How To Find The Narrative In Numbers -- And How To Sway Cynics.



I'm moderating Product Circle MTL this week. A meet up by product managers, for product managers. My discussion topic revolves around numbers. Finding the narrative in numbers. The language of product is mathematics. Your initial plans are almost certain to be wrong in some way. Your first priority as a product manager is to figure out where.

Lean principles prescribe ditching long technology development cycles. Instead, you start with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). It’s quicker and cheaper than traditional methods. Startup-formation delivery gets determined by a Product expert who knows how to operate on good-enough data. Fix failures by iteration on ideas and pivot away from the ones that don’t work. So how does one fly low with the cheapest, easiest variation?

You have to be able to crunch your own numbers and understand what they’re telling you. To validate assumptions one need to invest in data and mathematics — a system for evaluating whether progress is being made. Vanity metrics (from analytics packages) won’t help you know if your feature is working for your users. Make the inexpensive investment instead. A spreadsheet will do. Start calculating common metrics like Monthly Active Users, Retention and Churn. Ask questions about usage and try to understand the impact of what you build. Use your engineers or data science team to make it more powerful. Normalize and compare to figure out when changes
 in behaviour occur. Identify those specific interactions and make them support your assumptions.

Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to systematically figure out the right thing to build. Realize that the features with the highest future return tend to be the ones that are currently the most unpopular. This means that owning the future best performers will not provide you with a sense of product solidarity with leadership. Designate a small corner of mathematical bandwidth to test and validate your assumptions. Track and measure progress and the narrative in your numbers should sway any cynic.

Notes:
I thrive in middle market and scrappy startup environments, where everyone does a little of everything. I work closely with CSuite leadership teams towards product-market fit and operating at scale. To check out more of my writing, you can visit my blog Reflektions.com and view my LinkedIn profile.
Thanks to Hemingway for reading drafts of this. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article then shoot me an email.