Developing a successful product is one of the hardest things to do in business. Unrealistic delivery timelines, unhelpful meddling from executive stakeholders and technological flaws are just a few of the potential landmines for product managers. To add to the stress, the success or failure of a product can often make or break a company’s quarterly revenue numbers.
I’ve spent most of my career in content and publishing, but I’ve been exposed to product management as part of the product team of a mobile technology company. Some of the product management lessons I’ve learned can be useful to any professional who is responsible for driving business results -- including content marketers.
Below are some product management best practices I’ve picked up that have helped me the most in content roles.
Advocate for Your Users
User descriptions are the “glue” keeping everyone aligned on the vision for the product.
Consider that a product typically has many people working on it, including designers, engineers and other business stakeholders. Each person will make a thousand little decisions around what the product should look like and how it should function. A product manager is ultimately responsible for the result of all those decisions but cannot realistically “sign off” on every judgment call.
To address this challenge, product managers create detailed user personas based largely on interviews with actual people. The idea is, if everyone thoroughly understands the target user, the team will naturally stay aligned.
Content marketers are more familiar with the term “audience,” but the idea is the same. When you start a new project, ask yourself first and foremost, “Who is the audience?” Collaborate with the client on the audience description and circulate it to other people working on the project. This simple practice will minimize miscommunication and help you get consistent output from your team.
Give Yourself a Daily Standup
At many organizations, a staple of product management is the daily standup, where every team member answers three questions:
- What did I accomplish yesterday?
- What do I plan to accomplish tomorrow?
- What are the biggest obstacles impeding my progress?
This format is simple, fast and flexible enough to be utilized in pretty much any working group. Most importantly, it helps every team member focus on their highest-priority action item and keeps a spotlight on any blockers or bottlenecks.
The daily standup can be adopted in all kinds of professional situations, including onboarding a new hire, managing a small team of direct reports or leading a cross-functional working group.
You may even want to do a daily standup by yourself each morning and write down your answers to the three questions. You might be surprised how often your goal for the day gets disrupted by urgent but less important tasks.
Adopt an Agile Mindset
The term “agile” has become a common corporate buzzword, and many people are intimidated by the sheer volume of agile philosophies and instruction manuals out there. This is a shame because the heart of “agile” is just a set of four easy-to-understand values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Responding to change over following a plan.
Consider the following situation: You’re working with a group of writers on a project and getting negative feedback from the client. Your first thought might be to tighten up your team’s editorial processes and maybe create a style guide that encompasses every piece of client feedback. You spend hours crafting a lengthy email outlining the new measures. When you finally hit send, you think: “Problem solved.”
A few weeks later the client still isn’t happy, the team is demoralized and content production has bogged down. Your mistake was prioritizing processes and documentation over individuals and interactions.
A more agile approach would have been to recognize that you can solve the problem by fostering a more healthy dynamic between the client and your content staff. You could have tried creating natural touchpoints or paired the client with a writer adept at soliciting feedback. Remember, a fruitful collaboration practically negates the need for stringent rules, while a toxic one is hard salvage with any number of guardrails.
Create a Roadmap Instead of a To-Do List
A roadmap is a product manager’s most valuable tool for organizing and communicating out the “big picture” plan for their product. A well-structured roadmap will enable anyone to easily see how a product will evolve over time with new features and functionality.
Content marketing roadmaps can serve a similar purpose, providing a high-level view of your priorities over the course of months, and even years. If you have the sense that your role has become too focused on churning out content based on a calendar or task list, a roadmap can be a great way to develop a more strategic, long-term perspective on your responsibilities. This can be far more effective than a to-do list, where you can spend hours checking off countless items only to step back at the end of the day and realize you’ve gone nowhere.
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