A reference guide for you as a product manager

Product Management Process, a Visual Guide with Templates

Product Management Process flowProduct management process flow diagram with templates consisting of 6 categories: strategy, prioritization, discovery, refinement, development and iteration.

This is a reference guide visualizes the typical product management process, so that you can use it as a reference point when iterating on your own process. It provides some concrete guidance in the form of templates across the process. Let's get into it.

1. Strategy

Strategy is about the general direction to achieve a desired future state. A good analogy is that a strategy is a map with a charted course and a destination.

Draw the map

Building an understanding of the market is a critical first step. Clarify what market you are in. Deepen your understanding of who your customers are. Stay on top of what your competitors are up to. Get a first version of this up, and then come back to and improve your market understanding over time.

Chart the course

Working from your market understanding, you need to clarify where you will fit in that market. Clarify what value proposition you will offer your customers and what your business model will deliver that. This is not about creating a detailed plan, but about setting the boundaries - roughly drawing the direction with a dotted line towards the destination.

Set the destination

When you have the map and a rough direction, it is worthwhile spending some time on thinking about the destination. What should your goal be, how will you know if you are getting there, and how can you follow up on that. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a good method that allows setting clear goals but leaving the details on how to get there to be figured out along the way.

2. Prioritization

Prioritization is about what to do next to to meet business and customer needs, and about justifying and communicating that with the rest of the company.

Prioritize business impact, but focus on customer outcomes

The PM should prioritize to maximize the sought business impact specified by the strategy (e.g. in the form of OKRs). But to do this, the PM needs to do a lot of discovery to figure out what customer outcomes are likely to actually lead to that business outcome, and to be able to balance that with how technically feasible different feature output is (often stated as maximizing outcome / output).

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Impact and Outcome Map

Triangulate prioritization decisions across different methods

Prioritizing is hard and requires taking multiple perspectives into account (e.g. benefit to different users, effort to implement, fit with value proposition, strategic fit). No single framework can cover all perspectives, and so intuition will always be the final arbiter. To add some rigor and credibility to the process, PMs should triangulate using several methods - when several perspectives indicate the same, it is probably a sure thing.

There is also an crucial back-and-forth between Prioritization and Discovery, that allows for first prioritizing some investigation, and then prioritizing actual development when uncertainty is removed.

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Team scoring
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Communicate priorities with a roadmap

When communicating priorities, there is a tension between clarity and flexibility. The business basically wants a feature release schedule. The product team won't know, and it would be detrimental to their work to tie themselves down. The best way is to keep as few things as possible locked down but to communicate a current rough hypothesis, with an understanding that things may change. It is often a good compromise to communicate this with a light-weight board roadmap.

Now next later lean roadmap
Lean Roadmap

3. Discovery

Discovery is about working with your customers to understand the problems they have, figure out potential solutions, and to remove uncertainty around those.

Get close to your customers

The importance of talking to customers cannot be overstated. Metrics and surveys are a great, but nothing beats the deep understanding that comes from talking with a real human being. After all, "the market" consists of of individual customers. Setting up a schedule for the team to interview customers every week is a great cornerstone habit.

Continuous Interviewing board
Continuous interviewing board

Map opportunities and solutions

A critical mindset in the shift from being a feature factory is making sure to think about the problem space before diving into the solution space. This means working both top-down to create a map out the most important opportunities (your customers' needs and desires), and bottom-up to link all incoming ideas and requests to this map before moving ahead. It is much easier to dismiss features with no such link.

Conduct assumption tests

The real value of discovery is reducing uncertainty, and the best way to do this, is to map out and test assumptions. There are five types of assumptions to test, pertaining to:

value (will our customers buy it/users choose to use it?)

usability (can they figure out how to use it?)

feasibility (can we build it with reasonable effort?)

business viability (does it fit with our business model?)

ethics (can we do it ethically?)

To address these assumptions, there are a number of discovery techniques. By mapping and assessing assumptions across several solutions for an opportunity in one go, teams can assess tens of assumptions per sprint.

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Wizard of Oz
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4. Refinement

Refinement is about making sure that the most important details are agreed so that development work can be effective, and so that roll-out can be successful.

Embrace user stories as a shared language

Use user stories to ensure customer focus and create a frame that all stakeholders and team members can relate to. Instead of handing over a stale set of requirements, you should have a conversation based on user stories. Anchor the user story frame by doing a user story mapping session early on, and then later by adding details to each user story.

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User story

Use epic documents as the single source of truth

Write documents at the epic-level based on a common template. Avoid copy-pasting by making it the single source of truth. Put the user stories into the document and let it evolve across the steps of the product management process. Use an outliner to be able to add more details while keeping the structure and avoiding cognitive overload.

Make sure that the documents meet an agreed "definition of ready" before handing over to Development, something like that

the most critical assumptions have been validated in Discovery,

there is a detailed "definition of done" across both the development team (e.g. acceptance criteria or reference designs) and other teams (see Roll-out), and

the "measure of success" is clear (i.e. how to evaluate the success of the epic).

Facilitate decisions with explicit questions

Write non-obvious decisions on the form of explicit questions, either right within the relevant sections of the epic document or as a stand-alone decision log. Add decisions as answers, as well as e.g. potential alternatives, pros and cons. Then involve the team and relevant stakeholders and facilitate structured decision-making.

5. Development

Development is about the tech team effectively delivering working software that is in line with what has been agreed, and with high quality.

Empower the team to handle development

Ideally, the developers have been part of discovery and refinement. If that is the case, then the role of the PM is to take a step back and support the team does their work. To make sure that the development team feels empowered, it can be helpful to have both an upfront discussion about the division of labor and an ongoing work to improve over time.

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Team charter

Participate in retrospectives and remove roadblocks

It is great if the team that handles development has access to a scrum master or an agile coach, but the team will still have a large interface with the PM. Therefore, it is important that the PM does not step away to far from the retrospectives. There is a lot the PM can do to remove roadblocks and help the team be more engaged and effective.

Follow up and engage quality assurance

Even with the team involved thoughtout discovery and refinement, the PM will have a valuable and unique perspective on what is being built. Therefore, PMs should engage during the QA process to ensure what has been built will drive the desired customer outcomes.

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QA document

6. Iteration

Iteration is about following up on what has been built, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and about making use of that in further development.

Measure what matters

Setting up and following up on metrics is a key part of iterating yourself towards a better product. Having both good metrics and a cadance of following up on them is build into the OKR method, but it is also relevant for general health metrics and for following up on the "measure of success" for built epics.

Gather customer feedback

Another key part of iterating yourself towards a better product is to pay a attention to what your customers say. Gather feedback across different channels, such as interviews, support tickets, and direct customer requests. Then work to combine that into a knowledge base, so that you can find the answers you seek later.

Set up an innovation funnel

With on all that data and feedback, you and your team will have lots of ideas. Make sure to capture these ideas. It is important to harness the creativity of the team. However, all good teams have many more ideas than they can implement. Therefore, it is important to set up something akin to an "innovation funnel", whereby you process all these incoming ideas.

Most ideas will go into "archive" or "icebox", but some should be fed back into the earlier steps. Some ideas from the team, customer requests, and bug reports go back to Prioritization step, and a few groundbreaking ideas may affect the Strategy step.

Innovation funnel board
Innovation funnel

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