Editor’s note: the following was written by a guest blogger. If you have product management/tech industry experience, and would like to contribute to the blog, please contact [email protected]
Product Management is more than “just” creating products. It is the management of the core activity of a software company.
When you need to orchestrate all R&D related functions, making sure you meet deadlines and the roadmap you always keep maintaining, you need to have a strong business process behind it. A process not only you familiar with, but all teams which support the product activities.
Behind each business process you will probably find a system, as today companies embrace technology to enhance their businesses. And in this article, I will touch all aspects of such system and how it should best support your product activity. And stay tuned to the end of the article where you will get a champions tip!
We can all agree of some fundamental parts in each R&D and engineering organization. As I started my career at the operations side of a business, managing SaaS applications and being a JIRA expert, making sure these systems support both the teams’ technical needs and business process, I can say I have seen plenty of them.
So, what are these parts? We all need a place to manage our tasks and to know at any time who is doing what and how do we progress. In addition, we need a place to reflect the team business process and workflow, if you’re an AGILE team you need a tool to manage your sprints and roadmap, manage tests, releases and cycles, capacity and resources, and of course documentation.
Above all these, as the product manager or R&D manager, after you set your team’s KPIs, you will have to collect some analytics to see if your teams are on track, and always aim to make better decisions using them, to identify the pain points of yourself as the product manager, of your teammates and of your management leadership.
Anyway, you need to aim that this core system will work for you, and not the contrary. Besides that, you must customize it in a way that will make your team use it, “live” in it, thus keeping it updated, so it will best reflect your work, at any time. Such way should be user friendly, simple enough though smart and containing all needed aspects and technological features, to assure comprehensive management. Finding this balance might take some time.
Let’s break down the main pillars I have just mentioned, and I will try to point out what I consider as the main things you should make sure you refer to as a product manager:
Know your business
Listen to all functions and learn what works best for them, what they are currently missing, how they wish to see a system helping them. Map out all related business processes and the way they reflect in the current technology. Doing your homework and deepening your knowledge will allow you to better fit the technology that will support you. Above that, in order to maintain and adopt the technology you wish to have, you need to have the team on your side.
Choose, customize, and configure your tool
Nowadays you can find many SaaS and systems that can support R&D engineering and product teams.
The idea is to pick a system that will suit your teams – in terms of scale and technological support. If you wish to integrate your activities with 3rd party tools (Jenkins, GitHub, Slack, Knowledge Base etc.) or wish to implement complicated automations – make sure you pick a tool that can support it. If pure basic task management and AGILE tool is what you need, you will find cheaper tools in the market.
The idea is to identify all these needs as mentioned in the previous step, so make sure you’ve done your homework well, as choosing a wrong tool and investing in it while realizing later that it is not the right tool for you will be a real bummer.
Make sure the system you choose supports and reflects the process you perform. For example, make sure you have a board to manage sprints, that you can set the work items that reflect your work scope and types (task, user story, bug, feature) in the right hierarchy, and a workflow that reflects how your team works and should work – from initiation in the backlog, through prioritization and beginning of work in a sprint, and moving between the right statuses.
What are the rights statuses? Such that will not be over-complicated, very straight forward, such that will not cause delays or loss of ownership and timelines. Be careful not to have too many statuses.
Manage changes and permissions the right way – have a dedicated administrator or power user (according to the team’s scope), such that is well familiar with all team’s and business needs. You don’t want each user to be able to change system wide settings, as tracking it down is an overhead, and you will find yourself losing precious time.
Run reports, maintain dashboards and analyze your work
It is ideal that the system you choose will have an embedded analytics tool- such that will allow you to analyze your sprint activity, velocity, risks and to base your future decisions, planning and prioritization. You can also detect issues related to potential knowledge gaps, repeating issues, process related issues etc. – this world is so wide. You can also export this data and crosscheck it with other data sources.
You might also be interested in: Requirements Engineering in Agile: From Myth to Reality
Add more applications if needed
When you feel you need further technological support – just add it, if it is a tool to manage roadmap or PI planning, tests management, code commit, project management, capacity and resource management etc. – make sure you have it all in one place, to keep your teams in the same tool and mindset. We don’t want to trouble our teams; we want them to embrace it.
Documentation and Knowledge Management
When managing products, you hold so much information in your head. Basing your daily decisions is done according to multiple factors that not all aware of.
Who will benefit from it? Everyone!
If you are a developer, that was assigned the task with no sufficient or clear explanations, whether you’re the team leader that was part of the planning but can’t remember every last detail, for the customer success or account manager that wishes to understand what will soon be released or why a feature from last year was developed.
And last but not least – for you, as a product manager, you will have a place to put the design, the goal and the flow of the feature you are leading, and to update it along time.
When you write a user story or a task to your teams, it can be related to a tiny use case, or a large-scale feature. You must make sure that each function will work according to a single source of truth, and if the plan is only in our heads – it will not happen. At least not well enough.
This is why it is so important to keep a breathing, updated knowledge base, and documenting your work. This way, when publishing an epic or a large-scale feature, you link it to your knowledge base, using the URL – and if needed make sure this is a required field. The benefit of a knowledge base in the cloud is the data availability and collaboration – these wiki pages will always need to be updated – so having this activity in one place is vital.
Another strong advantage of a maintained and updated knowledge base is for onboarding new team members – just think of all the things they can learn out of it, and how much time you can save.
You might also be interested in: What Is Product Ops?
And now, just like in the AGILE world, what is the most important thing? Keep iterating, changes are always happening, and the tech world is dynamic and always evolving, and your needs are changing as well – make sure your system is the same, and so do you – we always can and should thrive to improve, as individuals and as a team.
We can have further discussions regarding what is the right methodology for each company (according to its size or product maturity) and what tool will best suit it. There are many questions that should be answered, such as what is the product part in which of the product development process, what are the differences between the work interfaces and how it affects the supporting technology (different workflow, different work items…). But we can’t have it all in one article 😊.
Meet the Author
Oryan Rotem is an amazing Product Manager and leader with extensive technical knowledge in the SaaS business.
She is currently a Product Manager for the DatAdvantage Cloud product at Varonis, which is a cybersecurity leading company and pioneer in data security and analytics. She was previously was a Product Leader at Salesforce. In her previous role, she was the main point of contact for the business and internal customers, managing internal tools. She managed the development and designed new features and end-to-end solutions.