How to develop your Product Sense?

Product Management
July 23, 2022
12 mins read
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Product sense is somehow the ability to predict the future – we’ll explain. It’s like your personal compass guiding you in the right direction in the middle of a jungle where things are uncertain. As vague as it may sound, product sense is a key criterion used by many companies when selecting PM candidates.

Here’s something not-so-vague

Product sense is also called product intuition and product judgment. It’s kind of a sixth sense you develop as a PM. It’s the ability to understand why a product would or wouldn’t work. Product sense makes you discover what problems your product solves, and how to build more features like that.

Pretty useful to have it, right? You just become like this magician who can pull valuable products from his hat because you already knew based on your pre-judgment. However, product sense has nothing to do with mystic powers. It’s a skill you develop and just like any other skill, you can develop product sense. But before that, let’s clear some misconceptions about what is and what isn’t product sense.

What is and what isn’t product sense

Product sense sounds like something you were born with. But when you get better at something because you did it so many times, you develop intuition. It’s how you learned typing. Initially, you found yourself struggling to get the right key, but now, now it just happens. Based on your deep-seated knowledge and practice, it feels natural now. Almost instinctual. The same way typing became intuitive, you can learn to make product sense intuitive.

Therefore, product sense needs development; it’s not a natural talent

Let’s clear a disbelief around product sense. Like we said, product sense needs time, experience, and practice to develop. You’re not born with it. You work on so many problems and get used to the complex situations that you advance yourself to make better decisions out of thin air.

It’s not very logical to explain how you figured it out to another person because it’s very personal. Of course, there will be some personality traits or other factors that will make someone simply better at it. However, because mastering the entire discipline of product management necessitates a wide range of skill sets, this slight advantage is negligible in the long run.

Product sense is not only design sense

People sometimes confuse product sense with design sense, only because they limit the scope of a product to its frontend interface. This means that the product sense would only be about UI and UX. Which is never the case in product management. The product is not just about how it looks and feels.

This quote by Steve Jobs makes a lot of sense. “Design is a really, loaded word. I don’t know what it means. So we don’t talk a lot about design around here, we just talk about how things work. Most people think it’s about how they look, but it’s about how they work”.

Therefore, design sense might be a part of it, but product sense is not just that. For example, an average person might spot an enterprise solution with a boring design, being successful. While, a PM with product sense would understand the complex problem that software solves under the clunky design. Therefore, great product management is about UX and reaching the most important business goals.

Now that we have a good understanding of product sense, let’s come back to the main topic.

How to develop a product sense?

There are going to be instances where your team will come and ask to take some decisions. As a great PM, you’ll need to do everything and make sure that you’re making quality decisions. Product sense will play a crucial role here. If you practice product sense and manage to improve your intuition, you’ll be making let’s say 10% better decisions. This 10%, when compounded, will prove to be a big number in the long run. Here are some practices and exercises you can do to develop your product sense.

Understand that you’re trying to achieve this

  • Recognizing the most important opportunities by going back to basics. And how well similar opportunities have performed previously.
  • Identifying methods to better serve the goals. This can be accomplished by drawing inspiration from similar products and how they solve product problems.
  • Understanding the most important goals of your products is essential. Goals for both the company and the customers.
  • Regularly understanding what is working to achieve these goals. And doing more of what is already working, and vise versa.

Pick a variety of products and start practicing

  1. Make a list of all the goals you want to achieve for your product.
  2. Consider the type of product. For example, if it’s a subscription-based SaaS product, the goals would be to get signups, downloads, leads, and so on. Make a full list.
  3. Who are the ideal customers. What motivates them. Is your product best suited for young people? Is it very niche-specific in terms of financial maturity? Ask more questions and set your goals.
  4. How are the marketing and PR looking? Do you see something special and specific? Find opportunities to extract new goals.
  5. Repeat the process with other products as well. Pick different kinds of products: mass consumer apps, B2B or B2C products, startups products, Marketplace Platforms, and so on. Try this exercise with your own products also. Experiments with all different sorts of products.

Practice product teardown

Product teardown does not imply selecting and criticizing a product. Rather, reverse engineering a product to gain a better understanding of it. Asking questions like, what works for this product, is it achieving the business goals, and so on. And then taking inspiration from that product. The inspiration can come from anything – from interactive UI to broader concepts like user onboarding and re-engagement.

You can begin practicing product teardown by selecting a variety of products and focusing on what makes them unique. These products can be new or old, and they can solve specific to broader problems. If you’ve chosen several apps, the best way to proceed is to install them, sign in, and use the app. You can begin by evaluating user onboarding – how the app’s UI makes the process simple. Then you can begin experimenting with the app’s functionality and UX. When you’ve thoroughly examined the app, you should be able to answer the following key questions:

  • What I loved the most about the app?
  • What I didn’t understand about it?
  • What other broader observation did I make?
  • What goals did the creators target?
  • What goals does the app actually fulfills?
  • What inspiration can I take from this product?

Read product reviews

Get inside other people’s heads. Get your hands on various product reviews. Product reviews are important because they reveal what that persona liked and disliked about the product. Read product reviews from a variety of people about a wide range of products. This will offer you a different perspective you might have blocked for some reason. It’s always better to get a fresh perspective. However, don’t fully agree or disagree unnecessarily. The reviewer might have a bad product sense, or they just didn’t get the main goals of the products. Therefore, you should decide where you disagree freely based on your own understandings.

Refer to more content

Consume more content about product management and product sense. Watch conferences, read blogs, newsletters, and articles, listen to podcasts where product people discuss what worked for them and where they could improve.

We tried to make a valuable guide on product sense. And we are confident that if you already made it this far, you already have a decent grasp of product sense. However, as we said, you need to get a different perspective to learn better. We’ve compiled a list of useful resources that you can use to learn more about product sense.

Jacob Koshy
Product Marketer at Zeda.io
A marketer in love with SaaS products. When away from work, I'm either spending time with my cats or adding miles on my motorcycle.
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