Helping your whole business understand what Product Managers do

This article was originally published when I worked at AOP, on 22 June 2011


We asked Nic Newman for some tips on helping your entire business understand what product managers do, the best ways to improve product skills and training versus learning through hands-on experience. How do you help other parts of the business understand what product managers do?

The best way is just by practically showing how you add value – again and again. Pretty soon they’ll stop wondering what you do and start asking for you by name. Beyond that, it is helpful to use some kind of non-threatening imagery. At the BBC they’ve been using the idea of a conductor pulling all the pieces together of an orchestra, ensuring that all the talented individual players get to perform at their best - the first violin and the French horn and all the rest of them. That helps explain how a product manager shapes and directs pretty much everything that goes on in a multidisciplinary digital project – without getting in the way.

What is the best way to skill up?

Watching good product managers, listening to them, discussing problems with them face to face. There are some good groups in London where you can share best practice. In my career, I’ve learnt most from making mistakes – and then working out how to put things right.

What can be trained versus what can better be learned by hands-on experience?

Training is great for providing frameworks – and for having the space to really think through how all the disciplines fit together; trying out ideas in a non-pressured situation. Often product managers work alone in a companies or in an isolated way, so training can also help them realise their problems are not unique – to create more of a community that works well going forward.

Of course there’s nothing like hands on experience to put those theories into practice. The more pressure and the more things that go wrong, the more you’ll learn.

How do you roll out new management procedures to ensure more successful, profitable launches and products that evolve with user demand?

The key thing is to put the audience at the centre of everything you do. That applies to ensuring that users help shape your product vision, through to building audience insight and testing into every stage of the process.

That way you’re more likely to end up building the right product and one that makes money too.