No matter what industry, all businesses face risks. But in the world of product management, is there a specific list of risks that can make or break your product roadmap? Are there tips and tricks for becoming a successful “CEO of the product”? Does it start by proving “who cares?”
Building products is hard while identifying a problem or opportunity in the market may seem relatively easy. Any product development project is the shared responsibility of a well-rounded cross-functional team of engineers and designers involved in building the product. However, driving the project towards desirable outcomes is a responsibility borne by an able-shouldered product manager.
Once the problem/opportunity is identified, the battle moves on to
You may have guessed by now that there is more on the project manager’s To-Do list, aside from owning the product and getting stuff done. Of course, this is a high-level list, a very simplified version of real scenarios.
Most product management commentary revolves around tools, methods, techniques, and sometimes processes for effective execution. With the different stages of fit (Problem-Solution, Product-Market, Business Model) and metrics, the “science” of product management becomes the core area of focus to achieve customer success for a product.
But, more often than not, we overlook two critical aspects of product management—risk management and people skills.
For today, let’s focus on risk management and keep the topic of people skills for another time.
Identifying risks (as early as possible), analyzing, and mitigating them—risk management is a crucial part of product management. To ensure a successful project, product managers must constantly monitor and identify different types of risks throughout the iteratively progressing product development life cycle and be ready with a comprehensive risk management plan. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that product management is essentially risk management.
In his book, Inspired, Marty Cagan has beautifully articulated the four big risks while managing a product.
I am listing them down here in his exact words :
Over the years, across many products and services engagement that I have been close to, this is what I believe—
|B2C Startup||B2B Startup||Seed Funded B2C Startup||Seed Funded B2B Startup||Series A+ B2C Enterprise||Series A+ B2B Enterprise|
|Value Risk||Founders, Customers||Founders – With confidence from 1 to 6 customers, Customers||Founders, Customers, Investors||Sales Team (sometimes to please 1 customer), Founders, Customers, Investors||Founders, Investors, Customers||Sales Team (in highly empowered fashion) Founders, Investors, Customers|
|Usability Risk||Probably Someone||Customer – Largely coming as pushback to change||Founders, Customers||Founders, Customers||Design Team (if hired), Founders, Customers||Design Team (if hired), Founders, Customers|
|Feasibility Risk||CTO (Tech), CEO (Cost)||CTO (Tech), CEO (Cost), Customer (Cost)||CTO (Tech Debt vs Feature Bloat, scaling team without breaking things)||CTO (Tech Debt vs Feature Bloat, scaling team without breaking things, custom needs of customers)||CTO (Tech Debt vs Feature Bloat, scaling team without breaking things, custom needs of customers, engineering culture, CTO’s voice in the company)||CTO (Tech Debt vs Feature Bloat, scaling team without breaking things, custom needs of customers, engineering culture, CTO’s voice in the company)|
|Business Viability Risk||Founders||Founders||Founders, Investors, (sometimes) Customers||Founders, Investors, Customers||Investors, CFO, Founders, Customers||Investors, CFO, Founders, Customers|
As product managers, if these stakeholders care for the risks with higher intensities than you and/or start governing decisions, the “joy” of product management starts to decline.
A product manager’s success depends on dealing with the stakeholders and corresponding risks with intent, effort, knowledge, and interpersonal skills. The best outcome is gaining enough trust and faith that the stakeholders delegate their hopes and fears to you with a highly lean communication plan. Many times, this may turn into a battle for changing the mindset of many, which might also call for a movement to overhaul the product culture of the organization. Sometimes the product manager either resigns or gets fired out of frustration.
A certain Henry said, “Who cares?” and it became the best life lesson for me, but that story is for some other time!
Not to mention, probably now you know that more than 50% of the battle for product managers is people skills.
Until the next time, thanks for reading.
Cagan, M. (2017, December 4). The Four Big Risks. Silicon Valley Product Group. https://www.svpg.com/four-big-risks/