By Sarah Hughes, CareCloud Product Manager. Join Sarah at The LAB Miami on Thursday, January 24th for the Product Council series to learn valuable lessons and insights from experienced product owners as they dive deep into the challenge, success and failure of product design. This is an open examination of how to execute an idea, exchange product stories, network, and learn valuable lessons from seasoned product veterans.
I consider myself to have a pretty unique background. When I’m asked what I do for a living and respond with, “I’m a product manager at a healthcare software company,” I receive some pretty interesting looks.
“What does that mean, exactly?”
“Oh, you mean a project manager?”
“What’s a product at a software company?”
Here’s where it gets interesting. If I had said I’m a product manager in a different industry, say household products, it would probably be a lot easier to understand. But software technology? Product Management is a relatively young concept in this industry, which is why we’re still fighting to be recognized. But it’s also why it’s incredibly important to understand the need for it in software technology. The beauty of Product Management is that established and proven concepts transcend any one industry.
Let’s start at the end. What makes a good software product?
1. The product is simple to use and works seamlessly across platforms.
If you download a new app today and it’s difficult to use, would you continue using it or just delete it from your device? Building a product that’s simple to use is easier said than done. As the people building a product, we think we know what’s best for the eventual user, but that’s not always the case. It’s unbelievably important to humble ourselves into believing that we may not know what’s best for the user. So how do we know what’s best for the user? What will make their lives easier and have them continue to use our products? We ask them! Easier said than done, right? A product manager’s role consists of continually going to the source (the user), receiving their feedback and understanding their goals, then figuring out the best way to achieve those goals via the product itself.
It’s just as important that the product works across several platforms. It’s 2017, and if you’re building a new app, you have to make sure it’s optimized for mobile. According to Google, 67% of users say that when they visit a mobile-friendly site, they are more likely to buy that site’s product or service. It’s almost expected in this day and age that apps are optimized across platforms.
2. The product is focused on customer success.
I remember when I first started using AirBnB back in 2010, I couldn’t stop talking about it to anyone who would listen. I was a raving fan. There are certain apps, when used, that just make your life easier. Uber. Box. Slack. You know, all those apps on the home screen of your phone. When you get a subset of the population to love your app and start raving about it, you’ve struck gold. Those companies make customer success their first priority. The goal is to listen to the customer, see what they need (whether they know it or not), and solve for it. And they are continually improving. Never satisfied.
3. The product has a value proposition that shows the ROI without explanation.
At the end of the day, you want people to buy your product. But even more, you want their return on investment to be so obvious, that it goes without saying that they would want to buy your product. Atlassian, which sells popular software-development and collaboration tools used by a great deal of technology companies, used free, 30-day trials to enable extensive product adoption and show value quickly to its users. By the time the free trial ended, it was a foregone conclusion for many users to convert to paying customers. Their products were not only bought, but sought-after because of the obvious return on investment. In other words, the product sold itself. You wouldn’t build a product without knowing what the value proposition for the end-user is. Make it so obvious and so easy to use, that your customers can’t remember how they survived without it.
4. The product has excellent functionality along with a beautiful user experience.
A successful product has either exceptional functionality or a beautiful user experience. The goal, however, should be both. If the UI doesn’t look great or the experience isn’t ideal, the functionality better damn well be useful. If the product is beautiful and easy to use, it better have enough functionality to make sure the user wants to continue using it. Beautiful user experience alone will make it difficult for users to keep coming back. As Apple’s Jony Ive once said, “A beautiful product that doesn’t work very well is ugly.” The goal is always to help users achieve their day-to-day goals.
5. The product utilizes data analytics to continually improve.
One of the biggest mistakes of product management is building what we call a “Minimal Viable Product” and stopping there. We build something we think is “good enough,” then we call it a day. The key is continual improvement. A product is never “complete.” That’s why it’s so important to use analytics to understand the usage of your product, where the pitfalls are, and continue to improve upon them. The only way to improve your app is to monitor its usage data as well as measure user behavior. This will help to optimize the app as it stands and will also guide you in the direction of where to take your app in the future. This can prevent costly development mistakes and also make it easier for your users to turn into raving fans. Which, at the end of the day, is what we all want.
There is no good “background” that’s required to be a good product manager. There’s no degree (well, not yet anyway) and no typical “track.” That’s the beauty of product management. The skills required span the spectrum and the talent can be cultivated, practiced, and eventually made repeatable. Creating a successful product can take years of work, but when done properly, can be made into a blueprint. But missing on one of the basic rules could be an easy way for a product to fail. And what product manager wants a failed product out there?
The thing about building wonderful products is that the process can always be improved upon. And that’s the real beauty of product management: the continuous strive towards perfection.