 

Evaluation phase

During the evaluation phase the product manger leverage quantitative as well as qualitative data to evaluate the success of a launch, and use the insights gained for future lifecycles. Quantitative data tells you what happened whereas qualitative data provides the context as to why it happened, both are important to learn from and improve future product management cycles.

Quantitative metrics to evaluate a feature launch

Three useful analytics tools to support the above quantitative metrics are:
  • Paths: help you discover what users are doing before or after using a specific page or feature.
  • Funnels: the measurement of how users move through a defined series of steps
  • Session replay: Enables you to record and visually replay a user's session in the product.
Qualitative metrics to evaluate a new product or feature

Three useful channels to observe in order to support the above qualitative data are:
  • Customer support channels: Identify common themes and recurring problems
  • Social media: monitor for users' feedback and opinions
  • Customer sentiment: Examine Net promoter Score (NPS) before and after a launch

Iteration phase

During the Iteration phase the product  manager reflects on what was built and how it can be improved, and append/updates the product roadmap accordingly:
  • How can we improve the product experience?
  • Do we need to tweak our goals or focus?
  • Should we double down on what's really working?
  • Are R&D teams working on the right projects?
  • Is this moving us closer to our business goal?