People – The Forgotten Metric

As a former Product Manager I was often asked about metrics. What’s your expected ROI? What’s the end user adoption rate for this feature? When we will break even? These are notably worthwhile metrics that are important for a product and a Product Manager to be aware of. Even so, these aren’t the only numbers a Product Manager or Product Owner should be concerned about.

As I was learning the ropes of becoming a Product Manager, I had a mentor who was very interested in measurements relating to the teams working on his products. He was often criticized and questioned why he was so interested in team morale and happiness and their skill level and knowledge. He was very active in motivating the teams. IT managers felt he was out of line and diving into territory beyond his concern. This often caused some rifts between my mentor and the IT department. I finally asked him one day why he took such interest in these metrics and ensuring the teams were so happy. He simply stated, “Their happiness is directly related to the success of my product. Why wouldn’t I want to be interested in that?”

He felt that no matter what new product or feature idea he brought to the table, the product would fail if the teams weren’t happy and engaged. He needed to assess whether the teams were ready and capable of delivering. He needed to know if there would be retention problems, loss of tribal knowledge or missing critical skill sets, etc. If there wasn’t a team available and excited about working on the product, chances are the product wouldn’t get built well or at all. His product relied heavily on the “the people metric.”

I really never thought those types of metrics were important for a PM. I always knew end user, customer and financial metrics were highly important to a Product Manager. Yet I never considered team and process metrics being something a Product Manager would look at. That was something for IT managers to handle. Working with my mentor opened my eyes to a larger pool of metrics that I had overlooked and potentially an underlying factor for some less than successful ventures. Products don’t require a lot of metrics to ensure success. What they do require is the right type of metrics.

One point I didn’t mention before is my mentor was previously in a situation where many skilled team members were very unhappy with the project, the vision and overall reason behind these new features. They considered leaving the company which they did right in the middle of a critical point for his product. As a result, he missed a great market window and the project ended in failure. The unhappiness of the team members blindsided him. He had no idea things were in such a state of disarray. This was the beginning of him focusing on the people metric.

When choosing metrics for your product, don’t forget the people building it for you. Include one or two metrics that focus on people and process in addition to market, customer or financial metrics. Monitor the teams as much and as often as you monitor customer and end user happiness. It is most definitely the responsibility of a Product Manager. In some ways, the teams are way more important than the people using the product or the stakeholders sponsoring the projects.  Remember, being a Product Manager is the closest you can get to owning a business without actually owning one. This means you have to have a 360 degree view around your product and manage it as though you actually did own it. Act like the people building your product work for you and success will be around the corner for you and your product.

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