The product management (PM) process encompasses the steps to launch a new product or feature, or iterate on an existing one. Implementing an effective product management process is key if you want to create the optimal product with features that meet the needs of your customer.
The PM process involves communication with stakeholders across teams, including engineering, design, sales, and marketing. Product managers must create strong lines of communication between each of them to successfully bring a new product to market.
- The product management process involves a series of tasks associated with each stage of the product lifecycle.
- The main stages of the product management process include: identifying the customer problem, formulating a hypothesis to solve the problem, developing a roadmap, prioritizing features, delivering to respective teams, and analyzing data—all in a loop.
- To create an effective PM process, use strategic decision-making and prioritization guidelines.
- Optimize your product management workflow by using the right tools and software for the job.
What is the product management process?
The product management process starts with the “why.” In other words, product managers start by understanding why the customer has a need and how their product can be a solution. Through a combination of tasks, meetings, and decision-making frameworks, the product management process ensures a smooth transition throughout the product’s lifecycle—from product strategy to product development and from product launch to product maintenance.
As a product manager, you are responsible for balancing user experience, business goals, and technical feasibility. The PM process involves both solo work, as well as work with various teams and stakeholders, including customers, business leaders, designers, engineers, marketers, customer support, and more.
5 steps of the product management process
Whether it’s a new product in the startup phase or a product that’s successfully launched but in need of fine-tuning, these stages of product management can guide you towards a successful product or feature launch.
1. Identify customer needs and manage product ideas
Identifying customer and market needs can be done through behavioral analytics, customer surveys, and competitor analysis.
Observe how your users behave online through session replays, social listening, monitoring review sites, and analyzing user data. Understanding how users behave across channels is crucial to learning what they need and why. You can supplement this behavioral data by reaching out to your customers to gain further insight. Once you’re confident in your research conclusions, you can begin brainstorming product ideas.
Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt, and his team observed the behavior of users within their community and noticed that users were building product lists of their favorites. As a result, the Product Hunt team developed a space within their site where users could build lists. Ryan Hoover notes:
“I will always trust behavior and actions more than words. But when you see how people are reaching their particular goal through a certain behavior, you still need to identify the underlying need. That’s when talking to customers can be helpful. You may notice a behavior but be puzzled about why someone is doing it, so you need to talk to them directly.”
Great product managers understand that effective competitor analysis requires understanding which aspects of your product, roadmap, or goals you want to change.
Questions to ask in competitive analysis:
- If you want to improve your engineering and design: Do your competitors offer different language options, accessibility features, or a quicker response time?
- If you want to add updates or features: Are there features that your customers don’t even know they may want or need that will improve their user experience? What features are missing from competitors?
- If you want to gain attention through innovation: Have you done thorough market research? You might have an idea that you have never seen done before, but that actually existed and failed in the past. You can learn from those mistakes and tweak your idea to become an innovative leader in your industry.
As a product manager, you should also keep an organized list of product ideas and feature requests for future product updates. Idea management is crucial so as not to get overwhelmed by your product backlog. Prioritize the most feasible features through team voting and discussions.
Ideas and feature requests can come from:
- Insights from user behaviors
- Internal brainstorm meetings
- Customer feedback and focus groups
- Solutions to bugs and technical issues
- Product suggestions from internal or external stakeholders
- Your sales team
Take the time to survey both your customers, prospects, and internal stakeholders to identify any problems to be solved and the “jobs to be done” for your user base.
2. Develop your problem-solving vision
Once you’ve determined the problem to be solved or jobs to be done, develop a hypothesis or vision to share with the rest of your product team. Your vision is the narrative that informs how you build your product. According to Scott Belsky, the Chief Product Officer of Adobe, you should always build your narrative before you build your product.
Having a narrative gives you and your team a “why” and helps you shape your product strategy. It will also help you think through potential negative outcomes and roadblocks along the way.
Tips to help you think strategically about your product:
- Consider the first impression you want to make with your potential customer and use this to guide your product decisions.
- Study behavioral design or work with an expert to design a product that people will find useful and love.
- Identify the consequences of your ideas. List out the top two or three net positive and negative consequences that could arise if you go forward with your idea. This can often lead to more ideation.
- Determine which conditions need to be met in order for your hypothesis to be true. These conditions can then be used as steps to get closer to your goal or as red flags that send you back to the drawing board.
3. Implement a theme-based roadmap
Once you’ve solidified your vision for the product, implement your product strategy through a theme-based roadmap without concrete features. Oftentimes, product teams might create a roadmap of features or product requirements, but they run the risk of becoming a feature factory. A theme-based, featureless roadmap is a series of high-level themes that support your vision and strategy. Each of your themes should reflect the value you’ll be providing to your customers.
Within your product roadmap, create specific and measurable goals at the theme level to help you stay on track. You can create a roadmap of succinct one-pagers for each of your themes.
You can also pair your theme-based roadmap with the North Star Framework. The North Star Framework sets you up to be a product-led business. By selecting a North Star Metric first, you can hold your team accountable for a specific outcome, while optimizing your product and communicating the impact to the rest of your company.
The North Star Framework steps:
- Determine your North Star Metric: This includes your product vision and a metric that measures your product strategy.
- Highlight results and value: Explain the mid or long-term business results and customer value that the North Star Metric will provide.
- Identify Input Metrics: Identify the 3-5 key factors that most directly impact the North Star.
- Outline “The Work:” Lay out the tasks to be completed by your team (such as research, design, software development, refactoring, prototyping, and testing). These should align with and support the North Star Metric.
Below is an example of a North Star Statement for a DIY kit startup targeting DIY-curious customers. Check out the North Star Statement Exercise to walk through step-by-step prompts that will help you identify your company’s North Star.
According to Alexis and Adrienne of the newsletter Product Managers at Work, the most effective North Star goals tend to be ones that are more aggressive than you might feel comfortable with. Aggressive goals cause you and your team to think more creatively. A good rule of thumb: if the goal scares you, it’s probably a good one to have.
Implementing a theme-based roadmap paired with a North Star Metric can result in more receptive stakeholders. High-level, strategic themes and a shared goal tend to be better tools of communication for those who are less involved in the details of the project. Design a roadmap and choose a North Star that is easy to digest and highlight how you’ll be adding value to your customer and the business.
Jackie Bavaro, former Head of Product Management at Asana, explains this important product management communication skill when it comes to developing and implementing a successful strategy:
“There’s a lot more to being strategic (persuading people of your strategy, communicating the strategy, matching the work to the strategy, accounting for long-term implications), but if you draft a product vision, strategic framework, and strategic roadmap, you’ll start getting much more actionable advice on how to be strategic.”
4. Prioritize product features according to impact
Prioritize your backlog of features according to the ones that will have the most impact on your strategic goals. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of the steps to product management as it may require you to say “no” to stakeholders or customers.
To help with this challenge, use a prioritization framework like the Product Tree. In this framework, you and your team can use the image and metaphor of a tree to determine how you plan to grow your product. The branches are your product functionality, the trunk is your core features, the leaves are ideas, and the roots are your infrastructure. Once you’ve laid out all the features, you can begin to “prune the product tree” of ideas.
Another prioritization methodology is the RICE model. In this model, you quantify and measure the reach, impact, confidence, and effort of each feature or idea in order to determine the ones that should be prioritized. Based on the context and timeframe you choose, set specific metrics to monitor the benefits and costs of each idea. For example:
- Reach (a benefit): Determine how many new customers or conversions you’ll achieve. For example, you set your quarterly conversion expectations to 100 new customers.
- Impact (a benefit): Identify which aspects of your product or business have more or less impact. A survey to discover customer product satisfaction is translated into impact rates from minimal to massive.
- Confidence (a benefit): For aspects of the project that rely on intuition rather than data, assign a confidence score of low (0-50%), medium (51-80%), or high (81-100%).
- Effort (a cost): The effort score can be calculated in months. If a project will take 4 months to complete, it receives a score of 4.
Pro Tip: Scott Belsky recommends that whenever you add a new feature, consider if there is another feature you can now remove.
5. Deliver and prep for data analysis
At this point in the stages of product management, your job is to hand over the reins to your design and development teams. Once they finish building your product or new features, review and approve for beta or public product launch. During this time, prepare a list of milestones and goals that you can track through data analysis and customer feedback.
Data analysis best practices:
- Determine and measure KPIs. Identify your top KPIs and measure them using a digital analytics tool. Example metrics include conversions, product usage time, customer support requests, time to value, and free trial sign-ups.
- Monitor and request reviews and feedback. Sites like G2Crowd can provide you with feedback from your users. However, you may need to send out a survey to get more immediate feedback following a new feature release or update.
- Use social listening for customer feedback. Engage with users on social media and use social listening tools to gather data on product and feature sentiments.
- Create a metrics dashboard with supporting graphs. Use a tool like Amplitude Analytics to provide your team with self-service insights on how users are interacting with your new product or feature. Turn these insights into actions that will increase engagement, revenue, and retention.
To further improve your product, use a cohort analysis to understand user segments. For example, you may find that a new feature is used by new customers, but not by existing ones, which could indicate that you need to increase awareness of the feature outside of your onboarding flow. You could then A/B test a notification for existing users alerting them of the new feature and see whether this experiment drives more feature adoption.
Tips for streamlining product management
Streamlining product management steps can help you lower the risk and uncertainty about product launches, which is an important job as a product manager. Decision-making can be challenging, but with the right processes in place, you can streamline your workflow and reduce stress.
Make better decisions as a leader
- Always know your “why.” What is your mission and why does this potential feature or decision support your vision?
- Assess the risk. Is this something that your customers actually want? Is it likely you will make a profit? Is it technologically and operationally feasible?
- Outline the best-case and worst-case scenarios. Take the time to imagine what happens and how you would measure each scenario.
- Try to find a solution where everyone wins. In some cases, you may find that you don’t actually have to make a binary decision—keep a lookout for those win-wins.
Streamline your team’s workflow
As a product manager, you are already familiar with prioritization when it comes to features, ideas, and projects. However, you can also increase your team’s efficiency and confidence by developing prioritization guidelines that indicate when to address what during the product management lifecycle process. Depending on the stage you’re in, lay out clear priorities for each team member during that stage.
This helps teams know how often and when to bring up questions or discussions during the product development process. The less you jump around, the more focused you’ll be, and the quicker you’ll get to launch your final product.
Recommended product management tools
There are many tools that can help you streamline the product management process for both your personal work and teamwork. Here are a few recommendations.
To learn more about software for the product management process, check out this list of product management tools on G2.
Now that you know more about the product management process, learn how you can increase engagement in your products with our Mastering Engagement Playbook.