Building a Product Strategy for a Backend Product

When you learn and read about product management you will quickly learn how important it is to engage with your customers, be agile and make experiments, but when your product is a back-end system with no end users, but just other applications and it is considered key infrastructure that others depend on to work in a predictable way, it is not so easy to be agile do A/B tests lean start up style experiments and user testing.
This is a classical problem and one very often ignored in product management literature. Here it seems always to be about products that have users that you can sit down and talk to and learn what to do. There are however a few things you can do if you are the product manager of a back end product and need to build a product strategy.


Align Strategy

It is necessary to sit down and look at all the consumers of your product. They are essentially your customers. That means identifying all other products that depend on or will depend on your product. Unfortunately product managers don’t always have a strategy. Then you need to look at other artefacts like road maps, visions, even marketing material. It is also a good idea to talk to them to understand where they are moving. Here you actually don’t need to concern yourself with the end users.

Once this is done find out what the strategy is for their product. Doing this may uncover some contradictory demands. One product may want you to focus on microservices another on batch deliveries another wants a message based architecture. Some may prefer REST/JSON type services, others SOAP/XML and others just FTP/CSV in a scheduled batch. Welcome to the world of Agile development where teams decide inside their own bubble what would be most agile for them.

Unfortunately it is your problem to reconcile these differences with the different consumers. In order to do this you need stakeholder management.

Manage Stakeholders

It is necessary for you to chart the different stakeholders and weigh their importance and actually do a typical stakeholder analysis where you find out what their interests are and how you should communicate with them. Unfortunately most product managers leave it at that and forget the art of stakeholder management. In the best case they will fill out a stakeholder analysis and store it on their harddrive never to be opened again. But stakeholder management is more like politics. Watch Game Of Thrones or House Of Cards for inspiration.
You have to understand the different fractions and their powerbase. Understand the different persons their culture. You have to lobby ideas, be the diplomat, explain the positions of other stakeholders. Look at key persons social network profiles in order to find out what type they were, where they live, what they do in their sparetime. Understand their concerns, apply pressure when needed and yield when it is necessary. Remember politics is all about compromise. But you can only do that once you have a plan.

Draft a plan

All the input you have got from the above points now has to be integrated with your own knowledge about the product. What are the possibilities, the technical limitations, technical debt etc? Given your knowledge of the status of your product and the possibilities and available resources you have to plan for how it should change. Draft a plan on a few headlines. Focus for example on capabilities you would like to develop, data you want to capture or ways of working with consuming products. Find out only a few key goals you have, but have suggestions for more.

Reiterate

Now, start over again, because product strategy, like any strategy takes time and you need to form a coalition behind it if it should succeed. You are not finished until you have that coalition behind you. Not until then will you have a proper product strategy.

The Most Popular Content Shared on Our Twitter account in March

On our twitter account we post really interesting content all the time, but the most popular content we tweeted was the following three.

So you want to manage a product? By Rohini Vibha

The article is about what people expect product management to be and what it really is. The article chronicles four key insights that deserve to be refreshed:

”You’re not managing a product. You’re managing the problem it solves”. It is easy to loose sight of what you are doing and focusing on creating more new features, but “you will always have too many feature requests and too little time”. The art of the product manager is to make compromises between what is possible to do in a given timeframe and what gives value for your customers.

“You’re product is only as good as a user’s perception of it”. Listening to customers problems with your product and watching them use it may reveal that “What they said “wasn’t working,” really just wasn’t working the way they expected”. These insights are important input to making your product work for the customer.

“Product Managers are neither designers nor engineers”. While a product manager is responsible for many things hi or her expertise is not doing the actual design or code work, it is to tie together the work of experts: “Your designer is the design expert”. Your engineer is the programming expert”

“It’s not about being a star – It’s about managing a universe”. The product manger is not going to single handedly come up with all the best ideas for the product, but rather make sure to get “the right people in the room to foster a deluge of ideas” from which to select the best one.

How to measure value using outcome metrics. By Gabrielle Benefield.

The second most popular content was Gabrielle Benefield’s slideshare presentation of the moebius canvas. The moebius canvas takes inspiration from other canvases like the Business Model Canvas and the lean Canvas. The unique feature of the moebius canvas is that it is a continuous process like a moebius ring that continues indefinitely.

It starts with creating a vision and strategic objectives. This makes way for rapid research and learning. The next step is then to create target outcomes to measure value. Then solutions to achieve these target outcomes are defined. Different options are specified and weighed against each other. The delivery is where the options are realized. It can be about programming an application, changing the layout or doing an experiment. Then measurement of the target outcomes are carried out to see what value was actually created. The final phase is adapting to continuously.

In the moebius canvas teams don’t have to go through the sequence though. They can start and move around where they need. One option for example may demand more research or measurement may prompt an adjustment of the business model.

What product management strategy is right for your start up? By Anders Lisdorf.

The third most popular piece of content was from our own blog. The article takes it’s departure from an insight from Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s book “Antifragile”. A fragile strategy is the classical stock investment or lending money where most likely you will get an ok return, but there is the odd chance that you could loose all your money. An antifragile strategy is counting on loosing money with the odd chance that you could gain a lot. Options trading would be an example. Here the unexpected is your friend.

As a product manager it makes a difference whether you are pursuing a fragile or an antifragile strategy. Are you working on continually improving your product slightly, gaining a bit more customers every month. You should probably use techniques like A/B testing, cohort analysis and all the tricks from the growth hacking playbook.

If you are trying to make a new or disruptive product, it probably doesn’t make much sense. Instead it may make sense to try out as many radically different experiments as possible, all of them likely to fail. Every experiment that you learn from makes your product better. Also you shouldn’t be sad that you don’t see a gradual increase in users because you are set up to be a billionaire.

That concludes the top three of March month on the Sensorsixhq twitter account, if you haven’t already, start following us here.

Picture courtesy of JoshSemans under a CC license. Follow him on twitter https://www.flickr.com/photos/joshsemans/