Agile · Effectiveness · Product management

The 4 key areas of focus for a Product Manager

These ideas are still a bit rough and in formation but I’ve been kicking them around for awhile and wanted to get this out as another blog post during my job transition. Product Management remains a core passion of mine so I’m glad to share some current thinking on the topic.

Part of how my brain works means that I always look for systems or structures to help organize my thinking and provide coherence for my view of the world. I know that in truth it’s not that simple, but still I look for simplified models with which to characterize otherwise complex issues like what it takes to be an effective product manager.

I’ve written about this topic before (see here where I offered 5 key questions a product manager has to answer), but if there’s one thing I love more than devising good systematic summaries of complex topics it’s revising those same models to come up with new ways to encapsulate the same material.

Speaking of complexity, long ago I wrote about the Cynefin framework for differentiating among systems that are simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. Here are two great short pieces on this topic, one explaining the difference between complicated (largely linear) problems and complex (non-linear) problems and one highlighting seven key differences between complicated and complex problems. Check these out if the topic appeals to you.

In any case, successful and effective product management is certainly complex, not yielding to simple steps and rules but instead requiring a give-and-take among multiple forces to find the balance that works for the industry, the market, and the temperament of the product manager. In pursuit of a harmonious balance there are four key focal points for product managers that provide order amidst the complexity; neglecting any one of these will likely undermine the potential success of the solution being developed.

  1. Finding problems and identifying a solution
  2. Developing a team to build the solution
  3. Marketing the solution
  4. Helping clients succeed with your solution

This “simple” framework gives structure to the complex demands placed on product managers. There is enough within these four areas to write a book about, while they also serve as a handy summary for encapsulating the primary concerns of someone developing and deploying a solution for identified market problems. That’s the value of a good mental model: it allows you to explain the core elements of a process while never denying that in truth it’s not that simple.


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