Product management has gained a lot of attention in the tech industry, primarily because of the influential nature of the role and its strategic importance in shaping the future of an organization. While there is a massive pool of highly skilled product managers in the for-profit industry, there is a dearth of product managers in the nonprofit world.
What is product management?
There are many different ways to think about product management because the role varies drastically from company to company. The ideal product manager sits at the intersection of customer needs, technology and business. They shape the vision and drive growth for the organization.
While revenue and funding goals of for-profits and nonprofits differ, their goals around growth, community and impact are largely similar. Given that product managers are fundamental to driving growth strategies, leading cross-functional organizations and delivering impact in successful organizations like Facebook and Google, their skills would be highly transferable and valuable in the nonprofit industry.
What can product managers bring to nonprofits?
Nonprofits are typically short on resources and need their leaders to skillfully wear multiple hats, much like product managers. No matter what organization a product manager works for, it is not easy to play this role effectively unless they are strongly motivated by the vision. Fortunately, the passion and commitment of their members to go above and beyond to help drive the mission is unique to nonprofits.
As a product manager and a nonprofit leader myself, I’ve found there are four fundamental characteristics of product management that have helped me drive growth at Women in Product: Being a community champion, effectively prioritizing, making data-driven decisions and leading without authority.
1. Being a champion
A large part of being a product manager is truly empathizing with the consumers of your service or product. This entails learning about their lives, what their day-to-day looks like, problems they face, and how you and your organization can help alleviate those problems. Hiring product managers who bring similar practices of empathy and problem-solving in key roles at a nonprofit can be highly beneficial to the success of the organization.
In my experience leading the Women in Product San Francisco Bay Area chapter, we have learned a significant amount about the community we serve simply by spending time and having real conversations with fellow women in the technology sector. We discovered from our younger audience that they are seeking guidance on how to break into product roles, find mentors and be successful in mature organizations.
In contrast, a large portion of our audience includes mothers who are looking to balance their family lives with challenging careers. Some are also seeking ways to return back to the industry after taking some time off, voluntarily or involuntarily. Armed with this information, we’re in a much better position to evolve our chapter strategy and ensure we host events and share information that will benefit the needs of these various segments.
2. Effectively prioritizing
Working to build a better community can be overwhelming. The more you learn about your community’s problems, the more they become part of your goals. However, identifying areas of high impact are key for a nonprofit, due to limited funding and volunteers’ time.
There are some key product management techniques that help you learn about your target segment and dive into their biggest problems. This process is called customer discovery. Discovery can be twofold: qualitative and quantitative.
• Quantitative discovery: This process typically involves trying to broadly learn about your target segment through surveys, feedback forms, etc. It can help identify which segments of the community resonate well with your message and which segments don’t.
• Qualitative discovery: This involves identifying user groups and then conducting interviews and piloting new ideas through services or events to identify when and how your offering is working or failing the audience.
After several such sessions, product managers will be able to identify with a high degree of confidence the biggest problems faced by the community so they can prioritize the ones that will truly help improve their experience, thus bringing trust and loyalty.
3. Making data-driven decisions
The balance between data and intuition is often a struggle for decision makers. While good leaders have strong intuition when it comes to what will help solve their beneficiaries’ problems, it is equally important to have these intuitions grounded in data. When a product manager puts together requirements for a product, the ideal way to prioritize them is to ensure they are backed by metrics that clearly indicate the impact they will deliver.
Measuring impact is done in several different ways. Depending on the goals of the organization, as well as what is important to the community, a product manager can estimate the impact through membership signups, attendance at events, fundraising statistics, return on investment, etc.
4. Leading without authority
More often than not, nonprofits are driven by volunteers who are not bound by any administrative authority to the organization. Motivating these members to follow a leader and their strategies is a unique skill. Luckily, product managers are some of the best in the industry at leading large cross-organizational initiatives and driving impact without authority.
Going from “good” to “great” requires relationships and trust. For-profit and nonprofit organizations can only be successful when under the leadership of someone who has cultivated strong relationships and partnerships with their peers and stakeholders and, more importantly, someone who has earned the trust of the community.
Product managers who have demonstrated leadership by carrying their teams through success and challenges can be valuable assets to move a nonprofit forward. When resources are scarce and goals are big, it is important to identify the right talent to help drive the mission.
Click to go to the full article: