How to Succeed at Product Management: Part 1 – Identifying Needs & Opportunities

This article was written by Dawn McElfresh, Senior Account Manager at Farnsworth Group.

People often ask if product management is a rewarding career. The answer depends on who you ask. As a former product manager, I would say “Definitely yes!”

You get to shape the world around you. You can make something from nothing. It’s the ultimate feeling of accomplishment: To position an idea from an open “need” in the marketplace into the hands of your customer. You gain valuable experience understanding how products are made by visiting the manufacturing facilities. You work with highly intelligent engineers, designers, sourcing gurus and brand builders.

But, where do you begin, producing a product?

The path to production is one filled with many ups and downs and a plethora of opinions, then veering down a different path that was unplanned and filled with unexpected hurdles. Ultimately, the shareholders of your company must weigh in and approve of your plan, as do your customers who are the ones who sell to your end-user.

Where do you start?

Through years of experience as a product manager working with national brands in Consumer-Packaged Goods and Building Products, I learned that product conceptualization and development stem from research. It starts with qualitative research with your customer that includes:

  • Identifying their needs

  • Understanding their uses

  • Capturing opinions of your current assortment

  • Defining gaps in the offering

  • Discovering potential improvements 

Engaging your customer is the number one thing you can do. Ultimately, a buyer will not have all the answers to what’s next; many times, this research involves engaging the actual consumer.

In my case, in the Building Products industry, I had to explore products within new multi-family construction that would appeal to purchasing managers and designers. Once you segment the audience within your product category, identify trends in your industry and perhaps mirror technologies from other more advanced product portfolios. You can use these as discussion points during the initial phase of qualitative research.

It’s about creating a funnel of ideas and vetting each one to determine which have validity and can move forward in your product development process.

The Farnsworth Group’s Product Development research approach

The Farnsworth Group’s Product Development research approach

After choosing a path for development with your teams, the key, reoccurring theme is research that validates the ideas, attributes, product testing, pricing, messaging by using qualitative and quantitative methodologies along the way.

I have found that with line reviews and selling the concept to a buyer, research was the key to backing up WHY the company invested in the strategy in the way that it did. It also supported internal discussions through the tollgate or stage-gate processes that the company had (i.e. the approvals process to support funding for the project, sales and marketing plans, and so on). 

Making an educated decision is critical.

Is a career in product management rewarding? Yes, but so is one in research. After all, they go hand-in-hand.

Contact us to discuss your product development process, how the research aligns and our approach to ensure you have a successful launch.