Dear Product Manager, Think Markets Before Product Definition!

My last post introduced the transformation from a product to a market and platform organization and from a projects to programs. The rationale behind these transformations is to get to a more agile, nimble product and technology organization that can support a larger number of development initiatives, both new and enhancement.

Key Questions to ask on Market Definition

Let's start with some basic questions one should ask when asked to work on an opportunity:

  • Who are the customers?
  • What are their objectives?
  • How do they do it today?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What are their options to improve their pain points and what are the concerns or issues exercising them?
  • What value, and ideally economic value is there to them in solving these pain points?
  • Where are these customer needs alike, where do they differ, what drives this difference, and can we estimate the number of customers along these dimensions?
These are some of my key questions around Markets - which I define as a

Markets - an economically significant group of customers (or potential customers) that share common objective, have similar pain points, and have an economic interest to improve the pain points in the short term
Friends I have no idea if this is anywhere close to an industry standard definition or a best practice. Surely it is grossly simplified, but that's partially why it works. With these simple questions, I know that if I can develop something that addresses the pain points better than the alternative options, then it might be worth some effort conceptualizing and planning an offering.

You'll notice I've highlighted some subjective words; "economically significant", "short term", and "better". These are all measures relative to your Market. So to take an extreme example, I suspect Virgin Galactic only needs a small number of customers paying a high price point, short term might be 3-10 years, and "better" might just be having the product available and safe.

Why is this important?  

You'll notice that none of these questions have an expression of product or service. One could conceptualize lots of products that address a Market defined this way. I suspect Virgin Galactic would be looking for wealthy, thrill/risk seeking individuals in good health that want bragging rights around a unique experience.

Many (but not all) Product Managers that I have worked with fall into the trap of defining a Product before defining the Market. On the other hand, product or service definition needs to be a collaborative process based on Market needs, but also based on organizational capability. I'll pick this up in my next post.


  1. Great post. Simple is better and those questions simply get to the point.

  2. I agree with the concept of starting simple. I also advocate including a review of economic, social, market, and technological trends to help identify the target market.

  3. Excellent Issac... especially questions in the beginning, one really needs to consider it while going for new product development.. after all, it's for end users. Give them what they want, and don't sell what you got!

    - Harshal