Product management is rewarding. And it is also really hard work. I know a few product managers who have the toughest challenge out there — leading a product that is built on a platform or collection of products managed by other people. You need to advocate for your product every day. In the process, those other people’s problems become yours as well. It can be difficult to see how an individual product is making a real impact on the business. So what should a product manager do?
You are responsible for guiding your product from conception to success — and you need to know how to measure progress at each step of the way.
This requires you to be clear about what you want to achieve and balance multiple (and often competing) priorities. How do you know what long-term success looks like when everyone is pushing for attention and resources right now? If you do not have years of experience leading dependent products, it can feel overwhelming to know where to start.
So, I asked several members of our Customer Success team to share best practices and advice for product managers managing a product that is dependent on a platform or many other products. These folks are all former product managers. They are experts on the nuances of delivering an excellent customer experience — no matter how large the portfolio or how complex the organizational matrix is.
Here is what they said:
Envision the larger ecosystem
“Your product is part of a larger ecosystem. Before you can measure anything, you need to orient your thinking around the success of the company rather than the success of your product. Try to separate yourself from an individualistic mindset and understand that the entire ecosystem needs to make progress for the company to thrive. Make it your mission to truly understand those company-level goals.” — Bonnie Trei
Share goals across the portfolio
“I once managed a portfolio of products built on an enterprise platform that was owned by a completely separate team. I quickly learned the importance of having clear goals at the product portfolio-level. You need to clearly express the targets you are aiming for (for example, MRR or new customers) so other teams understand what the group is measuring and how your results stack up against what you are trying to achieve.” — Mark Eaves
Clarify success metrics
“You need to ensure that the success metrics for each individual product are aligned — working towards the same higher-level strategic priorities. But you also need to ask yourself, “Are these success metrics even business critical?” Different data can convey conflicting information, and it is essential that you measure the right things, such as what actually drives customer acquisition or product usage.” — Shannon Sauvé
“When working across a portfolio of products, dependencies can exist at multiple levels. Tactically, it is important to know how feature A can depend on feature B. Strategically, you need to be able to connect product goals and initiatives to understand how your product depends on or impacts others at a higher level. Being able to contextualize performance within the overall portfolio requires understanding both.” — Tom Bailey
Review progress regularly
“Let’s assume you have determined what success metrics are within your product’s control. For the products that you are depending on, work closely with the other product managers so you can follow their corresponding success metrics too. Review the progress of all products weekly to ensure you are tracking against those targets.” — Deirdre Clarke
“When managing dependent products, I always considered having no surprises at release time to be an important success metric. And yes, it is possible to make this a measurable (and achievable) metric. You just need to focus on communication. Once you have identified specific dependencies, communicate your product needs upstream to those product owners, and continue to communicate and monitor the progress of the upstream products.” — Mark Crowe
Thinking holistically and specifically will help you understand how your product can thrive within the larger business context.
The key is to be clear on business goals, have agreed upon success metrics across the portfolio, communicate with other product managers on the team, and closely track the progress of it all. It is a tough challenge for sure, but I know you are capable of accomplishing it. After all, that is the rewarding part of product management.
How do you determine success when your product lives in a multi-product universe?
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