Tom Ralston is VP product at Songkick.
This article is adapted from his talk given at Product-Led Summit, London 2019.
"The best PMs do everything in their power to deliver the most they possibly can for their customers.
Songkick, in the last few years, has grown their audience and their ability to get fans to concerts 10 times over. How PMs and their teams use data and insight is a huge part of what's enabled that change.
For Product Managers working in technology, consumer products and in product-led companies, it's a really exciting time.
Small groups of people can have a huge impact on a significant number of customers, creating products that help people accomplish feats beyond belief.
You're always dealing with customer expectations changing. That's both a great opportunity and a great challenge.
So, how do you deliver the most you possibly can for your customers when their needs and desires are constantly shifting? How can you do the best job possible with the resources available to you?
There isn't necessarily an easy answer to this.
At a conference a few months ago, I heard a Product Manager from Monzo talk about their approach to products and how they regard speed as central to what they do.
In his eyes, the fastest team wins.
It got me thinking about what we do at Songkick to help us build momentum when building product.
Where do we get our edge? What is it that we do that sees us net those 'wins'.
I thought broader. I turned my attention to 3 groups of people that lie at the core of all product-led companies.
Let's take a look.
Group 1: The team
At Songkick, we are currently running three or four product teams who work autonomously.
They are led by our Product Managers, tech leads, design leads and staff across the company.
We value innovation above all. We are constantly adapting, moving forward and equipping ourselves to tackle problems with comprehensive solutions.
We change things up frequently.
Every quarter we refocus. We think about new problems and new areas to breach. This really allows us to upskill as a company. We consider how we get new thinking on problems and make as much progress as we can.
We have an idea meritocracy
This is central to how we work. The best idea wins.
When you take that and combine it with a team that can work autonomously and solve problems for their customers, it's a great cocktail that can do a lot of damage.
For a Product Manager, this is a great environment to work.
You're in a team with highly-skilled people, challenged to solve big problems, who are all empowered with powerful tools.
So, what are you bringing to the table?
Group 2: The Product Managers
Product Managers aren't really individual contributors. You are completing the tasks that will that multiply your team's impact.
Let's be honest. The role of PM is difficult.
You're here to do more than follow the logical steps that engineers are focusing on. But, your approach has got to be better and more precise than a buzzword laden brief from an exec.
You need to be able to find that sweet spot between enabling short term progress and maintaining a bird's-eye view on the task at hand.
Everyone's heard about products that have failed. Sometimes people build products that nobody wants. The challenge for a PM is to make sure that never happens.
Group 3: The Customer
This is a quote from marketer, David Ogilvy.
'...people don’t think what they feel, they don’t say what they think, and don’t do what they say.'
Customers are fickle. Just asking them what they want isn't going to help you build the best product for them.
Often, you'll think that they exist just to confuse you.
Wading through this constant uncertainty can be quite a daunting place to exist. But, this is the area where you, as PM, need to be navigating.
It can be really brutal seeing a product you had down as a surefire winner, crash and burn.
And, whether you're looking for your first or your millionth customer, teams have to work out how to conquer this challenge.
So, how to deliver better products for the customer?
The ‘build it and they will come' mindset is unhelpful when creating product, but you still see it in practice so often.
It is dangerous because it assumes that in one fell swoop, with the release of that next feature, things will be perfect. And that's simply not true.
2) Do 'enough'
Perhaps it’s enough UX, perhaps it's enough marketing, perhaps it's enough strategy in your product.
You need to find a balance and feel satisfied with the work you are putting in.
It's a hard challenge. Teams are diverse groups of people. They will come in with different mindsets, different experiences and will value different things. Your challenge as a PM is to find ‘enough’ from them that will add up to make a ‘more than enough’ product.
Deviating from this takes you off that best possible path for your customers.
3) Ditch the roadmap
The roadmap has become a really safe place. Teams begin to use it as a comfort blanket to get through challenges.
The grand statements about what the company is destined to achieve become platitudes.
With a roadmap, you start by solving the problems you see, and you begin to defer big issues to the future.
It really focuses you on valuing the quality and the quantity of the solution you build, not the problem you're solving. And, it can often be hard to see the impact of what you produce.
When we're thinking about product, we often don't consider individuals, teams and companies biases. Throwing away the roadmap and stepping into reality is a great way of challenging these assumptions.
In my view, the best teams have the most impact because they embrace being imperfect.
Whether that's thinking about being clever with the constraints that they have, or being prepared to navigate unexpected, complicated situations. Because these arise all the time - whether you have a roadmap or not.
By doing this repeatedly, teams who think in this way get places that those who are glued to their roadmap never even know about.
They navigate a completely different space. They are able to do so much more for the customer.
It's about having a different set of defaults. It's about progress over perfection, explicitly learning and valuing that learning process.
Take lots of small steps. Most of them will be forward. Sometimes they'll go back. But really, it's about using your skills as both a PM and as a team to make educated guesses to best serve your customer.
Be okay making mistakes, and really understand the impact of the product that you deliver.
So, what do you do instead?
If you're not holding on to your roadmap as a comfort blanket and as a way of thinking through what comes next in the future, what can you do to best equip your team for the situation ahead?
Two little words - data and insight.
Five ways of using data and insight to help us deliver better for our customers
1) Pirate Metrics
The first injection of reality to your products in your team should be about measuring the health of it.
This is a 500 startups framework called Pirate Metrics, which is a great way of breaking down how you create customers.
Pirates say AARRR: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referral.
Here you can see the various flows that your customers take through your products and really understand the key metrics that drive your business.
It's really great to navigate into the best possible opportunities to do more for your customers, whether that's thinking about acquiring more of them, finding that amazing first experience, understanding how you retain them. Next, it's about creating revenue and stimulating further customer creation.
2) Finding Natural Rules
Take time to outline the ‘natural rules’ that you see from customer behavior.
Help your team focus on the right problems, You need to have a clear understanding of your core metrics so that you are knowledgeable about how customers use your products and you can outline them explicitly.
Doing that helps you become a modeling and idea sizing machine. You can use those rules of thumb to quickly understand where you can have the most impact.
Teams quite often use these at Songkick. They are just like data sheets, listing out some core metrics.
It really helps you understand how people use your product and how well it works.
How well, in our case, we turn your music tastes into concerts, for example.
3) Measuring Retention
Reframe retention to more clearly understand a customer’s lifetime.
I constantly hear people talking abouut about retention.
For Songkick, concerts aren't an everyday occurrence.
Sometimes people go to watch music once a week, often much less frequently.
That's a challenge when thinking about retention.
Was someone active on day 24 or 28? Was someone active on day 60?
That standard just doesn't fit with a customer's expectation around concerts. So, we had to rethink measuring success around retention.
Now, we look at customer lifetime much more closely. Simply because it helps us understand when someone has thought about going to a concert, now has a desire to experience something new.
Remember, how you address retention is completely dependent on your product.
4) Embrace the Local Maxima
You hear a lot about getting 'stuck' in the Local Maxima. It's often seen as an opportunity missed.
You never know if you are at the best possible point. There’s always the potential for something better, but it might take a long time to find it.
My tip: embrace the freedom of getting onto the next biggest problem because you can always come back to the previous one.
It's the best thing about software - you can always return and try to solve this problem again.
5) Design like you’re right, test like you’re wrong
Attitude towards testing has probably been the biggest mindset change that I've seen in the industry. How impactful can you be by studying people's use of your product?
Quite often, you think about the features. But, the features that you build, people really don't care about them. They care about how they're framed and they care about how they're positioned to users.
Subtly changing the framing of features and wording in a UX has 10 times more impact than building a new feature.
This is also the best way to learn that sometimes you can have a lot of impact with little effort. Words are far more powerful than you may expect.
To take from this?
Product Managers exist to supercharge their teams as they deliver for their customers.
As a PM, you should be free of the shackles of your roadmap, should embrace being nimble and adaptive in your team, build a shared understanding of 'enough' and experiment with tools and frameworks to better understand your customers and products.