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Product Management 101 [Part 2]: Setting Product direction with Feedback and Goals

"Be stubborn on vision but flexible on details." - Jeff Bezos

Following on from last weeks post on what a Product Manager is, and what skills make up a good product manager, this week we're looking into how a Product Manager can lead the direction of a product through feedback analysis and goal setting.

Setting clear goals and priorities are two of the most important aspects of product management. Without a clear understanding of what the product or feature should accomplish it can be difficult to measure success and make informed decisions about what direction the product should go in.

However, committing to future features for customers can have negative consequences on product strategy, as these commitments to feature requests can accumulate, and over time limit the flexibility for the product team to adjust course. Brandon from Faster Times goes into more detail regarding this in his article about "How roadmaps and commitments can hamper continuous improvement"

When early-stage companies are still finding product-market fit, these commitments can be a good way to nudge the product in the right direction. As a company matures, though, these pledges compile and result in a product strategy that product teams have very little control over. In many cases, every team is simultaneously backed up with months of work that may not be the most strategically important or valuable but instead is required to satisfy the backlog of promises that have accrued over time. The result is a product strategy that delivers on commitments made to individual customers, rather than improvements for the entire target market.

So how, as a Product Manager, can you ensure the right things are being built, and more importantly, communicate this to stakeholders, including your customers? I believe and have observed through experience, that there are mainly two things amongst the list of responsibilities a product manager maintains that can help ensure the right things are being built and the right people know about it throughout the product lifecycle.

Capturing user feedback

As a product team, and company, there should be a strategy for collecting and analysing user feedback. Without it you won't be able to set goals as a product team that will lead to outcomes that have a positive impact for your customers. In order to achieve this you need to take advantage of the feedback you've captured in both a quantitative and qualitative way.

Quantitative data, such as numbers and statistics, offers a clear representation of your product's performance, while qualitative feedback, like customer comments, gives you insight into the reasoning behind the numbers. To make data-driven decisions, record feedback in a quantitative way that you can later report on and analyse. This approach allows you to measure progress, evaluate impact, and make informed decisions about your product's direction.

Faster Times also has a great article that goes into more detail on building a customer feedback strategy. Absolutely worth a read.

Setting Goals and a Long-term Vision

So now we've got this amazing feedback analysed it's time to decide where our product should head. This is where goal setting comes in.

I've had the opportunity to be a part of many different experiments involving various goal setting strategies and frameworks, but what has worked best for me and the teams I've been a part of, its getting high-level, long-term product visions. This vision should be long-lived, broad enough to allow you as a product manager to do minor pivots and still be heading in the direction of achieving that vision, but targeted enough to solve a problem for your users. Alongside this vision you should also be outlining why not doing this has an impact, and what will happen if you do achieve it.

Let's use an example of a recipe app. The vision might be:

"Empower users to effortlessly discover, plan and make their meals by providing an intuitive, personalised and delightful user experience through our recipe app."

You could then outline points as to why not achieving this vision has an impact on your customers. For example:

And finally you should also share the impact achieving this vision might have on the company. For example:

Once we've outlined our product vision we can then set smaller, more targeted goals through Product Initiatives. These might be implementing a new feature, or overhauling a new one. Whatever the change might be, so long as it's moving the needle on the overall product vision then you're on the right track.

Alongside your product initiatives you should also set a goal each sprint to ensure you're moving towards finishing those initiatives. I've outlined how you can ensure you have a successful sprint through an effective sprint planning session, which you can read here: Effective Sprint Planning Sessions make for a successful sprint.

Wrapping Up

As a product team and technology company it is vital to have a strategy in place for collecting and analysing user feedback in order to set goals that positively impact your customers. This should incorporate both quantitative and qualitative feedback to help make data-driven decisions.

Alongside this, setting high-level, long-term product visions is a crucial aspect of successfully guiding the direction of the product. This approach ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the potential consequences if the product continues its current course, and the implications of achieve the vision.

By adding these practices to your arsenal of Product Management tools, you can pave the way towards success as a Product Manager.

Resources & References

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