What is software product management?

We already have the definition of software product, we saw many examples and many ways of categorizing these products. Now we are going to define the role of software product management:

Software product management is the function responsible for all aspects of a software product, during the whole lifecycle of this product, from its conception to the end of its life.

It is the function responsible for making the connection between the company strategy and the problems and needs of clients using the software product. This one must be, at the same time, helping the company to accomplish its strategic goals, and solving the problems and needs of clients.

This definition clears up three important points:

  • The first one is the responsibility for all aspects of a software product. That means that software product managers will have to worry with the user experience and with the engineering of their product including the architecture, infrastructure and operation. The managers will also have to worry with legal and financial matters, client support, and product marketing and sales. Worrying about does not mean doing all those things. In your company, there are people and departments dedicated to take care of these themes. Therefore, worrying means understanding these aspects, what are the relation with the product, and how the product impact each one of these areas. This will be the subject a future set of articles on relation with other areas, in which I’ll approach the connection between software product management and other areas of the company.
  • The second point is that the responsibility takes place during all lifecycle of the product. As we will see on set of articles I’ll write about lifecycle of a software product, the lifecycle of a product has different stages and each one of them requires special attention.
  • The third point is the connection that product management must built between the company strategic goals and the problems and needs of clients, which is what we will see next.

Aligning company strategy with customer needs

The third point on the definition of software product management is the responsibility for guaranteeing the connection between the company strategy and the problems and needs of clients. At the intersection between the business goals and the solution of problems (and needs) of clients lies the software product management, as we can see in the picture as follows: 

This is the theory, and everything seems simple in theory. However, as we all know, practice and theory can be quite different. The software product management is better illustrated by the picture:

In this image, we see Louis Cyr, considered the strongest man on Earth in 1890, lifting 227kg using only 3 fingers and 1,967 in his back!

It better represents the software product management because is not always simple to conciliate the company’s goals and the solution for a problem or need of a client. A simple example is Facebook that, like any other company, need the revenue to cover its costs and provide some return to its investors. That was Facebook’s business goal. On the other hand, we find Facebook’s users, who access the system for free and were not interested in paying for that access.

Facebook’s product manager had to find a way of generating revenue without charging the users. The solution was to find another type of customer, advertisers, who were willing to pay to display ads for the users.

This image is incomplete…

The first image is incomplete. It talks about company strategic goals and about problems and needs of clients. However, a product manager cannot look just to these two items. There’s a third and very important item, which is the available technology.

The product manager must know the available technology in order to know if it’s possible to solve customer’s problem or need, attending to the company strategic goals. See the picture below:

The core team for software products development

The three concerns we’ve approached previously give us some taste of the ingredients to the product success. A successful product must be:

  • Desirable: solves problems or fits the needs of clients;
  • Viable: meets the company strategic goals; and
  • Feasible: there’s available technology for developing it.

These three requirements define the essential functions for creating a successful product: designer, product manager and developer. This trio is considered the core team for developing the product, and must be very much in sync in every stage of its development.

Viable – what will sustain the business?

The product managers have two main responsibilities: to evaluate the productís opportunities and to define the products that is going to be built. After evaluating and deciding that developing the product pays off, they initiate the phase of discovering exactly how it should be (along with the core team), including the necessary features, the user experience and the criteria for launching it.

Besides, is in their hand determining the business model that is going to be followed, and interacting with practically every other area of the company in order to set up legal matters, accounting, financial, marketing, distribution technicalities, etc.

Desirable – what people need?

This is where the User Experience (UX) comes in. There are many roles in a UX team, however, the one that works closely to the product manager is the interaction designers. They are responsible for searching a deep understanding of users, discovering their motivations, behavior and skills; for helping to define the requirements, thus designing an interface that make the user interaction with the product simpler and efficient as possible, while attending the business goals at the same time.

Feasible – what can we build?

The software engineers or developers are responsible for effectively building the product. Their role is important in the stage of defining the product and clarifying what is possible to be done, the evaluation of costs of different ideas and helping to identify the best feasible solutions. It’s their responsibility to define the most appropriate technology and architecture for developing a quality product.

Next article

In my next article I’ll discuss the differences between managing a product and managing a platform.

Product Management: Delight your customers with your software

In 2015 I wrote a book on Software Product Management in Portuguese. In the beginning of 2016, Paulo Caroli talked to me about how he enjoyed the book and how this book could be useful to people in the software industry not only in Brazil but anywhere in the world. For this reason, we decided to create an English version of my book.

The book is organized in 5 sections:

  • Definitions and requirements
  • Life cycle of a software product
  • Relationship with other areas
  • Product portfolio management
  • Where to use software product management

This book is suitable for anyone working with software. Even companies that do not have software as its core business use software in their day to day and often have developed some software that interfaces with its customers such as a website or a mobile application. It is important for these companies to understand the software product management role and responsibilities, so they can better manage this software and increase its chances of success.

We are working on the translation but as we progress we are already releasing the content. If you want to see the work in progress, please visit the book page at LeanPub. Still in beta but already with valuable content. Feedback is always welcome!

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