Product management is ultimately about people — users, business stakeholders, team members (developers, etc.), investors, et al — and the interactions, relationships, and systems between them. There are countless articles about what skills are necessary for good product management, how best to set and achieve goals as a product manager, and the skill-sets needed to succeed in the role. But what I find most interesting is the growing (but still scant) explicitly defined connection between product management and traditional social sciences — particularly the research side of social sciences.
This post is intended to boil down the important must-knows of social science, product management, and the overlap — aka: Product Science — that they share, so that entrepreneurs can enhance their product development cycle as well as avoid common pitfalls and fallacies by leveraging tried and true research methods.
STRUCTURE OF THIS POST
This post is organized into the following sections:
The “Introduction to…” sections each include the following sub-sections:
INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL SCIENCE
What is it?
Social research methods are often divided into two broad design categories:
There are entire textbooks written about this topic, so we’ll pause here and highlight key points later in the post. For more information about the foundations of social research, here is a great resource.
Why it’s like product management:
Like product management, social science often includes both technical and non-technical skillsets
Like product management, social science involves evaluating (and often improving) the functioning of systems
Like product management, social science research warrants analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data
INTRODUCTION TO PRODUCT MANAGEMENT
What is it?
Product research often focuses on product usability and includes simple research methods like:
Here’s a great graphic that shows when to use which user-experience research method:
Why it’s like the social sciences:
Like social science, product management involves understanding the thinking (e.g. motivations, preferences, etc.) of different people in different settings (or under different circumstances)
Like social science, product management is best executed when combining both micro and macro viewpoints
Like social science, product management research requires both quantitative and qualitative data
INTRODUCTION TO PRODUCT SCIENCE
What is it? Here’s what I believe it is…
Statistical research / Data processing
Technology — engineering and development / Fulfilling business needs
Cognitive psychology / Behavioral psychology / Social psychology
Using traditional social science research methods and applying them to product management and research, we get the tenets of product science best practices. You may have already noticed the similarities and overlaps in the previous sections, but the main areas are:
See the next section for the key takeaways of product science and its inherent benefits.
Why it’s like the combination of a social science and product management:
Like the social sciences and product management, product science improves decision making through the use of data
Like the social sciences and product management, product science is multidisciplinary
Like the social sciences and product management, product science requires a leader (or leaders) who possess a wide range of skills and traits
The key sequence of social science research and product management, aka: product science, can be summarized by the following graphic:
Primary benefits of product science:
Contribute to a PRD with data-specific requirements — including primary data fields associated with a feature, but also secondary fields needed for deeper analysis
Improve the efficacy of how data is being used in the feedback loop of product development
Presenting data/results in clear and digestible ways for all stakeholders
QA’ing the structure of the database and tables before/during product development
Monitor naming conventions, etc.
Designing robust and sustainable dashboards