My definition of “product” is broader than most. I think of product as everything and anything a company outputs that touches customers. Your product isn’t just the physical item you deliver to customers, or the software that your customers use. It’s the entire experience your customers have with your company.
Product = Customer Experience
This means your product includes your website. It includes marketing material you produce. It includes advertising campaigns. It includes your brand. It includes customer support and client communications.
You can’t look at the product you produce (using a narrower definition of product) without taking into consideration everything else that surrounds it. The product (again, using the narrower definition) is at the core of what you’re providing and the value you’re creating for customers, but it’s not exclusive of everything else.
This holistic view of product also impacts product management.
Product managers (particularly in a startup where everyone wears lots of hats) should be involved in everything a company outputs. The product manager has a view into how all the pieces work together, and recognizes that a great product has to include great customer support, client communications, marketing, etc.
This doesn’t mean that a startup shouldn’t have people that own the website, marketing, advertising, support, etc. Those functions are eventually going to be full-time jobs. But if a startup or any company ends up siloing things too much it loses an opportunity to provide customer’s with a cohesive and higher quality experience. The pieces start to run in different directions.
A holistic view of product management means product managers aren’t responsible for one single metric. For example, let’s say you told your product manager, “You should only care about engagement.” So the product manager works with the development team on building features dedicated to improving engagement. Engagement goes up. Fantastic! Except there are only 3 customers using the “product.” Oops. While engagement is almost always a core metric and it may be the right thing for the product manager to focus on for a period of time, she should also have an eye on user acquisition and lead generation. Maybe the customer experience on the website isn’t good enough? If that’s failing, all the engagement in the world won’t matter because there won’t be enough users. Instead of focusing the product manager on a single metric forever, think about aligning the whole company around a single metric for a period of time and then shifting from there.
Having too narrow a focus increases the chances that product managers miss something. Maybe engagement is low because customer support is bad? A product manager focused on the “product” may not see that. A product manager with a more holistic view of the customer experience should recognize the problem much faster.
As I’ve said in the past, I think of the product manager as a “mini CEO”. Not to belittle the product manager, but to make the point that the product manager has a lot of the same responsibilities without the administrative stuff (hiring, fundraising, etc.) This speaks to a holistic view of the product manager and in turn a holistic, broader view of “product.”
The more we think of products as customer experiences, the more we can genuinely address customers’ needs and solve their problems, instead of simply delivering “stuff.”