As product management continues to mature as a profession (see Product Managers Must Become “Masters of Product”), we need to understand that not everyone in our companies understands what it means to “think like a product manager”. They need someone to guide them in maturing and altering their perspectives and approaches so that the product manager can narrow their focus to those key activities critical to discovering and solving valuable customer problems.
This transition isn’t an easy one — and the people best positioned to lead that transition are the people who are already thinking in this way. To become “masters of product”, product managers must first provide product mentorship to others in their organization. They need to teach their development teams to think about the customer first, not the technology. They need to teach their sales organizations to think about how the products they sell solve customer problems and not just about bringing in the next big deal. They need to teach executives that while their vision is important, it needs to be based on actual customer input and feedback, and not on the whims or beliefs of the executives themselves.
This is a long, hard row to hoe for the product manager faced with championing such a shift in culture. You’ll be challenging some fundamental beliefs about how business is done, how products are created, and how companies should operate. You’ll need to take every opportunity to speak truth and data to power, who may or may not be interested in altering their time-worn and time-proven approaches. You’ll encounter some people who, no matter how much they might want to, will not be able to transform their thinking from technology-first or business-first into customer-first approaches.
But you will also find allies throughout the process. Your user experience teams are likely chomping at the bit to broaden their experiments and research. Your marketing teams are likely already adept at collecting data from and about the market and customers. And most importantly, your customers will leap at the chance to have direct input and feedback channels through which they can voice their own opinions and needs.
Businesses can no longer afford to put their own business interests first. Markets are shifting at hyper speed, customer needs change every single day, and the up-and-coming competition is already thinking this way. Especially where an organization has gotten comfortable, where they are the brand in prime position, where money rolls in every day, the need to shift to a customer-driven mode is more important now than ever.
We know that customers are more particular than ever before. We know that customers have more options to solve their problems than ever before. And we know that enabling every team in the organization to know, understand, and consider the customer and end user in all of their activities works. All that remains is for the product managers out there to become product mentors and enable the power kept under wraps all these years.
It’s up to you, the product manager, to spread that knowledge and understanding. It’s up to you to enable your business to be truly agile. It’s up to you to delight your customers with innovative solutions to their latent problems.