Think about the last time you worked on something: maybe it was a DIY home repair or maybe your manager wanted you to create a proposal for a client. Did you have a plan? If you didn’t, chances are you weren’t happy with the results. That’s why planning is all the rage. If you’re a Product Manager, “planning” is essentially synonymous with the product management framework you apply.
If you read any self-help book from business to finance to life guidance, all of them will recommend a framework for creating your own plan. If there were ever an occupation where planning is essential, it’s product management — in fact, the main task of product management is putting together a plan. If you are a Product Manager or are exploring product management as a career option, knowing the most relevant product management framework to create your plan will be key to success. In this article, we’ll review 8 of the most well-known product management methodologies and frameworks for you to apply on the job.
Why Use a Product Management Framework?
Before we dive in, let’s review why these methodologies and frameworks are good to know for your own product management career. I know that in my own experience these frameworks have helped to make sure I didn’t miss any of the details. They provide a holistic approach to all parts of the problem so you don’t forget anything.
Not only that, applying a structured product management methodology to a problem gives confidence to those involved in the project. Certain frameworks also encourage meetings where stakeholders can fill in the details of the framework or plan together. This provides a sense of teamwork and agency by each team member in getting to the final product. Also, multiple Product Manager frameworks provide a structure that feeds the results of the framework back into itself. Product organizations that align on frameworks can work better together because everyone knows what comes next and can create the next plan together. Finally, having a framework is better than not having a framework — as the saying goes, “proper planning prevents poor performance”.
The below frameworks run the gamut of product management methodologies to add to your toolbox. Some are overall working strategies and philosophies for how to build products with teams while others provide a foundation for solving the problem at hand.
Agile Product Management Methodology
The agile product management methodology was founded in 2001 in the early days of the dot-com boom out of frustration for process, bureaucracy, and long-drawn-out tasks. The agile manifesto lists out principles in detail.
In short, the manifesto states that Agile is a methodology with a focus on close collaboration with customers and developing products quickly yet in bite-sized chunks that deliver value to the customer. The idea is that as these iterations (as they’re called) are delivered, internal stakeholders and customers can test them. Depending on the feedback, product and engineering teams can readjust future planned iterations of the product.
This allows teams to get validation their product is something customers want at every step of the development lifecycle while avoiding putting in so much time and effort on something that doesn’t create value for the customer. Agile is more of a philosophy than a framework yet it has been applied to the way companies develop software by breaking up functionality into ‘sprints’ or two-week development periods.
Agile Pros and Cons
- Most customer-centric product development philosophy
- Constant validation to know you’re headed in the right direction
- Applicable to multiple other product management frameworks
- Doesn’t offer a distinct framework
- Not applicable to all product types (computer hardware or large appliances)
Product Development Methodologies: Waterfall
Think about the process that goes into creating an automobile: there are so many moving parts — pun intended. You need to think about the requirements for meeting legal road standards, providing comfort to the customer, and most importantly getting the customer from point A to point B.
If you were to deliver only the motor to the customer first, how do you think they would react? Waterfall is a product development methodology where the development of a product is divided into phases that are dependent on one another. Similar to a waterfall, the progress flows in one direction and there is no room for major dynamic changes between phases. For example, the frame of the car’s body is designed with the size and shape of the motor in mind.
In today’s world, there is a dogma that sees waterfall development as archaic or not as flexible for changing business requirements. However, too much change can cause room for error, especially when communicating with multiple teams across multiple areas of expertise. Waterfall can allow for the development of plans with greater detail, inspiring confidence from all stakeholders over time.
Waterfall Methodology Pros and Cons
- Provides a clear and consistent path for software development
- Requires fewer meetings once the Product Manager establishes the plan and its phases
- Not as appropriate for dynamic industries where requirements change quickly
Kanban Product Management Framework
Have you ever gone to a store to buy something in particular but it wasn’t available? It’s incredibly frustrating but mostly because it rarely happens. This is because retail stores do their best to meet client demand in what is known as ‘just-in-time supply chains. This is the spirit of the lean Kanban production methodology where goods or software is delivered based on client demand rather than just for the sake of producing goods to market. Its core principle is to minimize waste while maximizing productive activities.
How to use the Kanban Framework
Today, software development teams work on these principles by visualizing various steps of development in a Kanban Board. Teams break down pieces of work into cards, estimate the work for each card, and a person or group takes a card to work on. Three columns organize and represent the status of each piece of work:
- To Do
- In Progress
In order to deliver on each card, team members should ideally keep their work-in-progress low so as to focus on delivering on one item as quickly as possible.
Not only does this product management framework keep everyone on track with a ‘to-do list, but it also keeps everyone hyper-focused on a few items. Context switching, or switching from one item of work to another before completing the first, is a high cost to businesses — also research shows only 2% of people can actually multitask. In addition, the columns provide clarity on a team member’s items in progress: everyone on the team knows what you’re working on which builds accountability to other team members.
Kanban Pros and Cons
- Paints a very clear picture about the work that needs to be done.
- Makes team members concentrate on one thing at a time which delivers more value to customers.
- The visibility of others’ work can create healthy pressure on team members.
- Requires time to refine the actual tasks needed for any major body of work.
Scrum Product Management Framework
Scrum is a product management framework that helps teams to structure the work of an agile environment — while ‘Agile’ is more of a philosophical approach to product development, Scrum is the application of that approach in a framework.
Scrum teams don’t know everything they need at the beginning of a project but will learn as they work. This applies to both engineers and Product Managers as requirements change due to unexpected software dependencies or changing business requirements. This allows for the dynamic approach to work that is the core of agile development.
Scrum Framework: The Sprint
At the core of scrum is the sprint, a period of time for teams to work towards a goal or user value. By the end of the sprint, the team has accomplished their goal. A product owner will look at the end products they want teams to deliver and divide that body of work into user stories, often represented as Kanban cards, for them to work on for the next sprint. Teams should meet regularly and daily in stand-ups to understand the progress of work and refine the requirements as things change.
Scrum is the most used product management framework in most software development circles as it provides for close collaboration amongst teams. Depending on the body of work and how often requirements are expected to change, it can be advantageous to change course quickly.
Scrum Pros and Cons
- Allows for close collaboration in software development teams.
- Compatible with Kanban product development
- Not as applicable to Waterfall software development.
- Scrum principles are flexible which can lead to little structure and accountability
5 C’s of Pricing
While previous product management methodologies discuss the process of software development, the 5 C’s of Pricing tackles how you should price your product based on environmental factors in order to gain the most adoption and while bringing customers happiness. The 5 C’s are:
The first C is “Cost” or knowing the cost structure for the product you are charging clients. Is this something your team developed with your own time and energy or are you white-labelling an outside product you need to pay to another vendor? Cost is important yet it bears no meaning in the mind of the customer — cost is important to your pricing strategy but if it dictates your price you may get no adoption.
Customers help to gauge both what they think the product is worth and how much they are actually willing to pay for it.
Channels affect the price in that you may have to charge 3rd parties for that distribution. There must be some additional value these 3rd parties provide that make the price worthwhile to end users since both your team and the 3rd party will be taking a % of the actual cost.
Competition, in addition to customers, is the key pricing determinant in a solid rate of adoption. You must consider the other options out there for your customers. Does your unique value merit a higher price point? Or vice versa: is your lower price point the value proposition over your competitors?
Finally, Compatibility has to do with whether or not your price matches your company’s objectives. If the value of your product is huge to businesses but it doesn’t match your company’s goal to address the needs of small business owners, the pricing of it may not vibe with your current clientele.
5 C’s Pros and Cons
- All factors that come into play for a successful pricing strategy are laid out.
- Allows product teams to divide pricing into problem sets.
- Doesn’t provide a step-by-step approach to pricing your product.
CIRCLES Product Management Framework
The CIRCLES product management methodology is a way for product teams to approach the prioritization of items to feed the scrum backlog. This is the approach to take before a Product Manager comes to sprint planning meetings — all researchers involved in the CIRCLES product management framework should be completed, at least for the work you want to do this sprint. Lewis C. Lin created the CIRCLES framework as a way to approach product interview questions; however, the framework is applicable to the on-the-job work of a Product Manager.
- The first step is to Comprehend the problem: a Product Manager needs to write down the problem and understand all the factors that make it come to life.
- Next, a PM must Identify the customer. What kind of biases or environmental factors make the customer the person they are?
- Then Report the customer’s needs so you can better understand what you are trying to solve for. Needs can be unrelated or possibly dependent on one another.
- Next, it will come time for planning the work and a Product Manager must Cut through prioritization.
- Based on the problems and the customer needs, which of these needs should be prioritized over others? List out your solutions so teams know which solution solves which problem.
- Then do a sanity check by Evaluating the tradeoffs for each solution. Will one solution have more impact on the client than another or will one solution take more development time than another solution?
- Finally, your work should result in a Summary of the product recommendation for teams to begin development on.
This framework isn’t perfect for every product environment but it helps to cover all your bases and consider the pros and cons of each choice at every step — it’s important the PM does this work before your team begins development.
CIRCLES Method Pros and Cons
- Allows Product Managers to envision the work they need to do to deliver value to customers and meet business expectations.
- Encourages constantly checking your own logic.
- Doesn’t consider situations where value is readily apparent to a PM and customer.
- Sometimes more applicable to answering job interview questions more than on-the-job problems.
While Kanban or lean development considers developing at a pace that meets client demand, Product-Market Fit asks whether or not the client actually wants the product. In order to assess the product-market fit, one must ask who the target customer is. What does their daily life look like? What does that mean for the success of your product?
Target customers can vary in their demographics or life experiences yet still share underserved needs. These needs are usually shared by all target customers. Identifying the right needs is key to building a product and messaging to address those needs. Your unique value proposition should provide a clear and direct answer to these underserved needs. The message should be simple so it can be understood by all of your target customers.
From this value proposition should come your product features. Or rather, your value proposition should serve as the vision for your product and thus dictate what features are the most valuable to your clients. And of course, the user experience or UX should match up with the expectations created by the value proposition. If your value is simplicity, that should come across in the user experience of your design.
The Product-Market Fit Pyramid
Dan Olsen has developed the product-market fit pyramid in order to visualize how these aspects directly affect one another. If your value proposition, features, and UX directly match or answer your target customer’s underserved needs, you have a stable pyramid where each layer directly supports the other.
Product-Market Fit Pros and Cons
- Helps to visualize how each aspect of product-market fit affects the other.
- Shows how customers and their needs should be foundational to products that are developed.
- Great for creating products from scratch.
- Doesn’t explicitly consider competitors or pricing aspects of a product’s development.
- Encourages research without explicit steps to the research.
4 Quadrants of Time Management
The 4 Quadrants of Time Management comes directly from one of my favorite books of all time: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Covey wrote the book as a way to provide a framework to approaching life altogether, though his framework can be applied to business and any projects people might take on.
If you are a Product Manager, these 4 quadrants can be applied to your daily tasks or even the product you are working on. The 4 quadrants are based on the overlap of the importance of a task with its urgency:
- Quadrant 1: Urgent and important tasks
- Quadrant 2: Not urgent but important tasks
- Quadrant 3: Urgent but not important tasks
- Quadrant 4: Tasks that are neither important nor urgent tasks
Covey says that we tend to spend the most time in quadrant 1, too much time in quadrant 3, and not enough time in quadrant 2. The key to effective product management is throwing all of your effort into a mix of quadrants 1 and 2 with 3 being 10% of your total time. Evaluate all your tasks to figure out which quadrant each task or piece of work falls into.
4 Quadrants of Time Management Pros and Cons
- Especially helpful for conveying the value of work that takes a long time but creates a ton of value.
- Helps to reassess where you are putting your time and energy.
- This framework requires the person adding each task to a quadrant to be open and honest about the urgency and importance of each task.
Pick Your Product Management Framework
Each product management framework outlined above has a time and a place to be utilized. Sometimes it won’t be a blatant exercise where you write out the framework but may be an application to concepts in your mind and on the go (as most agile environments require). However, team frameworks require collaboration amongst multiple stakeholders so all bases are covered and everyone working on the projects is confident in what they are working on. As a Product Manager, it is your duty to evangelize these frameworks with your teams for the success of your product and the morale of your team. Go out and get started!
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