Oh, these social media content creators and, and, these stand-up comedians, not to forget all these God’s favorite beautiful-faced models, all these lucky folks who hardly have to work in that 9–5 slogging routine to earn money, or is it? As Mr. Bachchan famously quotes Mr. Shakespeare in the classic Bollywood gem Chupke Chupke, directed by Mr. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, “All that glitters is not gold”, So is the case with life, my friend. Despite all that fad and buzzword discussion on Product Management with whopping salaries on offer, what we know about Product Management is just the tip of the iceberg. Hence, it is true that “All that glitters is not gold ” and more so in the case of Product Management.
I know you must be wondering how come our understanding so far is the tip of the iceberg. There is so much content about Product Management on LinkedIn, HBR, all the MBA grads and prospective grads are talking about it then, how could that cumulative knowledge be just the tip. You would be fair to argue that Indians are the CEOs of most global MNCs now and with the pandemic, the Indian startup scene has got completely changed. We have our own Shark Tank chapter. With each passing year, we are producing more Unicorns than ever before. So, we, Indians, must be knowing something more, inherently speaking? But, again my friend, “All that glitters is not gold”. I understand how simple and cool the product discussion appears on Shark Tank, or the inexplicable high of posting / commenting about hustling, late nights, series ABC funding, growth marketing, internships at the coolest new startup with perks, or the ultimate designation with “ PM ”tightly snuck within it, here or there. However, for every successful product story that started with doing calculations at the back of the tissue napkin while singing “Tarkeebein”From Ranveer-Anushka starrer“ Band, Baaja, Baarat ”which had heavyweight Yashraj Studio at the helm, we have multiple stories full of heartbreaks, mental health issues and disasters, something that OTT’s content or Anurag Kashyap’s cinema would deem fit to present.
Therefore, it is important to understand this slippery slope of Product Management, especially in Indian context, since this hidden gem with full of blind spots and misunderstandings has the ultimate potential to change the destinies of 1.4B Indians while turning the tables for India, its economic growth and finally, its future, for good.
Hence, we are back to the point as mentioned above the tip of this slippery iceberg called Product Management. Here, I am taking the liberty to take you into the literal meaning of these words which means the management of a product. In this case, it is a digital product or, some hybrid form of it with close integration with physical products such as Amazon’s fire stick or, the Apple iWatch.
Now, let’s borrow one of those Harry Potter’s magical world pensieves to visit some muggle world past, shall we? Let us start off with a brief review of the post-Industrial Revolution manufacturing era. You can easily identify few departments in the organizations belonging to this era. For the ease of consideration, let us focus on a single company called Real World Wonderful Ships (RWWS) that would have manufactured ships. Hence, the company would have had a design department which would have had Engineers to take care of the ship’s technical aspects. Since ship travel would have been mostly done by rich traders with their house-keeping staff and items to be sold or bought, hence, a luxurious interior would be needed as well. This is where the role of a Designer called Naval Architect comes into the picture. Now, RWWS will also need a traveling team of people fulfilling the role of a marketeer, salesman, advertiser, payment collector, and delivery manager. This team is needed to ensure that the company’s investment in the ship-building exercise in the form of capital expenses such as ship-building factory infrastructure, salary expenses, delivery expenses, unforeseeable natural calamity expenses and more similar expenses have been recovered along with earning some sizeable profit to sustain in the future. Thus, RWWS would have some set of processes for successfully building and delivering the ships with the help of these different team comprising of Engineers, Naval Architects, and customer-facing officers. Moreover, RWWS would need to complete these set of processes consistently on a year-on-year basis to remain in business.
Thenceforth, the customer retention and acquiring new customers with the demand for ships is the key to sustainably run the business. Consequently, RWWS would have to continue innovating with its team of Naval architects and engineers for faster ships, safer ships, bigger ships or, simply more ships depending upon the demands of its existing or prospective customers. Hypothetically speaking, if RWWS were from an imperialist country that had multiple colonies, it could have done away with innovation and would have just forced these colonies to buy its ships at the premium prices to complete their respective trading activities, rings a bell? Thus, in a monopolistic market, the innovation could have been done away, however, in a free market, the consumer has the final say.
Therefore, while operating in a free market, RWWS would have been sending out traveling team, collecting requirement details, building the ship and ship it away (pun intended), and continue innovating with each shipped ship (again intended). Thus, it would have retained ship-buying customers with the ongoing territorial fights, natural calamities, lost ships or, just to satiate the demands of imperialist “influencers”. Of course, there would have been an administrative team apart from these 2 broad teams to orchestrate everything in a seamless manner so that the company owners could enjoy the profits in as lavish manner as they could imagine. This administrative team, my friend, would have wielded that hidden power which was silently making or breaking several successful products with innovation at the core.
Ideally, this administrative team would have been discreet in its conversions whilst working with several different teams. They would have ensured that the important information was reliably relayed to the respective teams (oh, hence, they liked Alexander Graham Bell’s innovation), the timelines were met, and resources were aligned as and when needed. They would have loved the lightening speed insights from the Data Analytics team but, as there were no Analytics teams hence, they managed with social calls and ballroom dancing. Surely, we can imagine that the owner’s most loyal, responsible, and accountable team would have worked in this capacity as it was the most important part of the entire system. Hence, the swag must have been truly commendable which has trickled down to this century albeit sans accountability as we consistently see mass layoffs and bigger marketing & advertising budgets with poor unit economics in place.
Thereby, inheriting the typical characteristics of non-digital products, the digital product mimics the similar challenges of management as those of non-digital products. Although, a digital product has additional challenges too, owing to its being inherently digital, those challenges are being actively addressed by respective engineering teams with the help of innovations in analytics, cloud, and more advanced technologies.
Nonetheless, the major blind spot despite all the hi-tech action is the well-integrated product management approach that beautifully marries the consumer’s “why ” with company “how”And“what”. Additionally, the Product Management team must be capable of excellently executing it with consistency for a long period. With all these shiny tools on the block, it is easy for a Product Management team to entangle itself with buzzwords. Thereby, it may create a beautiful product which could be an innovative permutation and combination of UX and advanced technological tools such as AI / ML. Yet, if it fails to solve customer’s “why”In a sustainably reliable manner for a long time then, can we say that the product is successful at all?
In conclusion, it is high time that we learn to zoom in and zoom out when it comes to Product Management to know when to use which toolkit and how. The future might belong to technologically adept Product Managers who just need to dabble with business management aspects rather than grapple with business challenges disguised as technological issues, which is marring the productivity of the best of the management talent today. However, till then, let us do what we have always been known best to do – use available resources and find a way out of this or, in other words, as nature taught us, evolve rather than just imitate.