In its simplest form, a product is a solution to a problem. It solves a need that a user has. For a product to be commercially viable, there must be a strong enough need, amongst a large enough user base, for the problem to be worth solving.
Take Google's search engine as an example. The users are members of the public, who need to find information on the internet. There are enough of these users to make it worthwhile for Google to build a search product that meets this need.
Product management is a modern and well established way of approaching this process. It can be a diverse and varied practice, but it always intersects three key fields:
- business — what problem does the product solve?
- technology — how does the product solve the problem? (i.e. what technical approach should be taken)
- design — how usable is the product? (Do users have a good experience? Is there any friction? Does it meet their needs?)
In the Google search example, the business is providing a search tool that will make money from user data; the technology is big data and artificial intelligence; and the design is focused on accurate, fast searches, and ease of use.
These three principles of business, technology and design combine to create one simple overarching goal for product management: to strategically design, build and manage a digital product over its entire lifecycle and ensure it is successful. What success looks like will vary from product to product, but it should always meet the needs of the user.
The product manager plays a central role in this. Working with a product team, it's their job to gather insight — both about the user need and the market; to set direction — making sure the user need maps onto business goals; and to get things done — prioritising which features or capabilities of the product should be focused on at what time, ensuring outputs are delivered, and gathering feedback to make constant improvements.
Product management is essential in the fast-changing world of digital products. In the past, products were designed by one team before being handed over to a technical team to build. This resulted in misunderstandings and delays. A modern product team is instead interdisciplinary, normally made up of people like user researchers, designers, and software engineers, working with Agile methodologies and empowered to efficiently design and deliver successful products.
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