6 simple rules of product management

6 simple rules of product management

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m usually based in the UK, where I run my company, Product People. Back at the end of July, Adrienne Tan and Nick Coster from Brainmates helped me to avoid a wintry British summer by asking me over to spend August in Sydney with them to create some brand-new training content for one of their clients. What was particularly interesting was that the training wasn’t intended for the practitioners on their client’s product team – it was to introduce everyone else in the organisation to the concepts of product management.

Helping everyone else to understand #

One of the trickier things about being a product manager is that the rest of the organisation often doesn’t understand all the Agile ways of working and jargon that surrounds product teams – it’s like they’re speaking a different language! But the product team needs to work with the rest of the organisation to make the product happen, so it’s important that everyone at least understands why they’re working in that particular way.

Necessity is the mother of (re)invention #

The client, a large insurer, was in the process of major reorganisation. It was facing competition from smaller, new entrants to the market. These new entrants, being relatively unencumbered by red tape and legacy systems, would have greater agility – they’d be like speedboats outmanoeuvring an oil tanker. The client understandably wanted to change drastically how it operated, to put modern product management principles and practices into its heart and to become more agile itself.

Sensibly, they’d realised that this transformation would not work if it only happened within the product teams – the change needed to be organisation-wide.

The ‘why’ of product management #

The training course would serve as an introduction to the ‘why’ of product management: the common-sense principles that would make it clear why this new way of working would be beneficial. These same principles also happened to underpin other approaches they’d be using such as human-centred design, Lean Development and Agile methodologies. We certainly found ourselves ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ – there was no need for us to reinvent the wheel here, simply to draw together some of the best thinking on the topic for the benefit of our audience.

The 6 simple rules #

Given the audience for this training, we wanted to avoid confusing people with jargon and process, instead focusing more on explaining the way people need to think. We also wanted to make the training easy to remember, so we used the approach of simple rules. Let’s jump ahead a little – these were our six simple rules:

  1. Put customers first
  2. Problem before solution
  3. Leave the building
  4. Tie deliverables to strategic intent
  5. Do less, more often
  6. Show and tell

Practising what we preached #

It was important for us to practice what we preached, so we followed these simple rules ourselves as we created the training course.

We started out by speaking with a selection of people who were to benefit from this kind of training. This gave us a starting point for the design of our new training course. We made sure understood who they were and learned more about their context.

As we spoke to more people, we began to see some common themes in their needs and challenges. Once we were clear on the problems we were trying to solve, and for which people, we sketched out what a potential course would look like, then checked our guesses with more target customers by getting out of the building.

We also made sure we were crafting a training course that aligned with Brainmates’s approach: to create engaging and fun training that would help product managers and the people who would be working with them. We worked in small steps, gathering feedback and learning as we went, instead of doing months of work without checking whether we were on the right track.

Lastly, we made sure that we took every opportunity as we went along to show people what we’d done, to gather feedback and test out whether our content solved the original problems we’d identified for the people who would benefit most.

We roadtested our six simple rules at a product management meetup and as expected we learned a great deal: what worked well and what didn’t, where we needed to do some judicious editing, and what was fine the way it was. Armed with this knowledge, we’re refining and improving the training course for next time.

Does your company need simple rules? #

If you’re thinking about making a move into product management, or if other teams in your organisation that work closely with the product team would like to understand more about why they work in the way they do, then the six simple rules would be a great starting point (even if we do say so ourselves).

I’m now back in the UK, just in time for Autumn (sigh). I’ve had a blast helping out Brainmates in August and hopefully I’ll find the excuse to pop round to Sydney again soon. Drop us a line if you’re interested in finding out more about teaching your organisation about our six simple rules.

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Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a product management and leadership coach, product leader and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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