Why Every Startup Needs Product Management

Simply because startups are messy; they need PM support to stay focused on the big picture and on what truly matters to succeed and grow.

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

During my years as a startup founder and CEO, many times I found myself exhausted; I was wearing multiple hats, just like any other early-stage startup founder, by the way. What I didn’t know was that I was also playing the Product Manager role, along with everything else — bookkeeping, marketing, sales, design, legal and recruiting. I soon realized that Product Management was certainly the aspect of my new business that I was most excited about.

As I started to wind down my startup, and explore what my next endeavor would be, the more I saw similarities between Product Management, and my previous role as a CEO, and automatically felt drawn toward it.

The more I work with startups, the more I realize this role is widely overlooked and how much startups are losing out when they don’t pay attention to Product Management. I am writing this article to help startup founders understand the importance of Product Management and what that can represent to the success of their businesses. I hope that, by learning more about the Product Management discipline, you will consequently become a stronger founder and leader.

Let’s dive in!

What is Product Management?

Product Management is a multidisciplinary discipline most commonly defined as,

Even though I have a strong UX background, I prefer seeing Product Management as,

The reason why I say “people” instead of “UX” is because a Product Manager should have excellent interpersonal skills and understand all the different players connected to the product and business. This includes external stakeholders like customers, users, vendors, and partners, and internal stakeholders like the product team, other department teams, and leadership.

At a startup, the Product Manager’s primary goals include reaching, or improving, the product-market fit, uncovering market opportunities and helping the company grow. While having many responsibilities, as described in this article, I believe that the best Product Managers have the following qualities:

Although Product Management is a broad discipline and includes a vast array of activities, I will do my best to list the most important ones below. Remember, as in any other discipline, the activities for a project should be chosen based on timeframe, budget and goals.

What “People” Means in Product Management

Just like startup founders, Product Managers should have a deep understanding of anyone connected to business and its product/service — this includes the product team, other department teams and stakeholders. Most importantly, I think, the Product Manager must have a great understanding of their customers. Product Managers are, after all, the bridge between the company’s departments including development, design, marketing, business development, business intelligence and customer support.

Between these activities and areas of understanding, a Product Manager is also required to have insight in relation to ‘people,’ including:

  • Customer development
  • Surveys
  • User research
  • Target audience and persona
  • UX/UI design
  • A/B test
  • Team alignment and collaboration
  • Marketing and sales

What “Business” Means in Product Management

The second aspect in Product Management is Business. A Product Manager should focus on how to optimize the product and how to maximize the business value. In spite of this, part of Product Management has the most direct relationship with a startup founder and leader. However, some important aspects are often overlooked.

A Product Manager, for example, should know the business’ history, how it got here, what has been tried before, who are its competitors, how big the market is, etc. Fundamentally, a Product Manager should:

  • ‘Own’ the product vision and strategy
  • Create and maintain the product roadmap
  • Understand the market and competitors
  • Help set and track OKRs (objective key results)
  • Manage KPIs (key performance indicators)
  • Maximize ROIs (returns on investment)
  • Establish pricing strategy

What “Tech” Means in Product Management

The third aspect in Product Management is Technology. There are usually two types of Product Managers; a more technical manager and a more generalist manager. The technical manager comes from an engineering background, where the generalist can come from design, business, or any other area. In general, a Product Manager should have knowledge of the different tech stacks available in the market, the latest tech trends and an understanding of the difference between software engineering, data science, backend developers, QA tester, etc.

Due to the fact that a Product Manager is essentially responsible for the product delivery, she/he should work closely with the CTO, defining the technical feasibility and constraints, while owning the following activities:

  • Product launch and release planning
  • Backlog and prioritization
  • “Agile” and “Lean” methodologies planning
  • KPIs
  • Product team management

In early-stage startups, Product Managers often also play the role of a Project Manager and are responsible for the following:

  • Project timeline
  • Monitoring task completion
  • Run daily standups
  • Team allocation and management
  • QA tracking

Product Management Resources

In case you would like to learn more about Product Management, here are a few organizations with events, workshops and job opportunities.

Mind the Product

Mind the Product is a worldwide product management community, with a presence in over 180 cities. They just had their 10-year anniversary and hold many meetups, workshops and conferences. They’re most geared toward the European market, but have a strong presence in NY and San Francisco.

Women In Product

Women In Product is a non-profit organization, connecting women in the product management field through online platforms and live events. They have 32 worldwide chapters, 19K members and 95+ annual events across the globe. Their Slack group is full of tips and resources. For their upcoming events, visit their Eventbrite page.

PMA.LA

PMA.LA is a Product Management Association focused in the Los Angeles area. Similar to the groups above, they organize networking and learning events for the local community. While they don’t have much information on their website, their Slack channel is very active. Connected with producthired.com, you can also get daily notifications on job opportunities.

(For some history about Product Management, and how this role evolved from P&G’s “Brand Men,” to Agile Manifest and finally the Lean Methodology, see The Role of Product management, by Neal Cabage.)

Conclusion

In summary, if you want your startup to reach or improve the product-market fit, achieve the next milestone and scale, make sure to consider a Product Manager in your team. After all,

In early-stage startups, the village is usually a very small founding team, focused on development and the pitch deck. I believe you can make your village much stronger with a Product Manager on your team.

If you chose to play the role of a Product Manager yourself, go back to the activities listed above; highlight the most important ones for your company and start working on them. By the way, you don’t need to do every single activity listed in this article. Some of those are already in your mind, like maybe your target audience or your roadmap.

Still wondering how to apply Product Management principles to your startup? I may write a follow up article on Product Strategy Framework for Startups to further answer this question. Sign up for my newsletter to be notified.

Until then, feel free to leave a comment below; please share this article and have fun with your products. You can do this!

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Adriana T. Torresan

Product Management leader and consultant. Entrepreneur. Helping startups and SMBs to validate market needs and delight users with a fearless product strategy.