The product management process is a series of seven steps followed by product managers (or product management teams).
It informs the day-to-day work of the product manager, and outlines the journey that a product takes throughout its life cycle—from the very first seedling of an idea, all the way through to the development, launch, and ongoing improvement of the product.
How do product managers decide what to build? And, when they do, how do they ensure the product is successful? It all lies in the product management process, which we’ll explain right here in this guide.
We’ll ease in first with a brief introduction to what product management is and what the role of the product manager entails. If you’re already familiar, just use the clickable menu to jump straight to the product management process.
- What is product management, and what does a product manager do?
- What is the product management process? 7 key steps
- How to get into product management
So: Let’s set the scene with a quick product management recap.
1. What is product management, and what does a product manager do?
In business (or in any other type of organization), product management is the department which is responsible for the success of a given product.
In this context, the term “product” can refer to physical products (e.g. smartphones or wearables), services (e.g. mortgage advice or insurance), or digital products (e.g. apps or software)—anything that is designed to meet the needs of a specific user or customer group.
Let’s imagine a company which runs a dating app. The product management department (or the product manager) would oversee the entire discovery, development, marketing, launch, and maintenance of the app in order to ensure that it is successful.
By successful, we mean that the app simultaneously meets the needs of the target audience and helps to achieve business goals (for example, growth and profit).
Product management is a strategic function. So, while the design and engineering teams would work on the actual delivery of the app, and the marketing and sales teams would take care of its launch and market presence, the product manager would collaborate with these departments to ensure that what they’re doing is in line with the overall vision and strategy they’ve created for the product.
As such, product management sits somewhere at the intersection of business, user experience (UX), and technology. Product managers define the product strategy to deliver value for the business, to delight and satisfy the end user, and to keep the product within the realms of what’s technically feasible.
They focus on the bigger picture, ensuring everybody is aligned and working towards the same goal. To do this, they follow the product management process: a sequence of seven stages which we’ll outline in the next section.
If you’d like a more comprehensive introduction to the field, check out these guides:
For now, though, let’s dive into the product management process.
2. What is the product management process? The 7 key stages explained
The product management process outlines the journey that a product takes from inception through to development, launch, and beyond.
Remember that the exact process that product managers follow will vary from one organization to the next, but the overarching steps remain the same.
1. Gathering and managing ideas
Whether it’s creating a brand new product or adding features to an existing one, every endeavor starts with an idea. These ideas come from a variety of sources, be it on an ad-hoc basis from internal stakeholders, through dedicated workshops and brainstorming sessions, or via customer feedback.
Not all ideas will be implemented or developed, and it’s the product manager’s job to ensure that the good ones are pursued as a matter of priority. Others may be placed on the backburner for consideration at a later date, or discarded altogether.
A crucial part of the product management process is to manage this constant stream of ideas. This includes capturing them in a central location (the ideas or product backlog), organizing them, and evaluating whether or not they’re worth acting on.
In maintaining the product backlog, product managers must provide transparency and clarity for stakeholders with regards to how ideas are managed. This allows those outside of the product management team to see the status of their suggestions, requests, or ideas, and to get an overview of what else is currently in the product backlog.
Some of the most popular idea management tools used by product managers include ProdPad, Idea Drop, and Ideawake.
2. Determining product specifications (specs)
The next step in the product management process is to flesh out the ideas you’ve captured and figure out some of the finer details. At this stage, the product manager works collaboratively with various stakeholders to create what’s known in the industry as ‘product specifications.’
Product specifications (or specs) are brief technical documents which detail what should be built and why, what the new product/feature should achieve, and how success will be measured.
This step is critical as it ensures that everybody is aligned on the direction the idea should take before it’s pursued further. It also enables the product management team to estimate how much time and effort will be involved, as well as what resources are required. From there, they can factor it into the product roadmap in a way that’s both realistic and feasible.
3. Creating a product roadmap
Next up is roadmapping—i.e. creating a product roadmap. A product roadmap is a strategic plan of action for the product you’re building, usually presented as a visual summary. It lays out the product vision and the direction it will take over time, and provides a high-level plan for how the vision will be realized.
Note that roadmapping comes before prioritization (which is step four in the product management process). This might seem counterintuitive, but it follows that order for a reason.
The purpose of the roadmap is to focus on the bigger picture, rather than on specific details or tasks. It’s all about mapping out the overarching goals and milestones for the product, keeping the focus on strategic objectives and outcomes. These need to be in place before specific elements can be prioritized.
The product roadmap isn’t just an important document for product managers. It serves as a single source of truth within the organization, giving everybody a clear overview of where the product is headed, how it will get there, and the reasons behind the product strategy.
That’s a key part of the product manager’s role: keeping everybody aligned and in the loop with regards to the product. The product roadmap is a critical tool for ensuring transparency, clarity, and effective collaboration across the board.
As such, roadmapping software is one of the most important components in the product manager’s tool stack. Some of the most popular roadmapping tools include ProductPlan, ProdPad again, and Productboard.
The fourth step in the product management process is prioritization. As the name suggests, this step sees product managers taking a closer look at the ideas backlog and deciding which items should be prioritized.
Prioritization is a balancing act. During this stage in the process, product managers must prioritize those ideas that will best contribute to the overall product strategy and help to achieve goals and KPIs. At the same time, they must also factor in requests from stakeholders.
This can be the toughest part of a product manager’s job as it often means saying no to certain requests or ideas (and facing pushback from the people requesting them). It’s therefore crucial that product managers are able to explain the reasoning behind their prioritization and share how decisions are made.
When it comes to prioritization, product managers often use what’s known as prioritization frameworks. Prioritization frameworks set out certain criteria which each idea should be compared against, giving product managers a consistent set of guidelines on which to base their decisions.
Some of the most popular prioritization frameworks include the RICE scoring model (which stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort), the value versus effort technique, and the product tree framework.
5. Developing and delivering the product
So far, the groundwork for the product has been laid. The strategic vision is in place, and success metrics and priorities have been determined. The next step in the product management process is to actually bring the product to life. In other words, to develop and build it.
With digital products, the development phase largely falls to the engineering team. Developers will write the code for the product (or feature) based on the requirements set out by the product manager and the designers.
The product development phase can vary greatly from company to company depending on which methodology is in place:
- Startups (especially those in the tech industry) tend to take an agile approach, building and shipping the product iteratively in short cycles known as sprints.
- Larger, more traditional corporations may follow the waterfall model, which is a more linear, sequential approach.
At this stage, the product management team takes a more hands-off role, but they continue to oversee the product’s delivery and collaborate closely with the engineers to ensure that everything is headed in the right direction.
6. Running analytics and experiments
As you know, product managers are responsible for the entire product life cycle. So, even once the product has been built and launched, the product manager’s work continues.
The sixth and penultimate step in the product management process focuses on leveraging data to evaluate the product’s success and to make improvements. With the help of product analytics tools (like FullStory and Pendo), product managers can capture data to see how users interact with the product and, in particular, to identify user behaviors that are related to product success metrics.
For example, if the success of the product is measured by users completing a purchase, the product manager might look at what user actions precede the act of making a purchase. Based on these insights, they can adapt the product (or certain parts of it) to further optimize the user experience and increase the likelihood of users going through with a purchase.
Product managers can also run experiments to test different scenarios or feature versions on various user groups. Again, the data from these experiments allows the product team to make improvements to the product and boost its chances of success.
7. Gathering customer/user feedback
The final step in the product management process is capturing feedback from customers. This data is invaluable as it gives you clear, first-hand insights into whether or not the product is meeting your target users’ needs and where it’s falling short.
There are many ways to capture user feedback. You can prompt users to rate their experience while using the product (for example, through a pop-up), send out customer surveys, conduct user interviews, and run focus groups. This stage is a lot like user research and user testing in UX design.
Having captured feedback (or even suggestions, requests, and complaints) from real users, the product manager must organize it, analyze it, and use it to adapt the product roadmap and improve the product.
As you may have noticed, this step loops us right back to the very start of the product management process: capturing and managing ideas.
And so the process continues. Product managers are responsible for the product throughout its life cycle, moving through each of these seven stages in order to ensure the product is delivering against the overall strategy.
3. How to get into product management
Diving into the product management process should give you some insight into what it’s like to work in product management.
As you can perhaps tell, it’s a varied and collaborative role which requires a mix of technical and business know-how, critical thinking and problem-solving, some familiarity with data, as well as exceptional organizational and communication skills.
If you’re keen to break into the field, we’ve put together a complete step-by-step guide showing you how to become a product manager. We outline six actionable steps you can take to build up your industry knowledge, acquire those all-important product manager skills, and ultimately land your first job in the field.
Want a more hands-on introduction? Start with this free product management short course for beginners.
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