Every day, each member of a product team makes hundreds of micro-decisions that influence the product.
That’s thousands or even millions of micro-decisions over the life of the project.
In the usual course of business, there is no way and no desire for leaders and managers to oversee or control every single micro-decision. If even a small proportion of those daily micro-decisions are incorrect, it adds weeks and thousands of dollars to the development and go-to-market expense, not to mention the effectiveness of the product.
So, how do you make sure that the cumulative impact of these micro-decisions results in product-market fit? The answer is ‘Product Management done well’.
We have found that not enough executives understand what a product manager is there to do, and how their role is critical to building a successful business. Even product managers have their own divergent understanding of what a PM does, depending on the different companies they’ve worked for.
Below I have shared some thoughts about the importance and the centrality of product management done well and have tried to paint a picture of the significant implications of it falling short.
Picture a starling murmuration.
A murmuration is where hundreds or even thousands of starlings fly together in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns – like the one in this video.
A murmuration is a dazzling display but it doesn't happen by accident; it happens because the birds are influenced by the movement of the group of birds around them.
Think of it as large-scale coordination done well.
The challenge with software development is that without a central figure acting like the conductor, the product development and go-to-market flock will fly in all directions and will not achieve their equivalent of a beautiful murmuration – product-market fit.
This coordination role is uniquely the job of the product manager.
Many product managers don’t think about it, but a core part of their job is to facilitate decision-making – in other words, ensuring the right micro-decisions are being made at every stage.
Some are obvious decisions, such as what functionality to include in the first iteration. But when you go down another layer, almost every aspect of a feature requires a multitude of micro-decisions to be made – from scope to tech to design to copy.
The product manager’s challenge is not to make every single decision but to facilitate these micro-decisions effectively.
How can product managers drive a million correct decisions?
The product manager has a secret weapon: context.
Product managers provide the much-needed context for team members right across an organisation. That context forms the basis for thousands of discretionary micro-decisions made by a diverse mix of team members, from day-to-day coding undertaken by engineers to marketers as they draft copy for the target audience.
Providing context can be something some product managers do naturally without realising. Often product managers might feel frustrated because they have spent a day ‘talking’ with people across the business – it might seem like they haven’t delivered something for the day. But what they have done is provide context to the team members – and that’s critical.
Without that context is where things start to fall apart. You start to see misjudged micro-decisions.
Let’s say product and development leaders are stretched across more development capacity. It becomes more challenging for them to maintain context and alignment across offshore or augmented teams, leading to unintentional and unhelpful micro-decisions which cumulatively add hidden costs to the product development.
Another way to think about the impact of poor micro-decisions is to think about your golf swing. A small imperfection in your golf swing has an impact on your overall golf score. A small slice can result in the ball being further away from the pin, adding an extra stroke or two to each hole. At the end of each round, the extra strokes add up. Instead of going around the course in 100 strokes, it could be more like 120.
Why you need the right culture
There’s another important element that helps product managers drive effective decision-making in their team, and that’s the right culture.
It is reasonable to assume that all team members act with good intention, but without the context and coaching provided by product managers, the product development process is littered with unintentional and unhelpful incorrect micro-decisions.
With the right culture, product managers will be empowered to provide the context and leadership to help their team make a million correct decisions and create the best product-market fit.
In the future, we would hope that the work of the APP can assist executives to understand what a product manager is there to do, and how their role is critical to building a successful business. We think that it is so critical that we have built a business to showcase the impact of great product management.