Refusing to Compromise New Product Development in Spite of Executive Pressure
6 November, 2018
I was working as Senior Product Manager at my previous company and the company was not able to sell any of its existing products due to lack of investment on existing products. To keep the company afloat it was decided to invest in a new business idea. We needed to get back into the market, and quickly, so our CEO gave me the opportunity to build the product for our customer. I was given a budget and was told that the new product had to be successful because this was the only thing we could do to save the company. I was initially delighted that I had been chosen over multiple other product managers, and that I was given an opportunity to do this work. But as I looked into it I realised that we didn't understand the customer problem we are trying to solve and we hadn't invested the time to understand the problem, our value proposition, our position, use cases that will provide value to our customers and most importantly we had no conversation with our customers to understand if they are willing to pay for it. All we wanted was to revive the company due to monetary pressures. So even though I knew that things were bad, I knew that if we didn't do this right way it will get worse and the company would certainly be doomed. So how did I take on this new role of fixing the problem and try to find product market fit, knowing full well the time limitations, and pressures externally and from the CEO?
From a product management perspective, my first order of duty was to align myself and my executives in the company to ensure that everyone understood the right way of doing things. In short, I had to teach them about product management and align them with the best strategies out there for introducing a new product into the market. I explained to them about lean startup model. First customer discovery, then customer validation, look for opportunity, determine if the customer is willing to pay, and only then we invest our engineering resources.
I also explained to the senior vice president and CEO the need to do more research into the industry before we invest a single penny of our engineering resources into the product. I was given nearly two months to do this type of work. I began by trying to understand the market then I delved into research. For external research, I needed to go out and find the use cases that customers wanted, find out what the customer was paying, and both of those I couldn't do while sitting in an office. Therefore, I needed to attend a few conferences, talk to some analysts, understand the industry, talk to existing customers, and if possible talk to future customers to figure out what pinpoint is valid for them. Internally, I had to look at the quote competence of the company to see where we as a company would like to invest so that we were investing in something that was profitable thereby having the company produce something of value. Only after all of this was I at a point to be able to do use cases, inquire about interest in the product, showcase demos and monitor traction, and then invest in a few of those use cases to build a solid product.
Be strong and be true to your vision. Be true to what is the right thing to do, which is sometimes not easy with company politics involved. Alignment is also important. If you want to do something you have to make sure your internal and external stakeholders are aligned with what you're trying to do. They should have an understanding of the process and the outcome. The best way to achieve this is through communication. Give them the information. Keep them up-to-date. Meet with them every two or three weeks. Show them your progress and your results. Talking to the executives allows for a pathway of communication that may also lead to opportunities on your end. If you are open about what is happening they may be able to give you ideas or help in some way. For example, our CEO had some connections with other senior people on our customer side so he was able to go and talk to those customers. He opened a door that ended up being quite helpful. So remember, be true to yourself, align the strategy and what you're trying to do (and have some data behind it), communicate regularly, and if there are setbacks or problems just make sure everybody is aware of them.
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