By Ariel Assaraf, co-founder and CPO at Coralogix,
Every entrepreneur would tell you that making mistakes and learning lessons are crucial parts of becoming a better professional. The weird thing about my personal lesson-learning experience is that most of it did not come from the product manager in me, but rather from other responsibilities I had. Because that's how startup life is, right? Everyone does everything.
It's safe to say that I've gained experience in the whole product chain, from marketing, sales and product management to QA and customer support. One of the main challenges I have faced has been guarding the interests of each part of this chain without being biased.
The salesman in me wanted to close any deal I could. The marketing manager had the brand in mind. The product guy thought only about the vision. And of course, QA and support wanted the most robust product even if that meant longer cycles.
After a few months of struggling and letting my urges make decisions for me, I found a method that helped me create synergy between my different roles: Edward De Bono's Six Thinking Hats theory. The idea of this method is to practice wearing different "hats" separated by colors when making decisions. Each hat represents a different direction. They include management, information, emotions, discernment, optimism and creativity.
By adjusting De Bono's method to my needs and practicing it, I was suddenly able to wear different "hats" for different tasks or discussions according to the function I wanted to represent. The amazing part for me was seeing the differences between how I evaluated my own work wearing different hats. Each one of these inner conflicts taught me a lesson, which made my product work more efficient and holistic.
To break it down into tasks, here are five lessons that helped me become better as a product manager and can help you get a broader perspective:
Hold a periodic strategic product meeting.
Include representatives from marketing, sales, product management, dev, QA and support. You wouldn't believe how much information on your customers' needs your support team holds, not to mention the amount of knowledge a marketing manager has on the competitor's differentiation and features. Make sure this full chain syncs before starting any product requirement documentation.
Create marketing-oriented product requirement reviews.
Work with the marketing team to make sure that the features you are characterizing match the company's marketing and brand strategy, and of course contribute to your product's differentiation in the market.
Take periodic surveys with the sales team.
Ask questions like, "What features sell best?" "What are customers willing to pay for?" "How are we perceived in comparison to our customers?" These questions will likely provide you with surprising answers that will help you create a better product to best suit your customers' needs and is easier to sell.
Participate in the QA cycles of products you write requirements for.
Everybody knows the famous project management illustration that describes how the customer's request turned into something completely different. One of the best ways for a product manager to find out whether his requirements were developed correctly is to run tests according to the PRD and verify that they go as expected. Make sure the product's usability and look and feel matches the customer's needs.
After you release a feature, do at least one customer support shift.
The biggest lessons I've learned were from speaking with customers who didn't know how to use a feature, found it unhelpful, or simply did not notice an existing capability that could really be useful to them.
I know that all is easier said than done and that there is more than enough work for a product manager, but I believe that these steps are necessary in order to really understand your customers' needs and deliver on them. Feel free to share some of the lessons you've learned along the way. And of course, any feedback is appreciated.
Ariel Assaraf is the co-founder and CPO at Coralogix, previously a group leader at Verint and PM at the intelligence unit 8200. Loves to contribute to good causes.