Parachute Product Management
We all know product managers must be ready to handle any situation their products find themselves in. But what do you do if they have to jump into a problem you did not create? This was precisely the situation I found myself in when I decided to look at a company that had been doing well but had recently experienced financial difficulties. Could I apply my product management skills to help them get back on track? Could you tell me their product development definition?
Finding the Problem
If you find yourself in a similar situation to mine, where you have been dropped into an environment, you did not create, and you will need to get up and move on if you want this job to go on your product manager resume. This means that you will need to quickly figure out your next steps. What I discovered was that I didn’t know anything about the market or the product when I found myself in this position.
It was essential to get up to speed quickly. I needed to get to know everyone and find out what they were working on. This was best done by talking to everyone involved in the project. This was no easy task as there were 70+ people working on the project at any given time. It was also going to take a lot of time. At first, I was a mess. I reserved only 30 minutes for speaking with people, and then I set up back-to-back meetings. I was getting backed up quickly, and discussions started running longer. I realized my mistake and decided to reserve an hour for each face-to-face session.
I was very open with the project staff to who I spoke. I was able to hear their dreams, hopes, and frustrations. Within ten interviews, I was able to begin to understand where some of the problems that the product was experiencing. The team lacked anyone who had an overall view of the product’s purpose and where it was heading. While everyone was doing their jobs, they were each doing it in their own silo.
Furthermore, I found that customers who had already purchased the product were not being contacted. Existing customers were not being communicated with regularly to inform them about any changes to the product. This communication failure resulted in no new customers purchasing the product, and existing customers began to lose their loyalty as they switched to other products.
How to Craft a Solution
After identifying at least some of these challenges, I was able to develop solutions that worked for this product and the team. Here is where things got tricky. Unfortunately, I was not granted additional funds or given extra staff or consultants to help me turn the tide. All of this meant that I was responsible for everything.
My first task was to meet with the product planning staff. They had too many features they wanted to add to the next product version, which they would continue to work on until they ran out of time. This always happened before they reached their end of the list. I convinced them that there was a better way. The people responsible for creating the feature list for the next version were asked to reduce it to a manageable number. Then, it was estimated that it would all be possible. The best way to proceed was reached, and the customers were informed of what they would receive in a month.
Next, I spoke with product owners. They had to communicate with customers and their internal staff. They agreed to publish a bi-weekly newsletter which would give a brief overview of all the changes taking place. This was a huge step forward. Then I asked them to take the customer-facing newsletter and make improvements. They added a discussion on the challenges they faced, changes in staff, and how the budget was performing. To keep the team informed about the progress of their project, I gave them this version of the newsletter.
What Does All This Mean for You?
You will hopefully know the next steps for your product manager job. If you are suddenly placed in a situation you did not create or which doesn’t have a clearly defined product manager job description, you will need to be aware of the steps to follow.
It is essential to realize that all the crucial information you require is in the heads and hands of those involved in the project. It is necessary to have a conversation with them. Let them tell you what’s not working and what they believe should be done. They generally have a good idea of how to improve things.
It’s not yet possible to say that I have turned the tide for this customer. The good news is that I am beginning to see the big picture and understand what needs to change in order to make it better. It’s not me who will make the changes; it’s the people currently working on this project. While we’ll need to wait and see how this all turns out, things look pretty good at the moment!