Look forward and backward

If you want to be a bad product manager, just look forward in time to new enhancements and releases. What’s done is done, and you need to focus on what’s coming next. The important thing is what you’re working on to make the product better. It doesn’t make much sense to review the past because you can’t do anything about it now.

If you want to be a good product manager, monitor and analyze the past, present, and future. Product management is not just about what’s coming next. While new releases and changes are important, it’s equally important to analyze the past and keep tabs on the present.

My friend and fellow UX-turned-PM Chris Baum had a great insight he shared with me — product managers are one of the few roles in product development that need to look backward and forward at the same time.

Most other members of the product development team are just looking forward. Developers are working on code to support new features. User experience specialists are conducting usability testing to refine the interaction of new functionality. QA is testing new builds to ensure they work properly. The project manager is looking at the project plan and making sure future development will stay on track.

The product manager, however, needs to not just keep up with the rest of the team looking ahead, but needs to be looking even farther ahead. While the rest of the team is concentrating on the next release, the product manager should be looking out several releases and putting together a long-term roadmap.

Along with looking ahead, product managers should be monitoring current performance and analyzing the recent past. You should be conducting win/loss analysis to learn why sales were secured or lost. You need to analyze trends in usage and sales, which will identify more identify areas for investigation. Sales and customer service are just two of the groups focused on what the product can do today, and you need to support them by answering questions, providing training and materials, and keeping them informed. All of these things of course will help the product going forward, but you need to pay attention to the past to help improve the future.

A challenge of product management is striking the right balance between learning from the past, monitoring the present, and planning for the future. All three areas need to be covered for the product to be successful and to continuously improve. Product managers can improve their likelihood for personal and product success by giving appropriate attention to the past and present and using that information to improve the future.

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