We, Product People, have been propelled to the forefront of our times. Entrusted to build and create, we are value creators for our users, companies and ourselves.
Yet with this mission comes uncertainty across every stage of our journey. While the product function has ascended, the underlying principles that guide us have remained opaque. Up to now, we’ve borrowed from vague concepts falling short on how to navigate our unique challenges.
Here, we set forward a purposeful set of principles for Product Management. The first of its kind. Built like a product, each starts from the problem to find the solution. Based on collective input of thousands of product leaders across nearly every industry.
1. Ask “why” before “what,” use data and research to find the opportunity.
Key Question: How to identify product opportunities?
Summary: People are inherently problem solvers; not problem identifiers. This often leads to jumping to a solution based on a surface level understanding of the problem and without full analysis. Worse, it leads to defining a problem through the lens of a solution we might already have in mind. Product People must understand the nuances of the problem (when, why, where and how it occurs, plus how it is solved) by using research, data and market insights. Focus on how it fits in with the company, quantify (severity and scale) and then land at the highest-impact opportunity.
2. Set ambitious goals related to solving user problems and to the broader team mission.
Key Question: How to define success and goals?
Summary: The team goals should ladder up (align) to the organization or company’s mission; this points to how the team will make a positive impact. Goals should matter to the user, to the organization and to the team. Most teams fail when they don’t address all of these key aspects of a goal.
3. Frame the story starting with the problem, quantify it to show the opportunity, then arrive at the solution.
Key Question: How to craft a product strategy?
Summary: Strategies are pathways to achieve a mission/goal which the team believes in. The best product leaders start with the why before the how, going deep into why it matters and include key stakeholders for early feedback. Not simply: “Here is the final version.” The biggest mistake leaders make is not sharing early feedback with key stakeholders. Provide a strategy that sets your team up for success in a way that helps fulfill the company mission. Help everyone understand, connect with, and be inspired by this greater purpose.
4. Set team goals and principles, then bring everyone together with written artifacts, frequent feedback, and communication.
Key Question: How to align stakeholders & product teams?
Summary: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. An aligned organization goes further than a single team or individual. People want to be heard, and they offer perspectives that reveal aspects of problems that you may have overlooked and/or misalignment that needs to be addressed.
5. Work backwards from ROI goals, align on prioritization frameworks to support decision making, and draw clear cutlines based on resourcing realities.
Key Question: How do I prioritize, and ensure tactical execution?
Summary: A strong Product Manager (PM) enables focus for the team through ruthless prioritization, as resources (time and money) are scarce. Products, or even product teams, may have a clear strategy but can still fail due to various factors such as unstructured execution or lack of focus on the highest-impact opportunities. Prioritization ensures the team is always executing on the work of highest importance.
6. Start by understanding the problem, bring the team together to deliver a resolution, do a retrospective to avoid the crisis again.
Key Question: How do I handle a product/business crisis?
Summary: It can be hard to assess the scale of a crisis when you’re in one. Use the 5 whys (who, what, where, when, why) in a blameless retrospective. Focus on understanding the problem rather than simply reacting and start by quantifying the problem. Recognize that crises typically fall into two categories: people and business. Navigating them is a team sport and you don’t have to do it all alone.
7. Find a role with problems you are passionate about solving, then build at least one core skill while delivering solutions.
Key Question: How to enter your first Product Management role?
Summary: There is no typical or common career path to break into Product Management. Breaking into the field is about transferrable skills and showing that you have solved problems in your daily life, at work or school in ways a PM would on the job. Whether you are a student or have 20 years of experience in an industry, breaking in is about showing that you understand the role and how you apply these principles in your day-to-day, at your job or in building your own products as a PM would.
8. Set your aspirations, ask for opportunities, set goals with managers or mentors, solicit feedback, and put in the work.
Key Question: How to grow as a Product Manager?
Summary: If you want something, reach out to your network and ASK for it! The more specific your ask, the better the advice/guidance you will receive. Whether it’s a promotion, mentorship, project change, etc. you have to ask for it. Most successful product leaders had someone help them move from point A to point B, which we call sponsors. Mentors help hone your skills, Sponsors hold your hand and take help you push through the last 10% — go find your sponsor!
9. Begin with four pillars: goals, structure, alignment, and measurement, then adapt each to your context.
Key Question: How to set up a Product organization?
Summary: The culture and structure of your Product organization are the biggest leverage points to drive impact for your customers (and employees). Create an outcome-driven product culture where leaders create more leaders. Where better decisions and actions are made with higher velocity. Where people are inspired by the mission and vision of the company and motivated to be better and do better every day.
10. Create a cross-functional team to focus on specific problems and enlist diverse perspectives that represent your users and stakeholders.
Key Question: How to set up a Product Team?
Summary: Some product teams are just PMs and engineers with Design/UX acting as separate teams that collaborate when needed. It's important to establish the right “cross-functional” team that’s positioned as a product team for success. Many teams fail because they lack holistic thinking in their strategy or execution, ie: “I have the data but don't know how it impacts the users, I have anecdotal insights from user research but not sure the scale, etc.” Blending those viewpoints is the key to unlock innovative thinking that leads to great product decisions.
While it's obviously critically important to understand and prioritize user needs and wants (the "why" before the "how") I feel like the manifesto goes too far in ignoring initial conditions. Your history -- your team, your company, your technology, your partners -- dramatically affects the products you can produce. Is that what "how it fits in with the company" means? If so, I feel like that can use a little more emphasis. Product people need to focus on the games they can win, not just the ones they want to play. You want to figure out what your "unfair advantage" is and exploit it for all it's worth.
For #2 "Set ambitious goals", I believe not only ambitious goals should be realistic as well. Perhaps we should have mentioned as "Set ambitious & realistic goals.."
For #6 In the Summary part, we are saying "Use the 5 whys (who, what, where, when, why)". Are we trying to say 5 W instead of Whys because in parenthesis you have mentioned not only why but also what, where, when, who.