What is Product Management and What Does it Look Like in 2021

6 min read

Product management is one of the most effective strategies you have for building better products in the new year.

Frank L.
Frank L.
Published February 26, 2021 Updated June 20, 2021
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Product management is one of the most effective strategies you have for building better products in the new year. Learn more in the article!

What drives innovation? That question plagues product teams and product-driven organizations in every market. And the answer is never as straightforward as we would like. But one thing is clear: Having a comprehensive company strategy and purpose helps your team innovate more effectively.

Without the direction from your strategy, it's impossible to manage the various people and processes required to build something of real value for your customers. Then why is having a clearer purpose and strategy product managers' #1 wish for 2021, according to a ProductPlan survey?

The simple answer: Product management isn't easy. A lot goes into conceptualizing, building, releasing, and supporting an engaging product, and the potential for failure is always present.

When product managers have a clear sense of purpose and understand how every new project fits into the overarching company strategy, it helps them guide your team toward a shared goal. So much of product management relies on your ability to prioritize tasks and objectives effectively. Without direction, you set yourself up to miss the mark.

What Is Product Management?

Product management is a strategic framework for organizing everything that happens throughout the product development lifecycle, from inception all the way through to user experience and support. It helps you manage aspects of the product experience better, so it's easier to create something that's both engaging for customers and simple for your team to accomplish.

Product management codifies every project's overall business impact while also defining success metrics and communicating objectives to the entire team. It's how you move through developing new and innovative products at scale.

Product managers develop a strategy that defines how a product development process moves throughout various teams within your organization and how those teams support and promote the product upon release. They look at company goals and customer needs to ensure that everything you develop makes a real impact.

Product Management vs. Product Development

You've probably heard the terms product management and product development used interchangeably in the past. And while there is considerable overlap between the two, understanding what sets them apart is the key to becoming an effective product manager.

Product development is the process of taking a product concept and turning it into something valuable for your business and engaging for customers. Where product development focuses on the various tasks and actions required to build a particular product, product management takes a step back to look at what drives those actions from a customer perspective.

Simply, product development is the process of building a new product or feature. And product management is how your team gets a handle on everything that needs to get done to build, promote, release, and support the product or feature your company brings to market.

The connection to customers and efficiency are easy to see in both scenarios. When you differentiate the two processes, it helps your team systematize the way they go about building and releasing new products throughout your company’s growth.

Think about it as the guiding force behind your team's success—or a way to systematize the product development process for your team as they scale.

Why Product Management Matters in 2021

Consumers have more choices than ever when seeking out a solution to their problem. To help your product stand out, you need to build something that's valuable and enticing for customers while also supporting your high-level company goals. A well-defined product management process helps your team accomplish this by creating visibility into why you make certain decisions about your product's direction.

This additional context illustrates the core market or customer need behind a given project — and what guides your team as they move through the product development process.

As the arbiters of this process, product managers create a company-wide strategy that expertly balances team initiatives based on their impact on both the customers and the company. Having a clear direction ensures that every team member understands the work required to take a product from idea through to release and support.

Product managers do this by helping teams build empathy for the customer and their problems. When everyone working on a project focuses on customer problems, it helps you provide more valuable solutions. Without this empathy, it's easy to miss out on essential aspects of the product experience that customers truly need.

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Product managers also help your organization track what keeps customers around long term. With so many options available to modern consumers, your ability to build strong and lasting relationships with people is the best possible strategy for increasing retention rates across your customer base.

Product Management Strategies for 2021

Nailing down your product management process in 2021 is one of the best things you can do to provide your team with the context they need to deliver truly engaging product experiences for customers.

Talk to Your Customers

A tried and true strategy if ever there was one. Talking to your customers is one of the best things you can do to build out the product management process. These conversations help you understand what's important for your target audience and how you can connect their underlying wants and needs to your company goals.

Create a dedicated product discovery and interview framework for your team to streamline these conversations. These frameworks make it easy for every member of your organization to connect with customers regardless of their specific goals — and it makes analyzing survey results and in-depth conversations that much easier.

Leverage Your Technology Stack

The product management process impacts teams throughout your organization. That's why it's important that everyone understands how your technology stack contributes to any project's overall success. Like your customers, there are myriad platforms and tools at your disposal, each with the potential to help your team manage their individual work more effectively.

Look for tools that save time and resources by automating mundane or repetitive tasks. This frees up bandwidth for your team, which you can redirect to more important aspects of the product or user experience. Just keep in mind that these tools also have monetary and implementation costs, so you need to understand how using them positively or negatively impacts your bottom line.

Improve Cross-Functional Collaboration

According to ProductPlan's 2021 State of Product Management Report, 26% of product managers find that getting consensus on product direction within their organization is consistently one of the biggest challenges to their product management process.

Increasing cross-functional collaboration boosts visibility and engagement with projects throughout your team. The product management and development lifecycle spans marketing, sales, product, development, and company leadership—so having a process in place to leverage these connections helps align everyone with the same desired outcomes.

Reinforce Your Strategic Vision Often

Communicate a clear direction for your team and superiors to make sure everyone is on the same page. When you continually reinforce your strategic vision for the product, it helps everyone stay connected to the impact their work has on your goals. It's easy to get bogged down in day-to-day tasks — stepping back to think about the strategic value these tasks have helps everyone engage with the development process on a deeper level.

Keeping people connected with your strategic vision is also a great way to build better products as your team evolves. The more people you have working on a project, the more potential there is for confusion or miscommunication. Product strategy distills customer needs and business goals into a clear roadmap that keeps every member of your team accountable for their contributions to the project.

Experiment with Different Frameworks

There are a number of different frameworks and methodologies that can help your team approach their work from a different angle. Lean and agile product development are the most popular — both providing valuable insight into the impact various processes have on your team. Effective product management relies on your ability to guide different types of people through their work in the most seamless way possible, so it's important to understand what frameworks work best for your team.

Understanding these different frameworks also helps your team think strategically about the way they create value for customers. With the right framework, everyone has a clear sense of how their work adds value to both the user and product experience.

Product Management Refines Both Team and User Experiences

Building out a well-defined product management process helps every member of your organization execute their work with full knowledge of its impact on both customers and your business. That keeps people connected with the real-world value of their contributions, which boosts engagement with products throughout the development process. This engagement helps you build internal processes that are efficient and scalable while also creating better product experiences for your customers.

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