Although the term “product sense” may sound like just another buzzword, it’s important to understand the concept behind it.
Having a strong product sense means being able to create solutions that truly address your customers’ problems. By developing your product sense, you can improve your ability to identify gaps in the market, anticipate customer demand, and create products that truly resonate with your audience. So while it may be tempting to dismiss product sense as an industry fad, taking the time to truly understand its value can have a significant impact on your product’s development and your own professional growth.
As a product manager, having a strong product sense is essential to creating successful products that meet customer needs while delivering business value. Product sense is a crucial skill that involves a deep understanding of the product, the market, and the customer. It requires a combination of expertise, such as user research, data analysis, problem-solving, and collaboration, and involves staying up-to-date with market trends and customer needs. Developing a strong sense of product allows product managers to make informed decisions, prioritize product development efforts, and create winning products that meet both customer and business objectives.
To gain a deeper understanding of product sense, we consulted several product management experts for their advice on how to effectively cultivate this skill:
- Lee Anderson (Senior Product Manager, Customer Experience Cloud [DX] at Adobe)
- Dan Brodovich (Lead Product Manager at TikTok)
- Carl Caum (Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services)
- Jim Craig (Senior Product Manager Mentor & Coach at Red Hat)
- Benjamin Cunliffe (Senior Product Manager at Wolters Kluwer)
- Terhi Hänninen (Product Manager at Google)
- Nick Ivanecky (Senior Product Manager at Amazon Business)
- Stephen Moon (BBC, Senior Product Manager – BBC Content Discovery)
- Santhosh Kumar Setty (Lead Product Manager at Wayfair Fulfillment Network)
- Babak Zandi (Senior Product Manager, AI/ML at Meta)
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Q. What is product sense and how can you develop it as a PM?
The general idea behind product sense is that product managers should be curious about and empathic towards their customers to identify their real needs. But exactly how is this done? Our experts suggest:
- Talking to customers regularly
- Analyzing usage data
- Practicing problem-solving exercises that simulate real-world scenarios
- Thinking like a user
In addition to cultivating curiosity and empathy, try the following ideas to develop your product sense skill even further:
- Keep a close eye on industry trends and emerging technologies.
- Improve knowledge of the market, its big players, and the opportunities available.
- Stay up-to-date on new innovations.
- Avoid product sense pitfalls such as relying too heavily on intuition and being too risk averse.
Overall, developing product sense takes dedication, hard work, and a relentless pursuit of user research. Keep reading for great insight and tips from our product management experts to develop your own product sense.
Dan Brodovich (Lead Product Manager at TikTok)
Personally, I believe product sense is the core skill that gives an opportunity to shape the future of the product, user experience, and even the company as a whole. I also believe that anyone can improve their product sense. Here are a few things that helped me in my career:
- Being attuned to the customer
I personally enjoy putting myself in the customer’s shoes. It is almost like preparing for an acting role that requires understanding customer behavior, preferences, and needs. When I dive into a new area or feature improvement, I tend to use a “T-shaped” approach. I start by going broad, studying market trends and the ecosystem, and then narrow down to a particular customer by getting online and in-life feedback. Occasionally, I use frameworks that help spot these opportunities, such as SWOT at a high level and the business model canvas for more detail.
- Staying up-to-date with market trends
I believe you have to love the area in which you work and be curious about changes in technology and your domain. Changes in the industry create opportunities for launching new products that can address user needs in new ways. As a product manager, you want to understand what’s possible in your domain to come up with creative solutions. There are many great podcasts, newsletters, and websites, such as this one, that share the latest updates on technology and products. These can help you understand what is possible today and what could be possible in the near future.
- Practicing problem-solving exercises
To strengthen your product sense, I found that practicing problem-solving exercises that simulate real-world scenarios was very helpful. To crack these exercises, I keep in mind the core trends and technologies that I firmly believe will change the world in the next 10 years. I then choose a product or feature, identify its key purpose, evaluate current features, and brainstorm new product ideas using the core trends that I believe may have a 10X impact on the core product metrics. You can practice on your own using more detailed frameworks such as CIRCLES, but I found it most helpful to brainstorm ideas and practice with other strong product managers.
Carl Caum (Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services)
A good product manager will sense the real needs of their target customers, not just what their customers say they need. Many junior product managers compile a list of features, correlate them to the customers that asked for each feature, and then prioritize based on opportunity. The product manager later wonders why their product isn’t being adopted more widely.
Product sense is hard earned through being deeply curious about your customers. Pour through usage telemetry to understand how your customers are using your product. Speak to your customers regularly and probe deeper into their responses to your questions. Through experience, you learn to identify what customers actually want but don’t know how to articulate.
Babak Zandi (Senior Product Manager, AI/ML at Meta)
Product sense is the superpower of successful product managers. It’s like having a crystal ball that lets you see into the future, predicting your customers’ every need and desire before they even know it themselves. But don’t be fooled, developing this power isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, hard work, and a relentless pursuit of user research.
You can become a master of product sense by getting to know your customers, keeping a close eye on industry trends, and thinking like a user.
Getting to know your customers is like going on a first date. You want to make a good impression, ask thoughtful questions, listen attentively, and show genuine interest. If things go well, who knows? Maybe you’ll get a second date – or in this case, a loyal customer for life!
Keeping tabs on industry trends is like being a detective. You need to stay informed about your competitors’ activities, emerging technologies, and what your customers are talking about on social media.
Thinking like a user is like being a method actor. You need to immerse yourself in your customers’ world, understand their pain points, and put yourself in their shoes.
It’s important to acknowledge that developing product sense isn’t foolproof, and even the most seasoned product managers can fall into common traps, like relying too heavily on intuition or being too risk averse. By recognizing these common pitfalls and taking steps to avoid them, product managers can sharpen their product sense and make products that everyone loves.
Jim Craig (Senior Product Manager Mentor & Coach at Red Hat)
Product sense, as I see it, is really getting to understand the problem you are trying to solve, especially from the customer experience point of view. This is all about empathy. One of my favourite quotes is from Albert Einstein who said, “knowledge is experience, everything else is just information.” Meet your customers where they are and feel their frustration, pain, anger or whatever else they are feeling.
Benjamin Cunliffe (Senior Product Manager at Wolters Kluwer)
I see developing product sense as three things:
- Understand your users and jobs to be done
Product managers need to really come to grips with their users and understand what they are trying to achieve. This is best done by interviewing and observation, with plenty of questions. Getting to the root of a problem is the first step to building great products that customers love.
- Market knowledge and market opportunities
Knowing the market your products play in will give you an advantage and help you build product sense. Who are the big players, what are they missing? Is there a gap? If so, how can I fill this gap? If not, how do I convince our audience my product is better?
- Iterate, release, and continually learn
Working cross-functionally, you should be able to collaborate with development and UI/UX to release small features frequently and gather feedback. By putting something out to market, you get a tangible data point you can use to iterate, building your knowledge (and product sense) about what your audience values. It’s also important to remember that if you release something small and it fails, there is still a lesson in there. Each failure holds small nuggets of success as you learn something. If you’re going to fail, it’s better to fail fast and move on.
Terhi Hänninen (Product Manager at Google)
Product sense is a hard skill that you can’t hack. There are some blog posts out there that do a great job at defining the skill and give great ideas and concrete examples of how you can develop it. Two of them I’d like to highlight are How to Learn Product Sense by Jackie Bavaro, one of the authors of Cracking the PM Interview, and How to Develop Product Sense from Lenny’s Newsletter with Jules Walter, a Product Management leader at YouTube. Product sense is a skill that you have to practice all the time on top of your day-to-day work. I think it is important to go beyond your own product to make sure your product sense skill is not too narrow. The key is to build a routine that makes sure you do at least some type of product sense exercise all the time. I’ve tried to bundle it with things I like to do anyway. I love talking to other product managers and I love user research.
I am quite active in various product communities because I like the peer connections with people outside the regular team. I ask them anything that helps me quickly build a picture of the space they are working in. User research is my other favorite activity. The benefit of working in a huge company is that there is always an internal study running where I can volunteer as a participant. If you don’t have that option, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to be an early tester for a new app. Often, those opportunities can be found through product communities. I’ve been testing all kinds of products in their early stages. You get to interact with the founder most likely, you get to ask what their assumptions are, and you get to hear how other test participants perceive the app.
Nick Ivanecky (Senior Product Manager at Amazon Business)
Developing your product sense comes down to these two actions: building an organized pipeline of data and gathering insights to draw the right conclusions. You as the product manager should build an automated pipeline of feedback circulating from the customer, behavioral data, and external market that’ll tell you about the customer persona. Next, you’ll want to take your data repository of feedback and start to categorize them into problem or opportunity themes. This creates a mechanism to gather insights to inform not just your product sense, but your problem space, opportunity in terms of customer weight, and eventually your roadmap. Grow your product sense early and you’ll see compounded effects!
Stephen Moon (BBC, Senior Product Manager – BBC Content Discovery)
To develop product sense as a product manager, here are some tips to build successful products that meet the needs of your users and drive business growth:
- Understand your users
Spend time talking to your users and understanding their needs, pain points, and aspirations. Gather user feedback through surveys, user interviews, and user testing sessions to gain insights into their preferences and behavior.
- Analyze the market
Keep up with the latest trends and developments in your industry. Conduct market research to understand the competition and identify gaps in the market.
- Collaborate with your team
Work closely with your development team, designers, and other stakeholders to develop a deep understanding of technical constraints, design considerations, and business goals.
- Learn from data
Use data to inform your decisions. Use analytics tools to track user behavior and measure the impact of product changes. A/B testing and other experimentation techniques can test hypotheses and validate assumptions.
- Iterate and improve
Use the insights you gain from user feedback and data analysis to iterate and improve your product. Continuously test and refine your product to ensure that it meets the needs of your users and the goals of your business.
Lee Anderson (Senior Product Manager, Customer Experience Cloud [DX] at Adobe)
One way I try to develop product sense is to steep myself into everything about the product, from features and benefits, to customer pain points and competitive offerings. Spend time looking at the pain points and problems from your customers’ perspectives. Once you understand this, you will develop a very good product sense which will serve as the foundation for future products and solutions for your company and customers.
You have to know your customer and get engaged in their business. I used this for developing services; I had to ask customers questions, determine what bothered them or caused them issues, then figure out if the issue was pervasive and that customers would pay to have it solved.
Santhosh Kumar Setty (Lead Product Manager at Wayfair Fulfillment Network)
Product sense encompasses technical knowledge, market awareness, strategic thinking, and customer empathy, enabling you to understand what customers want and how to deliver it.
To develop product sense, it’s essential to:
- Seek feedback from customers and stakeholders regularly
Building a successful product requires getting input from customers and other stakeholders. Understanding client demands, problems, and preferences can help product managers build products and enhance user experience. It’s crucial to collect feedback via a variety of channels, including surveys, user interviews, user testing, and contacts with customer care. Based on how it affects the product and how well it fits with the company’s objectives, feedback should be evaluated and given a priority ranking.
- Stay updated on industry trends
To comprehend the market and find new prospects for their products, product managers must stay up to date on industry trends. This entails monitoring adjustments in consumer behavior, developing technology, the state of the market, and legal requirements. Product managers can stay current by using a variety of resources, including trade journals, market research, industry reports, and industry events. Prioritizing information according to its applicability to the product and prospective market impact is crucial.
- Analyze data to make informed decisions
Product managers need to use data to make decisions such as prioritizing features, setting goals, and measuring success. Data can come from a variety of sources, including internal analytics tools, user feedback, surveys, and customer support interactions. It’s important to regularly analyze data using quantitative and qualitative methods to make data-driven decisions that align with your business goals.
We’d like to thank Stephanie Walter for incredible help in creating this article.