5 Tips Transitioning To Product Management From ANY Background in 2021 (3 of 5)
Understanding Product/Market Fit is one of my most significant lightbulb moments while transitioning to product management.
Hi again! This post is the third in a five-part series about the five most important things I learned while making a career change from Software Engineering to Product Management. No worries if you are coming from another career background or just starting your career. The information applies to anyone making the jump. I intend for the content in this series to be anchor points from which a budding PM can begin to explore the rabbit hole of knowledge. I will provide plenty of links for further study at the end.
Let's get to it!
Tip #3 — Product/Market Fit
Understanding Product/Market Fit is one of my most significant lightbulb moments while transitioning to product management. Almost everything a PM does should drive toward achieving or maintaining Product/Market Fit.
What is Product/Market Fit?
I was recently in a meeting where the topic of discussion was ideation and how we can improve internal/sustaining innovation in the company. One team member suggested we "decide Product/Market Fit" first before committing resources. Agreed! We should definitely not build a product that lacks a market. We would put a lot of work into something nobody wants, and we would squander company and investor resources. It makes total sense. The problem is, how do we know if there is a market before we build the product? It is possible to make a leap-of-faith assumption based on research, but the reality is, to know for sure if a product is marketable, it needs to be built in some form and tested with real customers. It is rare for the first iteration of a product to be the one that resonates with a market.
Product/Market Fit is not something one can "decide" but rather a place one arrives. It is a destination, not a decision. Like all good destinations, reaching Product/Market Fit requires some work: Negotiation, navigating, a little arguing on the side of the road, asking directions, getting lost a few times, taking the "scenic route," taking the "not-so scenic" route, running out of gas, and eventually, Eureka! We are here! A product that people love and will pay for in a way that produces profit and sustainable growth for a company.
Product/Market Fit means your product or feature solves a problem or pain-point for customers in a sustainably profitable way.
Solving a problem.
For a defined market.
For customers who are willing to pay for solving it.
And selling to them is repeatable.
This is best represented by the following diagram from Dan Olsen taken from his book: The Lean Product Playbook.
How Do You Achieve Product/Market Fit For Your Product?
To attempt to answer this question in a 3min read is nearly impossible. Much of achieving Product/Market Fit overlaps with the process of launching a successful startup. Large established companies are not immune from chasing Product/Market Fit even with their flagship products. Staying on top is very difficult, as described in The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen.
For a concise answer, I will lean on Dan Olsen's Lean Product Process:
Determine your target customers.
Identify underserved customer needs.
Create a winning product strategy.
Decide on your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Design your MVP prototype.
Test your MVP with customers.
Iterate rapidly to achieve product-market fit.