iStock_000019280487_SmallProduct Mantra: How do you see the role of product manager evolve in the world of Mobile Apps?

Michelle L. Harper: Product Manager or Product Marketer or Both? Product managers need to realize that apps are not just extensions of product but channels for growth and marketing.  In many ways I see the role of product manager and product marketer beginning to converge with the rise of mobile apps.   Developing a great mobile app requires increasing awareness of consumer marketing, how to best communicate to customers, and most importantly measure and increase customer adoption.

Greater Understanding of User Behavior and Beautiful Design

Apps require a much greater understanding of user behavior, not just in the user’s workplace but 24/7.  Become an expert in usability is often the key to success for mobile product managers.

Beautiful design is key.  People are much less forgiving when dealing with navigation challenges on their smartphones or tablets.  Expectations are high for ease of use.  Good story boarding depends on an intimate knowledge of your devices.  The best mobile product managers I know live with their devices on a daily basis and know them inside and out.

Linked Roadmaps

Your app’s roadmap will also be linked to the iOS or Android roadmap.  This is an adjustment and often an unpleasant surprise for new mobile product managers.  However, you need to ensure that you follow Apple or Google’s rules or your apps may not be approved for app stores.  You must know your device inside or out or  your app may be incompatible with device features.   It’s critical to take advantage of new APIs, features and developer tools in order to provide ongoing value to your customers.

Increased Focus on Metrics

Mobile product managers face increasing pressure to measure app success and to track metrics.  For example, the number of installs, number of quality of reviews and ratings, user retention, and session length etc.  It’s really worth digging into how you may measure the success of your app so that you can build a story around it. .  Conversely, you will also need to understand app marketing principles.  How can you market new features through your app?  Through the Google or Apple stores?  Again, this is one the ways that the product manager and product marketing roles converge in mobile app development.

Product Mantra: Is “data driven decision-making” killing the innovative thinking among product owners?

Michelle L. Harper: Absolutely not.  In fact, I think it leads to greater creativity with more certainty that you will add value with your product decisions. Data from a number of sources, especially from web analytics or other user metrics, can help prioritize customer needs, reveal trends and can inspire creative ideas that are offer a  return on investment.

In one of the most painful moments of my career, I recall a conversation with a CEO who gleefully quoted Steve Jobs while pooh pooing the need to do further market testing:  “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”   I’ve come to loathe that quote.  Often this quote is used as an excuse to avoid the hard work of truly evaluating a business solution in favor of being “innovative” because the organization/CEO is already in love with the idea.   Unfortunately, not everyone is Steve Jobs.  This type of thinking can lead to a dangerous course of action.

Product Mantra: You have actively been the VOC in your organization. Would you like to share, some of the techniques and methods by which you ensured that these customer inputs do not dilute on their way to leadership or decision making team?

Michelle L. Harper: There is nothing like the real voices of customers captured in their entirety to share with the leadership team and/or creating opportunities for the leadership team to interact with customers directly.  I am a huge believer in the value of customer site visits.

Site visits are best done without the company of a sales person because the feedback you receive as a product manager can be entirely different.   The customer has a relationship with the sales person and can be reticent in expressing their true opinions for fear of either getting the sales person into trouble and/or hurting their feelings.   They are more likely to express frustrations to you as owner of the product.

The key to VOC is establishing a regular practice of soliciting customer feedback and setting quantifiable goals.  For example, 1 customer site visit every quarter or 5 customer engagements (via phone interview, in person) every quarter.  It’s systematic practice.   Most importantly, make sure that these insights are circulated widely and regularly across stakeholders in the organization, including the leadership team.   I have also never been reticent in inviting a member of the leadership team to travel with me so they can hear the voice of the customer for themselves.

Originally published on Product Manta