Improving an existing product

Much more has been written on validating product ideas and new product launches than on improving an existing product. A product is only new once. Most Product managers spend bulk of their time on existing products than on new products. A lot of these products are inherited from other PMs who’ve left the company or moved on to other things in the same company. So, how do you improve an existing product?

Obviously, you have to start by defining what “improve” means. New product managers generally think about adding features to an existing product because it’s an easier problem to solve than trying to figure out where the actual problem is in their product. This problem is compounded by the fact that many PMs do not own their end to end customer journeys. This is especially true in large companies where corporate marketing wants to tell the company’s story and not responsible for input metrics like customer acquisition directly. Product marketing runs it’s own ship and generally has to toe the company line on what to communicate. Sometimes your product is a part of a suite of products and only the top few things across the entire suite of products get the company’s attention.

If you inherited a product and are the lead PM on it, here are some of the questions you must ask:

What business objectives are we trying to meet?

  • Increase revenue Greater customer retention
  • Better free to paid conversion
  • Increased profits
  • Increased adoption

Which of these problems does the business want to solve in the product? For example, you can solve the retention problem by calling users that are churning, sending retention based offers outside of the product or really improve the product so that more uses come back.

Similarly, you can get free users to convert through offers or by experimenting with the trial duration or by offering free tutorials that don’t require any changes to the product at all. Or, you could build better user onboarding into the product so that new users perform tasks A, B, C, which you’ve defined as critical to the product. Ask these questions before you start working on the product.

Once the business decides the “what” only then should you move on to “how”. Generally, it is very difficult to quantify the value of a new feature. Not every product has the luxury to run an A/B test for every feature they want to put in the product. Especially when you have already paid the cost of the building the feature. So, it’s important to build as little as possible. Most teams underestimate the cost of maintaining a feature and updating it when platform changes require it. The true cost of a feature should include: Validation Onboarding, Discoverability, Analytics and  Maintenance.

Since feature estimates always go up, so do all the other costs of building a product. 

Read “Four steps to an epiphany” from Steve Blank. It helps you figure out what kind of market you are in and how you should plan your sustaining innovation work.

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–Anubhav

Transitioning to a group product manager

It’s been more than a year and here are the things I wish I had known or had been told as I made this transition:

  1. It’s a completely different role
  2. Focus on getting things done more than doing things
  3. Be clear on what you are driving and what your team is driving
  4. Communicate! I thought I was good at it but managing a team requires more written communication, more documentation that I thought
  5. Read “Good group product manager, Dead Group Product Manager” 
  6. Accountability – be explicit. Folks don’t just do the right thing. 

Is this obvious? Probably to many but honestly it was not to me and I’ve managed a team before. 

One of the difficult things for me is to make good habits stick. With the amount of travel I do, it’s been hard to hold the team accountable for their tasks. I have started to use Trello to track tasks assigned to the team. I love that you can email directly to a Trello board. This allows me to bcc task emails to the Trello board. A little bit of housekeeping later, I can remember to follow up on these tasks in 1 on 1s. Travel makes it harder to follow up on tasks. This is why a Group product manager role is very different from other management roles. 

Also, you spend a lot of time prepping decks for internal pitches and driving alignment between various other groups in the company and championing your causes. Your wins and losses are public and drive team morale more than you think. 

–Anubhav