Learn how to apply four categories of metrics to change your product, and your career.
The ideal Product Manager is empowered to be the decision-maker, to evangelize the purpose of the product they are building, and to feel deep empathy for their users and the problems they are solving. Essentially, this is the Missionary stance that the great Marty Cagan attributes to John Doerr. However, many Product Managers find themselves in the Mercenary Role, just doing what they are told, without the ability to say “No,” and with little interaction with the customer or user. Sometimes this is a cultural issue, such as an organization with a heavy top-down approach. Sometimes it is a trust issue due or imbalance with centralized decision making.
In any case, there are practical techniques to help you evolve your approach to your product and to transform your career. Ask yourself how your work comes to you. Are you given problems to solve or are you given roadmaps to deliver? If you identify with the latter, read on to learn how to:
- Improve your Product by applying 4 categories of metrics
- Improve your Personal Brand by applying your responsibilities to the same categories
Along the way, you will improve your stakeholder relationships by having the right conversations with the right people.
IMPROVE YOUR PRODUCT
There is a proven practice that will improve your product and force stakeholders to focus on the most important conversations. This is the shift from talking about Delivery Metrics to talking about Product Metrics.
Stop talking to Stakeholders about points, stories, and commitment versus completion percentages. These are delivery metrics and can be important to the Scrum Team to inspect and adapt their work and the team, but they don’t need to be communicated to Stakeholders.
Start focusing your conversations on Outcomes and Impacts, and not on the minutia of how the team gets there.
Some of the most confusing terms in Product are the differences between Activities, Outputs, Outcomes, and Impacts. It’s important to distinguish the difference, understand how they relate to Product Management and why should you try. You may find that you are not clear on the differences, and that is okay.
Consider a basic example of a food delivery service. The restaurant needs to care deeply about a number of things beyond the venue, menu choices, and the talent of the team — things like the quantity of ingredients needed, peak ordering times, how fast the food can be assembled and kept hot, the handoff to the delivery service, to name a few. But you, the customer, don’t care about those metrics. You care about the quality of the food, the accuracy of the order, and the speed of the delivery. When these go wrong, the impact on the restaurant can have critical and wide-reaching results, particularly when an app provides customer feedback.
Next are some short definitions of 4 Categories of Metrics and examples to tie them to your Product Backlog and the work of your team.
Activities: The actions are undertaken to achieve the outputs. They are practical and describe what will be done. The work that a Scrum Team does in a Sprint is activities.
Outputs: Actions or items that contribute to achieving an outcome. Outputs are nearly always quantitative and immediately achieved soon after the related activity. A Sprint results in a releasable Feature. A Scrum Team can have many outputs that tie to an outcome.
Outcomes: The benefits (results) customers receive after a period of time. One Outcome may be the result of many outputs. An example is how the Feature is being used.
Impacts: The long-term result for your organization. It’s often difficult to ascertain the exclusive impact since there could be many items directly affecting the impact. An Impact may be increased revenue. A better impact may be increased customer satisfaction.
You may consider Activities and Outputs to be internally (team) focused, and Outcomes and Impacts to be outwardly (stakeholder) focused. Here is an example using a matrix describing these four categories of elements. A lot has been written about team activities, like velocity and defect rate, so I focused specifically on the Product role activities.
IMPROVE YOUR BRAND
One of the biggest issues with the Product Manager role is time constraints. Once I applied the Product elements to the 4 x 4 grid, I started applying the activities required of the Product role in the same 4×4 grid. This visualization puts structure about how to evolve the day-to-day life of a Product Manager — specifically, which responsibilities can be delegated, and which ones need to be completed by the strategic and entrepreneurial Product Manager.
Learning how to manage your activities effectively is an important part of changing how you are seen as a Product Leader by knowing the right conversations to have with the right people.
Activities: Once the activities of a Product Manager are visualized in this way, it seems clear that the items in the bottom left are repeatable activities that provide input to outputs and can be delegated. As you do this exercise for yourself, consider, who is best positioned in your team to help with these practical but important activities like analysis and modeling?
Outputs: Moving to the bottom right, the time and expertise needed for discovery work and testing assumptions is also something that others can help with. A good experiment would test the assumptions of human behavior with measurable observations. An example might be a Design Sprint or even something as simple as designing an experiment. While you might want to be heavily invested here, is this the best, most strategic use of your time?
Moving to the upper half of the quadrant, a Product Manager needs to hold on to these responsibilities that directly relate to being an Outcome Owner explicitly responsible for ensuring all elements of a viable product: strong user value, business viability, and feasibility. These are the responsibilities that help position a Product Manager as a strategic thinker and an entrepreneur.
Outcomes: A major shift from Project Thinking to the Product Mindset is to start considering Time to Value. Time to Value is the total time needed from idea or hypothesis, through delivery, to learn from customer usage. Usage metrics, like the HEART Metrics attributed to Google UX Research Team, are good examples of metrics that can help you shape quantifiable outcomes. Examples are engagement numbers, like frequency or intensity of use. Another could be not just a rate of repeated users, but who does not proceed, and learning why?
Impact: Business Impacts may be more difficult to measure unless you can isolate the work of your team(s) from other initiatives. Consider tracking upticks in revenue or customer satisfaction to your release schedule as a way to draw some correlations.
By applying these four categories of metrics, and learning how to manage your time and responsibilities, you will be viewed as a product manager who embodies the Missionary: engaged and motivated with a deep understanding of the business context, and tangible empathy for the customer.
Not only will this knowledge transform your products, but it will also change the conversation with your stakeholders and improve your personal brand to position you as the entrepreneurial, strategic thinker that thrives at the helm of a product or service.
Hone your craft; speak your truth; show your thanks
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