People have lofty ideas about product management—it seems as if the job would involve coming up with ideas and features, tasting success, and getting accolades—but the reality is a lot more administrative in nature. According to a Pragmatic Marketing, Inc. survey, product managers spend only 28% of their time strategizing, with the remainder spent on execution and administrative tasks. Many respondents added that they’d like to spend more time forming strategies and product ideas, so that more of their time is spent on ensuring the product’s success. The Lean methodology – which has made enough headway since the survey – can help the products succeed while reducing overheads in other aspects. Here is a comprehensive explanation of lean management for products.
What exactly is lean product management?
Lean management has its roots in the Toyota assembly line of the 1940s and focuses on identifying and eliminating activities that customers don’t value (or use). It involves analysis of processes and verticals to identify areas of concern in product quality, customer satisfaction, employee happiness, and other relevant metrics. Such issues are resolved, and the process is iterated. By applying a mindset of continuous improvement and flexible working processes, lean management welcomes ideas and suggestions from employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
What are the characteristics of lean product management?
In the software product universe, lean management is about freeing up employee time from non-value-generating tasks and shifting focus to what customers want. This customer focus distinguishes lean management, as 21 percent of products introduced to the market each year fail to meet the needs of their customers. Lean product development and management ensure product readiness for the market and check if the audience is receptive. Its principles help teams implement the latest, tested project management techniques while focusing on the complete life cycle of a product. Listed below are some of the critical characteristics of this model.
Shorter iterations, faster improvements
The typical duration of an iteration in lean product management is relatively short and usually lasts two to four weeks. Projects go through many iterations before delivery, as product features are added incrementally. Customer and in-house feedback after each iteration helps in ironing out the wrinkles, fixing bugs, and discovering new features that can be added.
Incremental approach to the product
Lean product management operates on enabling functionality as soon as possible. Once there is a minimum viable product (MVP), product owners and managers usually plan for a limited beta release. The feedback received from customers, as well as the rest of the team, can be incorporated while new features get pushed on. If customers want to focus on a specific part of the product, teams can roll out that feature first—and work on others in future increments. This sets lean management apart from the traditional one, as customers review the product as it is being developed instead of waiting for months to understand, use, and review it.
Features with the highest chance of returning value to customers are developed first in agile project management. While other project management methods track progress based on the completion of each phase, lean principles define progress based on the readiness of each feature for deployment.
What is lean product development in agile?
The Lean product development philosophy focuses on activities that have the maximum possible return for customers. Unlike other models, lean ones require a lot of work upfront but reduce long-term and wasted efforts. Using lean principles in agile would mean trying to reduce the overhead of unimportant work, and that can be done by focusing on customer needs. Lean product development can be strengthened with the help of tools like Screenjar and Roadmap Portal, which simplify the process of understanding upcoming features, getting one-click feedback from customers, and more. By focusing on customer needs, product teams can refocus their energies on a few key features that lead to customer delight.
Lean product management procedure
The Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) defines five fundamental principles of lean methodology are define value, map the value stream, create flow, establish pull, and pursue perfection. Each of these principles define specific characteristics that can be seen in successful teams.
1. Value to the customer
This customer-first approach is also known as the “lean startup phase.” To cut all the unnecessary features and focus on the necessary ones, the team has to act like a startup that has yet to make it big. In such cases, customer choices and preferences need to be of the highest priority. Based on the feedback, iterations are made to solve issues, evaluate features, and improve usage. Principles such as design thinking can be used to identify potential avenues. Adding value also means reducing effort and repurposing already-existing tools, solutions, and processes for new uses. This not only reduces development time but also gives lean enterprises the flexibility to adjust to customer needs.
2. Value stream—to be streamlined
As time passes, products get bloated with features and add-ons and need to be streamlined. In lean management, removing features and reducing waste is an important part — and it relies on a streamlined process that creates efficient workflows while reducing bottlenecks. Having a product team that knows and understands products is also essential, as they can take decisions on features to cut and add with confidence while ensuring larger business goals and customer needs are being met.
3. Flow—to improve efficiency
Product development teams can identify the areas where change is needed by going through past tasks. Then the product manager can run through the series of smaller steps leading up to the launch and help team members understand how and where their contribution is required. This clarity reduces bottlenecks, as team members can focus on finishing the task instead of looking ignorant in front of their colleagues.
4. Pull to motivate teams
When team members are motivated, competent, knowledgeable, and empowered to make decisions, they create successful products. Research shows that high-performing teams are aware of the vision of the product they’re working on and how their efforts make a difference to the product (and customers). The role of a product manager in a lean startup becomes crucial as they can help their team members understand the vision and the need for the product. They know the unique strengths of their team members and can motivate them to perform at their best.
5. Perfection—to strive for
The constant iterative process of lean product development fosters an environment of ideation and learning. When team members share the information they have acquired, the whole team understands their contributions better. This mutual appreciation also starts a healthy growth culture that relies on data and analysis. Even after the product has reached its vision, agile team members can take the learning and develop something better in the future.
Advantages of Lean Product Management or Agile Management
The most crucial benefit of lean agile project management is satisfied customers from the beginning; that builds brand loyalty. It also saves time because features are built as necessary and tested rigorously. The return on investment is quick in agile product management, as every step of the product is carefully decided with the customers’ consent. Having a real-time feedback mechanism can speed up the entire process with relatively fewer issues. They also provide a cushion from failure—as the product starts as a minimum viable prototype, the financial impact will be minimal even if it fails. The low-risk factor is ideal for large companies –they can use a scaled agile framework to achieve the same benefits.
Roadmap for lean products
A lean product roadmap is not a list of deliverables or a release plan. It is a strategy prototype that organizes past, present, and future business successes and client wins for a lean startup. It differs from the traditional roadmap by focusing only on customer-oriented features that connect with the product vision. Each element of a lean product roadmap leads the team closer to the product vision.
Lean product roadmaps focus on business objectives. There aren’t any rigid deliverables defined, as the focus is on the outcome of the tasks, which are prioritized based on business objectives and customer impact. They take the needs of all stakeholders into account and strategically adopt a lean portfolio management strategy that involves revisions and changes as dictated by customer and business needs. Following some product roadmap examples can help you figure out which one will work best for you.
Quick and efficient product delivery is the dream of every product team, and the way to achieve it is to focus on the basics. By adopting simple product management techniques that can be immediately acted upon based on customer needs and requests, the chances of customer delight increase while allowing the team to solve an issue or add an exciting feature. Lean agile product management helps teams work faster, not by rushing them, but by removing obstacles that slow them down.