Product management strength and form

Mastering the two different types of product development work

One interesting and underreported aspect of product development and product management is that there are two fundamentally different types of product work. Both are required to build a successful product, and the best product teams and product managers have mastered both and know in which context to apply which.

Innovation and optimization

Product management strength and form differ in the main objective of the work: innovation versus optimization. Innovation, in this context, means discovering and developing novel solutions to relevant problems of our users’ and customers’ problems. Optimization means making sure those novel solutions work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Step changes and incremental changes

Product management strength and form don’t just vary in the objective, but also in how the work is best conducted. Innovation is often a step change or “big bang”, where a lot of pieces have to fit together to create something that is novel and better than what came before it. Optimization is best conducted in the form of many incremental changes, while measuring the impact on what should be optimized for.

Value creation and value extraction

Another way to think about product management strength and form is in terms of value creation and value extraction. Value creation for digital products generally means addressing user or customer needs in such a way that it creates a monetizable surplus of value (the user or customer is “better off” with the product than without). Value extraction means finding a way to turn some of that surplus into financial income for the product’s creators (monetization). That monetization can be direct (payment by the customer) or indirect (for example, through ads).

People problems and product problems

Related to value creation and value extraction is the focus on people problems and product problems. A lot of product managers tend to think of their objectives primarily as product focused: increasing growth, engagement, retention, monetization, etc. However, value is created only if people problems are solved (people being users, customers, and/or other stakeholders).

Qualitative and quantitative insights

A last aspect in which product management strength and form differ is in their reliance on qualitative and quantitative insights. This aspect makes it abundantly clear that you always need both strength and form — specifically, any great product will be built and improved leveraging both qualitative and quantitative insights.

Putting it together: Strength and form

Let’s look at all of these axes together and tie them back to our original weightlifter’s strength and form. Product management strength falls more on the side of innovation, value creation, people problems, qualitative, and step changes. Product management form falls more on the side of optimization, value extraction, quantitative, and incremental changes.

Experienced product leader, previously at 8fit, Yammer, BCG. Currently working on something new.