Amazing Product Managers Start Erasing Technical Debt and Stop Adding Features
July 9, 2015

Amazing Product Managers Start Erasing Technical Debt and Stop Adding Features

Product managers spend a lot of time understanding our customers and adding features to our backlog. We prioritize features with our executives and engineering teams so that, no matter what, when a new release starts, we have a new batch of shiny features to add to the product.

That approach might work for very early stage products. But depending on your product and its place in the overall tech adoption curve, adding new features might not advance your company’s goals.

That’s why a product manager’s role is not just to add new features, but to add value to the company.

The development team is one of the most expensive assets in any company, and as product managers, we’ve been given the responsibility to give direction to that resource. As a result, product managers need to be business-savvy and understand the cost/benefit of any use of development time.

To get the biggest ROI from our development investment, we need to clearly understand the company’s strategy, goals, and metrics — and to be strategic and think more broadly about all the ways you can advance your company’s goals.

Here are five areas in which product managers should actively think about adding value other than adding new features.

1. Focus on Stability Accumulating tech debt is a natural part of building a new product. But at some point, you need to go back and pay that debt. Otherwise, your whole product might fail. Having a stable product is very important to avoid churn and ensure customer success. No amount of new features will ever make up for a buggy, unstable product.

2. Plan for Scalability Early stage products usually don’t focus on this area. But just as with stability, if your product doesn’t scale, then you won’t be able to meet customer demand, and you’ll start to see your churn go up.

The key is to define the metric(s) you want to target based on your understanding of your product’s growth patterns, your pipeline, etc. It is not enough to say, “Our product needs to scale.” You need to be specific — for example, my product needs to support 10,000 concurrent users with a page response time of under 1 second.

3. Contribute to Sales Enablement If you work on B2B products, chances are you have a Sales team hitting the streets selling your product. As Product Managers, we need to do everything we can to support them. Sales is the lifeblood of every organization.

In many cases, you don’t need new features to get more sales. If you’ve done enough customer development, you might know that your current MVP is enough to close sales and keep customers happy at this stage of the product. But if sales are not picking up, maybe the problem is that the Sales team doesn’t have the right tools to showcase the product.

In this scenario, working on tools to help Sales is a better investment than adding new features. You can work with your team to build a better demo, or a demo for a particular vertical that is hard to crack. This improves your bottom line and strengthen your relationship with Sales.

4. Invest in User Experience It’s easy to think that adding just one extra feature will save the day. But in reality, adding features on top of features could be the problem that’s causing your customers to churn.

Take time to evaluate your overall user experience, including onboarding, navigation, visual design, etc. You might discover that your application is not intuitive and that’s what is causing high churn rates. You might even discover that your overall experience could benefit from removing some features. Don’t be afraid to do that as well.

5. Share Your Developers The idea of giving up your development team to another department or project can be very scary. After all, if you don’t have a team to build a product, then what is your value? This approach speaks to your maturity as a product manager and to your understanding of the company’s big picture.

In companies with multiple product lines or multiple scrum teams within the same product, oftentimes one area is under more pressure than others. If your analysis shows that you won’t move the needle by adding new features to your product in the next release or two, and you identify that other teams are struggling to meet their deadlines, then this is a great opportunity for you to shine.

You can offer your developers to those teams. In the meantime, you can work on customer development, additional design, etc.

The Big Picture Product management maturity consists of looking at the big picture and figuring out where you can have the biggest impact for your company. Next time you feel the inertia of automatically reaching into your backlog, take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself: “Is that where I can add the most value?”

This is a guest post by Daniel Elizalde. If you are looking to be a great product manager or owner, create brilliant strategy, and build visual product roadmaps — start a free trial of Aha!

Daniel Elizalde is Director of Product Management for Stem Inc. and the author of He has extensive experience managing the full product lifecycle for enterprise SaaS, mobile and desktop applications. Daniel’s philosophy is that great product leadership requires a balance of soft skills, business acumen, domain knowledge and technical & UX skills.

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