Building the ‘right product’

Part of the Product Manager’s job is to make sure the ‘right product’ gets built.*

She must think about both the problem and solution to:

(1) Validate the need for the product (the problem)

By making sure there is actually a problem for the product to solve, who the problem affects, and how it affects them.

(2) Build an effective product (the solution):

a) Decide what needs to be done to solve the problem.

b) Communicate what needs to be done to the people who will actually build the product (what your product must do to solve the problem).

c) Monitor progress and steer when necessary.

In software development, tools and techniques to build an effective product include development methodologies like Agile, and actionable metrics.

Validating the need for a product requires a different approach. Key challenges are finding a problem in the first place, and establishing that the problem needs solving.

Steve Blank, and others in the world of tech startups discuss the problem/solution distinction in detail. Seth Godin talks about avoiding solving the wrong problem too.

The challenge for product managers, particularly those operating in established businesses with solid-looking boundaries and established-looking ‘best practices’, is try to apply some of what people like Steve, Eric, Seth and others teach.

Most importantly building the ‘right product’ means spending enough time in the problem space, and avoiding getting stuck in the more familiar solution space too soon, or for too long.

*’product manager’ is a term with different meanings in different contexts. The ‘problem/solution confusion issue’ is applicable everyone responsible for delivering an outcome, and who has some control (even indirectly) over both the problem and solution space. For example, this definition would includes many project managers and most entrepreneurs.


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