5 ways data can help product managers be f*cking awesome

A product owner is crucial for the success of the product – it must be a real commercial success – and by this I mean it needs to deliver a great customer experience, a great user experience (they’re not always the same!) and make money. Ideally, lots of money. That money might be made immediately and quickly, or it might come at some point in the future, but ultimately, the product needs to be able to sustain itself and be profitable for the business (and any investors.)

One of the hardest things we have to do is balance delivery of an exceptional user experience, with shipping a product and making money. Ship too soon, and anyone who downloads the app may not use it, or worse, will think it’s awful and tell the world. Ship too late, and you’ve missed the chance for valuable feedback, and your competitors may gain the first-mover advantage. It’s tricky, but that’s part of what makes the role so exciting and adrenaline filled!

In my view, the biggest tool you have for success is your data. And I don’t mean looking at the odd Google Analytics report and thinking you’re doing ok, but really interrogating the data you have, understanding what it’s telling you and acting on that insight appropriately.

Here are 5 ways data can help you as a product owner:

Data empowers you to lead

Your job is to lead the team to deliver a successful product. It’s also to communicate your vision for the product (the what), how you’re going to get there (the how) and crucially, what it means for the business and the customers (the why). Data helps you define and design this. It means you can make the right call when there’s a choice. You must be able to effectively model “if I do x, then how likely is Y outcome” and “of these three options which one will make me most money” and you can’t do that without sufficient data to interrogate. Get hungry. Talk to customers, Plug in any one of the amazing and often free tools out there to help you understand what’s happening. Listen to your sales team – they’re out in the market. Read trade or consumer press. Attend events. Mix qualitative and quantitative data together to help you make choices. If you don’t have a product yet, you can do pretty much all of the above, with the exception of product data. And you must if you and the team are going to succeed.

Data backs up your arguments with evidence

It’s really tricky sometimes. You trust your gut, you’ve relied on it for years, and you get a feel for the right direction to take. But when it comes to choosing between route A or route B I have always found that being able to point to the data will help. Remember though, this doesn’t mean just looking at evidence that backs up your point. I’ve found the best way to do this is to adopt the “I’m right till I’m not” and “I want to prove myself wrong”. Test, measure, learn, repeat is important here. Find holes in your arguments, play devil’s advocate with yourself, and use “what if” analysis when you can.

Data validates and proves your business case

So your plan is to get your company – or investors – to spend lots of cash on development. To do that, you’re going to have to prove that they’ll get that money back somehow, someday. Your argument has to be believable. We’ve all seen (and laughed at) the “before” hockey stick graphs that bear no resemblance to the cliff shaped chart that follows at the “after”. Don’t risk losing your credibility by being unable to back up your arguments. And yes, this means the numbers too. Know them inside out. Imagine it’s your cash you’re spending, your life savings. Or your house is being remortgaged to fund it. Get it right, use the data.

Data motivates the team

There is nothing worse for a good development team than feeling like their work has no impact, or being told nothing at all. It is your job to communicate the impact – hopefully positive – that their work has had, and data helps you do this. It could be as simple as sharing customer feedback you’ve had on social media. Charts showing progress on usage or engagement or other key metrics can really help motivate the team. I think it’s always worth ensuring the developers understand the commercial goals and constraints too. They will naturally want to do things perfectly, but often if they understand why you need it this sprint not next year they’ll find a way to achieve the same result more quickly. To do this they have to understand what that end result is. Allow them to be creative, and show them their work makes a difference.

Data helps communicate your vision and roadmap

Without a real vision for the product you’ll drift and so will your team. And that’s really not good enough. You need to be really good at communicating the same vision and roadmap in different language depending on who you’re talking to internally. For the senior management team or investors, this means “This release means the product will make X in recurring monthly revenue by Y and along the journey we’ll also improve our NPS by Z points”. For sales people this means “The next release will mean your customers can work twice as fast on X task, and save Y hours per week”. For customer support people it means “This release will fix those top 10 bugs you hate, and the pages load twice as fast”.  For all of these statements you need data. What do the financials look like and what is this based on? How do you know what you’re doing is what customers want? How do you know they’ll like your alternative user journey? How do you know what the top ten bugs are? How do you know how fast the page loads, and that this actually matters to more than a few noisy customers?

In summary, data is the best and most precious tool in your kit. Use it, maximise its potential. Interrogate it, learn it, and love it. Be a Data Monster!


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