Lessons from a Director of Product Management
Anyone in the software industry can tell you that this field moves quickly. You need to be a step ahead of both technological advances and the needs of your customers. How can you stay on top of the latest developments in technology and the way customers use it, especially if you serve many different industries?
It’s up to you to do your due diligence, but here are a few tips that can get you going in the right direction:
- Keep in contact with your customers – It’s difficult enough to stay on top of programming updates, let alone changes in all the industries that your software serves. But, there are people who know exactly what’s going on in every industry, all the time: your customers. Peter Schutz said, “If you listen closely enough, your customers will explain your business to you.” Who better to talk to than the actual people who will be using your software? Don’t guess at what they do all day or what’s coming up in their industry – ask them. They can tell you what areas need to be streamlined, what wastes their time, and maybe even what would help them get it done better, faster, and cheaper. Your job is to solve their problems, and if you know exactly what these are, you can better achieve that goal.
- Think beyond your own customers – Why stop at the first degree? Go beyond your customer’s needs and think about their customers. What are they looking for? What would they find valuable? And beyond that, what do you think would help their customers? Your software could be used by anyone from an event planner right down to the attendee of a conference, and by considering the needs and wants of all these parties, you can create a better-rounded and more successful program. For example, when considering software for trade show management, go beyond just what the exhibition organizers need. Think about the companies that will be exhibiting there, and the people who will be attending. Is it an international crowd that would appreciate support for multiple languages? Could the catering company be added into the system to better coordinate food service? These are all things that could add depth and value to your software.
- Make a mobile app – Smartphone and tablet use is only growing, and people rely on these devices for everything from simple phone calls to GPS to managing bank accounts. If you want to keep up with customers’ needs and demands, you most likely will need to find a way to integrate mobile devices into your product offering to complement your business value. It allows for infinitely easier communication between parties, and information is available at the tap of a touch screen. It keeps their customers coming back to them, and your customers coming back to you.
- Be an early adopter or at least curious – You need to try things out to truly understand how things work and to be in a position to identify potential for adaptation and value creation. If you don’t understand how things like social media, smartphones, tablets, barcode readers, development frameworks, or any other emerging technology works, then you aren’t going to be current on trends and will be giving your competition an advantage.
- Targeted information – Almost any product manager will tell you that there just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. So you have to make the most of the time you have to keep up on news and industry developments. This means getting targeted information. What I have seen work is following specific blogs for a market, subscribing to RSS feeds of industry interest or podcasts that you can listen to in your car, etc. Another great tool is news aggregators like Zite, Google Currents, or Flipboard that allow you to see customized news items that are of interest to you.
These are just a few tips for staying ahead in the industry. Nothing can guarantee you success, but by keeping your eyes open to a changing industry landscape, and quickly adapting to these changes, you can position yourself to take advantage of emerging opportunities.