Carolyn Jaskolka March 29, 2023
Nothing is worse than launching a new software solution and finding it doesn’t move the needle for your organization’s goals. At Nuvalence, we set ourselves apart with our product-driven approach to building software for our clients. A critical part of that strategy is product management. By including experienced product managers on delivery teams, we can ensure that the team is focused on delivering the right functionality for exceptional outcomes.
Imagine your organization needs a new case management tool to handle requests for services from the public. You’ve assembled a team of engineers and a project manager to lead the effort. The project manager is responsible for overseeing the project; they ensure that it is completed on time and within budget. The engineers are responsible for building the software.
The project starts off well, with the engineers quickly building a portal that digitizes some of the current manual processes for the organization. The project manager successfully identifies dependencies and removes any blockers that arise. The team even reaches their first milestone early, launching the portal a week ahead of schedule. The organization trains its staff and they begin using it. At first, the staff is very excited about the new portal. They are dealing with less paper and fewer face-to-face interactions with the public, but they quickly find some downsides as well. Although the portal allows them to take the necessary steps to process service requests, it’s very difficult to correct errors made during processing. Additionally, while the early release of the portal supports some of the most basic service requests, the most frequent types of requests are still managed via a manual process.
The team tries to make adjustments to the tool, but they aren’t sure how to get constructive feedback from their users, and they have trouble agreeing on which features to prioritize first. They’re not sure if it’s more important to fix bugs, implement new use cases, or improve the user experience for the currently supported service requests.
With Product Management, There’s a Better Way
Most leaders are familiar with this scenario; the challenge is how to achieve a better outcome. We’ve found that the secret is skilled product management.
If this team included a product manager to guide them in building a product that achieved the business’ most important goals, the project likely would have been much more successful. While project managers and the engineering team are focused on delivering a high-quality product according to provided specifications, product managers play a critical role in defining the specifications and ensuring that the product being built aligns with customer needs and business goals. A product manager collects input from all stakeholders, recommends possible solutions, and validates that the selected solution will achieve the business outcome. Essentially, engineers and project managers ensure the product is built correctly, while product managers ensure that the right product is being built. Together, they form a cohesive team that can deliver successful products that meet both technical and business requirements.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
From the beginning stages of product development to its implementation and maintenance, product managers play a crucial role. They take full ownership of the product and prioritize its success at each stage, and ensure that the team’s direction is focused on driving value for the customer. Product accountability involves much more than just ensuring timely delivery. Product managers prioritize delivering value to customers above all else. They ensure that software solutions don’t just function well, but truly facilitate the desired business outcomes.
A product manager’s responsibilities typically include the following:
- Achieving a deep understanding of the business goals and desired outcomes, including understanding the customer’s domain and business process surrounding the software.
- Identifying key measures and setting up instrumentation to assess the achievement of business outcomes.
- Working with User Experience (UX) designers to ensure functionality solves the business problem effectively and efficiently.
- Conducting user research and testing to validate the user experience and effectiveness of the solution in solving the business problem.
- Establishing and continually updating the roadmap by evaluating tradeoffs of new feature development vs. implementing improvements or bug fixes.
- Planning project milestones after weighing the interests of multiple stakeholders (business, users, engineering, leadership, etc.).
It’s clear from this list that the responsibilities of a product manager vary quite a lot from those of a project manager. Where project managers are highly skilled at executing a given plan, product managers create and continually manage that plan, ensuring value is delivered continuously along the way.
|Product Managers||Project Managers|
|Identify product strategy, roadmap, and milestones||Manage team resources and capacity planning|
|Collect user and stakeholder feedback||Coordinate work items and manage communication across the team and stakeholders|
|Design innovative product solutions||Manage complex project dependencies|
|Identify and measure progress toward business objectives||Communicate project status and track risks|
How Product Management Makes the Difference
Let’s return to our hypothetical case management project. This time, the delivery team includes a product manager from the start.
Before designing any solutions, the product manager identifies the key business drivers critical to the success of the tool. In this case, the product manager uncovers that the primary goal of the initiative is to reduce the manual effort spent by the organization to respond to service requests.
Keeping this indicator top of mind, the product manager conducts product discovery to gain in-depth knowledge of the current processes, and sets up instrumentation to iteratively evaluate the manual effort spent by the organization. Once a baseline measure is understood, each new solution or feature idea is validated to ensure it will have a positive impact on the manual effort spent by the staff. Based on this, the product manager works with the engineering team to brainstorm potential solutions that reduce the need for service requests, automate service requests wherever possible, and reduce the effort spent by the staff on any remaining service requests.
After validating with users, a solution is selected for implementation. The product manager works with the project manager to define milestones for the implementation and they agree on a project plan. While the product manager continues discovery and validation of future roadmap items, the project manager can focus on the successful execution of the agreed-upon project plan.
With a product manager on the team, the first launch of the portal includes automated resolution for the most basic service requests, and a wizard-like guided workflow for the most common service requests that could not be automated. When user testing revealed that errors needed to be corrected, “undo” functionality was prioritized for an early milestone. By continually keeping the business goals top of mind, the product manager is able to help the team deliver significantly more value for the organization. The result? Your case management solution has significantly reduced manual work for the staff, unlocking operational efficiencies and delighting your staff in the process.
Product management is critical to the creation of new, and improvement of existing, software solutions. Why? Because product managers are uniquely skilled to establish a product strategy and deliver innovative products that achieve valuable outcomes for stakeholders.
At Nuvalence, we measure success against outcomes, not milestones. This means we don’t just focus on completing project tasks – we focus on creating strategic value for our clients and their customers. We immerse ourselves in your business problems and collaborate to identify solutions that deliver value. As a result, we deliver whole products that are value-driven and aligned with our clients’ most ambitious business goals.
Our product managers can supercharge your next software project by facilitating in-depth discovery sessions, uncovering your true requirements, proposing multiple solutions, and delivering exceptional outcomes.