In a nutshell, the characteristics of the best product managers include strategic thinkers,  passion for finding solutions to a customers’ problems, and deep empathy for the customers and their pain points. Design Thinking, being a customer-centric approach to problem-solving, can help you become the best product manager in no time. 

Product managers are the gems that every business needs. The best product managers are the people who aim at turning visions into reality. In essence, product managers are problem solvers —who help identify what consumers’ problems are, what their desires are, and then articulate them into a product or a feature. 

If you’re wondering how to be a good product manager, you need an appropriate framework to develop user-centric products. Design thinking, a human-centric approach to innovation, is a framework that will be useful for you. Let’s dive into what Design Thinking is and how it can help you become the best product manager.

 

“Great products are engineered when product managers truly understand the desired outcomes by actively listening to people, not users.” 

– Michael Fountain, former Director of Product at Apptentive

 

Design Thinking: A Way to Success for Best Product Managers 

If you aspire to be one of the best product managers, what are the first discussions you have with your team when you start to develop ideas for completely new products? Do you prioritise allocating resources, marketing plans, distribution methods, and the coding language you’ll employ to create the product? No, you begin by discussing what people need. How to be a good product manager depends on how much you concentrate on consumers’ issues, requirements, or desires, after which you start formulating ideas for solutions. This is why Design Thinking definitely makes sense in the process of product management.

Design Thinking is a human-centred way to innovation based on empathy for the people you’re attempting to design for. It’s intriguing how this approach handles a product manager’s early-stage thinking because it starts by looking at the world from the perspective of your customers, trying to understand their desires, wishes, concerns, and frustrations. You can discover fresh insights and ideas when you adopt new perspectives on the world or the daily activities of your target users. 

5 Ways How to Be a Good Product Manager Using Design Thinking

How to be a good product manager using Design Thinking

Though it can be exciting for even the best product managers to dive right into the analytical and tactical specifics when launching a new product. What characteristics are we intending to create? How much time do we need to create the product? Which teams should we place in which positions? How much money will we need to make in the first year to consider this a success? However, this method starts off by making two critical errors:

  1. Rather than beginning with the problem you’re attempting to solve, you’re thinking about the product itself.
  2. You’re putting your organisation’s internal goals and needs first when you should be putting your users’ needs and desires first.

The agile framework of Design Thinking is incremental. It works in a way that you quickly modify your product and approach in response to feedback from  consumers. The whole process of Design Thinking consists of 5 stages. Let us break out each stage for you and explain how to be a good product manager using them:

1. Empathise with your consumers

The biggest mistake a product manager can do is to assume things about the cause. For the best product managers, the focus always has to be consumers.

Let’s take an example. You are a nutrition supplement brand that needs to create a product for today’s young workforce. You are targeting 25 to 35 year-old men who work for corporations and have high pressure jobs. To get started with your product, you must understand what problems they are facing for which you will create a solution. So, you will take a sample from your target audience to empathise with them. Formulate a series of interview questions like: “What health issues do you face during the day at work? What do you do to solve those issues? What kind of product do you think will aid you in solving your issues?”

Never be reluctant to ask your consumer any questions you may have. Always go into the field assuming you don’t know anything. Making assumptions would lead you further to your assumptions and not the reality. The part of being a product manager is resolving complex, real-world problems. Maintain your composure while deliberately and creatively gathering more facts to make the situation more clear. 

2. Define your problem statements

Once you get to know your consumers, you’ll gain a new perspective to work towards. And that will be your problem statement for which you need to create a solution. The answer to how to be a good product manager begins by understanding your users’ problems. As you understand what your consumers require, you will feel inspired to create solutions to those problems. To generate fresh ideas to determine what these individuals require, take a look around and examine things from consumers’ perspective. 

Defining a problem statement is an effective technique to focus on the primary issues while considering the causes of the problem. A tendency to incorporate a potential solution in the problem statement is something that must be discovered when utilising problem statements for the first time.  It’s crucial to limit oneself to the user problem and to forgo incorporating solutions in problem statements.

Let’s continue with the example used before. For instance, Sudhir, who enjoys having a lot of chocolates during a stressful day at work, wants to maintain his weight so he wants to find a way to consume it as much as he can, without gaining weight. The problem statement for you here is to create a chocolate substitute that not only tastes as good as real chocolate but is also healthy. 

3. Generate Ideas 

The best product managers always generate ideas

Now, you’re at the stage where you must look for ideas to solve the problem statement. Many product managers often have this notion that one needs to be a one-man army to become one of the best product managers. However, it is not the case. Design Thinking teaches you how to be an effective manager as well, which means it promotes collaboration within teams. Brainstorm with your team members to ideate as much as you can. It is time to make proposals, even if they appear outlandish, expensive, or too impossible to implement. Try to hunt for a true invention and move past the obvious. During this stage, all ideas are good ideas. 

Suppose many people answered what Sudhir had answered in the empathy stage. Now you know that your solution has to be a healthy-but-tasty chocolate substitute. So you’ll think about how I can make chocolate healthy—probably by removing the sugar content. So you’ll think of adding natural sweetener like stevia instead of using refined sugar. You may also want to come up with a vegan chocolate recipe altogether. Or probably you can add more dry fruits to make it healthier than regular chocolate. Possibilities are endless!

Did you notice we haven’t yet covered the product features, organisational objectives, or resource limitations? The sole goal of our endeavour throughout the Design Thinking process must be to understand our consumer better and look for methods to make their lives better in some way.

4. Create Prototypes 

As we have a lot of ideas, the next step is to convert your ideas into tangible products. As you materialise your concepts, it’s time you develop some basic prototypes. Create prototypes and release them so that a sample of your consumers can tell you whether you’re on the right track after deciding on answers to their genuine problems. 

As discussed in the previous example, we have endless possibilities to make chocolate healthier. Now it’s time to create a tangible chocolate bar that can be distributed for tasting by the same sample consumers that you used for the empathy stage. At this stage, they will tell you whether you have met their expectations or not and if there’s scope for improvement. 

The sole goal at the prototype stage is making sure you understand the user’s core needs. You can raise the fidelity of your prototypes as your understanding of users’ needs develops. This may need devoting additional time to thinking through the functionality of the ultimate solution and adding that into successive iterations of your prototype, testing it out with users along the way. But think of it this way: it’s better to give additional time than to deliver a product that doesn’t strike the right chord with users.  

5. Testing the Prototype to Find the Right Solution

Now, prototypes are made only to receive early feedback on the product. That’s why testing and prototyping go hand-in-hand. At this stage, you’ll get an idea about what your early users think of your prototypes. What is working and where do you need to work furthermore? Are you truly touching people’s hearts with a product or are our customers merely “satisfied” with our product?

Suppose you create a substitute choco-bar that’s healthy, filled with various nuts and dry fruits and give it to Sudhir, who asked for a healthy chocolate bar. He eats it and tells you that the choco-bar gives a bitter aftertaste. That’s because you have used stevia to avoid sugar in the choco-bar to make it healthier but he doesn’t like its taste at all. Now, suppose you have mass-produced this product and now it’s in the hands of many more people like Sudhir. From this example, you definitely know that you must prototype and test your prototype before launching the product in the market. 

You prototype, you distribute things to your customers as soon as you can, and you refine your work in response to their comments. This is how to be a good product manager.

The Bottom Line

As you move through all the five stages of Design Thinking, the only thing left to do now is to tell the tale with your final product on the shelf. Now, you have finally identified a genuine problem your consumers were having, and you delivered a solution. Isn’t this a characteristic of the best product managers?

Learn how to be a good product manager with Design Thinking. As a product manager, your goal always has to be consumer-centric while developing your product. With Design Thinking’s five-step, human-centred framework, you can create a human story that will motivate your target audience to take action. With this unique approach to innovation, you not only create a product that strikes the chord with consumers but also create something that adds value to their life. And that’s what best product managers really do.

About the author

Anuradha is a passionate Design Thinking practitioner with 10+ years of industry experience. She has dived into the field of Design and Design Thinking, where she is trained to design experiences. She is the Founding Partner and Design lead at Humane Design and Innovation (HDI) Consulting. Her professional career spans across various roles in Advisory, UX Design, Service Design, Engineering Design, Design integration and Training. She was the lead designer of the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG. She has designed multiple digital experiences by conducting strategic UX workshops and design experiences that add functional and emotional value. To her friends & peers, she is the Bonding Agent of the team and always a Go to person. She is an avid reader, blogger & a painting enthusiast.

We at Humane Design strongly believe in the human ethos and draw inspiration from humans and other elements of nature to design innovative solutions for organizations of all sizes. We will be glad to be your success partner. Email us your requirements at explore@humaned.in.

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