Full loop product management is an approach and a skillset that allows product managers to be involved throughout the entire lifecycle of an opportunity. It starts with understanding potential opportunities, brings them into the organisation to align with strategy, creates a means of leveraging the opportunity, and takes it out into the world and measures it’s impact.
Full loop applies to any size or stage of organisation and for new products or for improving existing features. It’s a way of joining up the parts of the value stream that creates products, of giving the whole process more coherence, and so creating more valuable products that leverage the right opportunities.
There are four parts to the loop.
From horizon-scanning across an industry to competitor analysis to interviewing customers, external discovery is all about finding opportunities for the organisation and the products.
Internal discovery involves bringing an opportunity into the organisation and aligning it with organisational and product strategy. In some organisations this involves writing business cases and managing a roadmap.
Building the new product or feature, and especially ensuring the rationale for how it will leverage the opportunity, is part of internal delivery. This can involve working in agile ways with developers and testers, writing user stories, and communicating progress. This is often where product managers spend (too much of) their time.
Delivering the solutions for customers to use includes go-to-market planning, marketing and promotion, and customer support. Monitoring the effect the solution has in the external world completes the loop and informs the ongoing external discovery to understand whether the product or feature is leveraging the opportunity.
When product managers are involved in all sections throughout the loop they are more able to reduce the disjointed lack of connection between an opportunity, a solution and its impact. The more connected and coherent the product development process is, the more value it will deliver.
Internal delivery only
Many organisations focus their product managers on only internal delivery, in the bottom right quadrant. Whenever a product manager job description talks about tools like Jira and agile but doesn’t mention understanding customer needs or measuring outcomes, that’s a sign of an organisation that constrains it’s product managers to only doing internal delivery work. This is the source of the criticism of product managers being used as project managers. If they are not involved in understanding the problem or opportunity, and not involved to launching and measuring the effectiveness of the solution, then all they can do is manage the small part of the loop that builds the software.
Internal discovery and delivery only
A organisation that expects its product managers to only work across the internal quadrants, usually means a product manager taking ideas about often unvalidated opportunities from internal stakeholders and liaising with developers to build something that the stakeholder specifies and thinks will deliver some unspecified value. In job descriptions this often shows in phrases such as “liaising with stakeholders”, “communication skills” and “writing requirements”.
External delivery only
It’s rare for a product manager to be only focused on the external delivery of a product, things like go-to-market plans, marketing, customer support and success, but it’s worth being aware of as there’s an emerging trend of product management shifting more towards marketing in some tech firms.
Using full loop product management
So, how do product managers constrained within one part of the loop start to get involved in the other parts? Those other parts of the loop happen within an organisation. They may not happen in a coherent and robust way, but they do happen. Find out where and how, speak to those people and ask to learn about what they do. Get involved. Find ways to make their lives easier. Move upstream and downstream, and connect people and ideas along the way.
Coherence doesn’t happen by accident, and is so easily lost in the handover between teams and across different parts of an organisation. Full loop product management fixes that.