in Editorial, WordPress

Being a WordPress Product Manager

I’m not a product manager. At least, I’m not paid to be a product manager. But I do manage products. All developers do. It comes with the job (as a developer).

So in my not-so-official role as the product manager of every single product I’ve ever built, I’ve started to realise a few things about what I believe makes a product great.

When it comes to WordPress products, I feel the true duty of a product manager is to focus on settings. They can be with the best or worst part of a plugin, so it’s essential to get that right.

A product is normally built to solve a problem. It has (well, it should) a clear purpose, a clear solution and a clear set-up process. If it takes more than 10 minutes for a user to install and start using your product, you are almost certainly doing it wrong.

I don’t think this applies to just simple products too. What about one of, if not the most complicated, products for WordPress – an eCommerce plugin. Let’s look at my (biased) favourite, WooCommerce.

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It does a lot. There are 100,000’s of stores using it right now, processing literally billions of dollars a year in transactions. It can do pretty much everything that traditional eCommerce software is expected to do (and more). But how long does it take to set up? Minutes.

Don’t believe me? Try.

In my time working with WooCommerce, I’ve set up hundreds of installations of it and it always takes me just a few moments, because as a product, it has a clear set-up process:

  1. Install & activate
  2. Run the ‘installer’ – which sets up the pages and settings for you
  3. Create a product
  4. Configure your settings for payment (a PayPal email) / shipping (a flat rate)
  5. Done

It can get a lot more complicated than that, as you start to set up variable products, tax rates, different payment gateways and API-powered shipping rates, but it doesn’t have to be.

A good product does what it should, without stepping into the unknown. This leads to my next point.

Include only what’s necessary.

I like food so let’s talk about sandwiches. Sandwiches have countless combinations, but what makes it a ‘sandwich’. Let’s keep it simple and say:

  • Bread
  • A spread
  • A filling

When I create a product, I just want to include the bread. If I create a product that has the bread, the spread and the filling already included, how does it become your product – your sandwich?

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So I feel like that when I’m working on an extendable project like WooCommerce or my own personal product – Recipe Hero – I need to put my product manager hat on and ask myself – what % of people would want this in their sandwich?

So let’s take a look at two ‘features’ for a recipe plugin:

  • Reviews / Ratings (through comments)
  • Print Button

At first you may say ‘the ultimate recipe plugin should definitely have both those features’. Well, I’d disagree.

I think that almost everyone would want comments on their recipes. I also think that quite a few people would want ratings. Additionally, this is actually a part of the Recipe Schema, so it seems to be quite important, even in the eyes of Google and other search engines. So I’d say this is pretty essential. Especially since it blends nicely into WordPress core, the original sandwich we’re building for, and the fact that it’s easy to disable using core WordPress / Recipe Hero settings.

But then I look at the Print button. How often do you see print buttons on sites these days? Not often. Probably more so on recipe sites though. People like to print the recipe off and then get cooking, right? Well, not everyone. More importantly, not every recipe creator – not ever user of my plugin – is going to want this. In fact, I believe the minority will. I have to be a product manager and look at this feature and accept that this is actually a spread. The sandwich will still taste fine and may even taste better without it, so I can make the decision to leave it out of core and rather bundle it as an ‘extension’.

So next time you’re building a product, be a product manager for a second and really evaluate the product you’re building. You’re not building it for yourself, you’re not building it for that guy Joe you met at the store or on a forum – you’re building it for the world, so make it a product that the world can use.

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