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Changes in the tech industry are having an impact on product strategy. Smartphones and tablets have become so common that it’s no surprise that some people in the software industry are transitioning to mobile specialities. As an app development company we’ve already seen this with designers, marketers, salesmen, and developers. In particular, we’ve noticed how this is profoundly affecting the role of product managers.
In this post we discuss how the role of product managers has been evolving in the past years to adapt to mobile app trends.
Society’s consumption of mobile-based applications is increasing. According to comScore, a majority of Americans are consuming digital media through mobile applications. This is also being seen in the increase of sales in mobile consumer electronics. More products are being created with significant mobile components thanks to the growing number of use cases.
This has had a strong impact on how digital product roadmaps are developed as well as the roles of product managers. Some applications are only available on mobile devices, as companies tend to find it a more convenient choice that aligns with their target audience and their business strategy.
Let’s take a look at how this is being reflected in the role of product managers.
The mobile product management career path is relatively new, but it’s growing every year. This change is being reflected in how the field of project management has become more and more specialized for digital mobile products.
The role of a Mobile Product Manager (MPM) is unclear in many organizations, especially B2B companies who don’t create applications for large user bases. Moving from a traditional product management role to MPM is a challenging experience, but many managers do it to be on the cutting edge of technology.
Before we get into how mobile is changing the product manager role, let’s talk about product managers in general.
Every software product has a manager. This is the person who is responsible for identifying the end-user, determining the product’s scope and features, and organizing those specifications into a blueprint for development teams. If a product team was an orchestra, the product manager would be its conductor and the product roadmap the music sheet.
The product manager is someone with a technical background. They should be able to understand how software products are made, right down to the code. They should have competency with multiple disciplines and technologies, and most importantly, they should have strong foundations for understanding development projects.
For instance, your product manager should be able to have intelligent conversations about system architecture, User Experience, programming, cloud computing, etc. But he or she should also have a capable understanding of “softer” topics like customer success and user onboarding.
A product manager makes actual decisions about how the product is made, when or what features are added, and how the developers implement solutions. In other words, they are key decision makers when it comes to the product vision. This is why in many software organizations, especially newer companies, the original product manager is often the company’s founder. Many times, the founder takes the role of product manager and hires a business-oriented person as CEO.
Just like traditional product managers, mobile product management is a vast role. The job of a mobile project manager is to oversee the planning, building, measuring and optimizing of a mobile application. They conceive and develop a functional product, launch it, and adjust it according to market conditions and customer feedback.
The job of a Mobile Product Manager (MPM) differs from a traditional product manager in the following ways:
Mobile apps have a far simpler presentation than web or desktop applications. Behind the scenes, there may be just as much going on, but the user only sees a basic user interface (UI). The application has to be designed to function properly on very little real estate. This requires a laser-like focus on the function of the app. In many cases, developers and designers try to slim down mobile apps as much as possible for a better User Experience.
Every product manager is familiar with wireframes. They are key to organizing information and the app’s layout. Mobile apps often require functional wireframes that depict a mobile application’s fluidity, movement and orientation.
Furthermore, the “smallness” of an application forces the MPM to limit features to only those that serve the app’s purpose. A quick-to-add feature would be nice for 5% of your user base. However, it would work well in a web app, but on mobile it’s just distracting. MPMs have to be sensitive to these situations.
Naturally, a mobile application’s functionality is limited to the device’s operating system. The MPM needs to have a clear understanding of the chosen platform (iOS, Windows, Android, etc.) and how the application will be developed and perform in that context.
OS creators like Apple and Google want their users to have a positive experience, so they place design and functional conventions on application developers. You’ll have to be sure to follow their rules. If your application is rejected from their platforms, you may have wasted time and money if the problem can’t be fixed.
Furthermore, your application is dependent on the mobile platform’s life cycle. Mobile operating systems offer less leeway in this regard than desktop platforms. If Google makes a dramatic change to Android that affects your app, you could be forced to spend unplanned development time fixing the problem.
You can somewhat counter this by creating a long-term roadmap of your app’s evolution to be prepared for changes. It is best to stay updated with what Apple and Google are planning for their mobile platforms. Your development team needs to be able to quickly update your app. This will allow you to benefit from new features, API, technologies like Machine Learning, and developer tools which make work more productive. Being unprepared for what the next steps in the development process might be is a huge risk you don’t want to take.
Mobile Product Managers must be familiar with some new metrics that traditional product managers never need to worry about. This is especially true if the app is your organization’s first experience with cloud-based technology.
A Mobile Product Manager has to be familiar with these metrics:
You’ll notice that those metrics all relate to the user’s likeliness to use the application more than once. Creating an application that encourages user adoption is part of an MPM’s job.
In some sense, the Mobile Product Manager will become a marketer; marketing campaigns have become integrated with app development. Push notifications, transactional emails, clear interfaces, in-app promotional advertising, and integrations with other apps and solutions are all tools the marketing team will demand.
If your product manager has never created an iterative product in an Agile development environment, there’s no way to avoid it when working on a mobile application. Apps are routinely adjusted and refined over time based on customer feedback, analytics, usability studies, and other measuring strategies. In some cases, your MPM may need to recognize when or if the app needs to pivot to a new user or to a new solution.
Building an iterative product doesn’t just mean responding to bug fixes. It means using data to create a customer-driven product that acutely addresses the needs of your user base.
The MPM needs to evaluate feedback (hopefully with the help of a customer success manager or team), draw insights, and turn that information into features. Those insights – the learning component – is a critical step in the process. If the MPM hasn’t read the Lean Startup, he or she should right away.
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