May 5, 2021
7 min read

What Is a Great API Product Management?

A man making drafts of an incoming API product.

As API Products are rising, so is the product management approach of APIs. Once the developers private domain, APIs are now created to respond to external use-cases. It's up to the API Product manager to identify those usages and establish an API strategy combining both the technical, the user experience and the business points of view.

As more and more companies understand how valuable it is to consider APIs as Products, there is a growing demand for API Product Managers. Gartner’s 2019 API Usage and Strategy Survey found more than half (54%) of organizations rank “Missing key roles, such as API product manager” as one of their top three API strategy challenges.

Well, if Product Management is not a new field, API Product Management certainly is.What’s tricky is that APIs are not like any other products. They have their own challenges that need to be tackled carefully. An API Product Manager has a 360 view on that API practice.

Let’s get back to the basics, what is Product Management?

The discipline was born during the Great Depression, when a young marketer working at Procter and Gamble, proposed the idea of what he called a “Brand man” - a profile in charge of managing a specific product. Simply put, Product Management is the practice of strategically driving the development, market launch, and continual support and improvement of a company’s product(s).

How then to define API Product Management?

First, a prerequisite to API Product Management is that the API should be treated as a Digital Product. In order to correctly treat an API as a Product, Product Management should manage the API development and grow a market of users - which may include monetizing the APIs to generate revenue. API product management also englobes the responsibility of customer satisfaction by making sure end-users (most often developers but not only) get what they expect when using the API.

That being said, what key areas to focus on for an awesome API Product Management?

We summarise how a great API Product Management should work by focusing on the five core steps a Product Manager should follow. In this section, we focus on Product Managers exposing their APIs externally. For each of the section, we will illustrate with some examples.

  • Business Research & Market Finding
    The API Product Manager should always focus on generating, developing, validating, storing ideas and thinking about how to make them available to the larger scope. Yet, when it comes to APIs, there should exist a clear business objective. What is the business purpose of that API? What problem does the API solve? Will the API increase your customers’ adoption? Increase their satisfaction on how to consume your product? To do so, the API product manager should understand what the challenges of its company are in order to align with the strategy.

    The New York Time API was able to tie with the core mission of the company: collect and distribute information to their audience in an easier way.
  • Value Proposition & Strategy Development
    This englobes creating the business and product requirements based on all stakeholders' needs and understanding the API technical specifications that developers will need to adhere to. While working with the developers who create APIs, ensure they follow standards, naming conventions, consistent development methods... This will give developers consuming the APIs a more uniform experience. This includes working on platforms where end users can easily access mockups/ prototypes for testing. That enables them to build integrations faster.

    Stripe’s great value proposition is famous. The company entered the payment gateway market as one of the first to focus on ease of integration with a clear API and a streamlined activation process. Plaid provides a similar value proposition to applications in need of banking data and connections, abstracting away banking relationships and complexities.
  • Roadmap & Plan Communication
    A clear, precise and feasible roadmap should be presented to the key stakeholders. An agile roadmap shows the different steps that must be taken to achieve the Product vision within the specified time frame (including in there Product Marketing, Product Development etc…) Here, there is also a need to spread the API vision among stakeholders.

    IFTTT helps apps and applications work better together. The company was originally founded in 2014. In 2015, the firm was able to launch three new applications: Do Button triggers an action when you press it, Do Camera automatically uploads the image to the service of your choice (Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, etc), Do Notes does the same as Do Camera except with notes instead of images… A strong and well executed roadmap was for them a way of explaining the vision and evangelizing the need of the next features. Great way to get acceptance among key stakeholders.
  • Experimentation & Monitoring
    The role of an API Product Manager would not make much sense if it was not relying on metrics. The API Product manager should monitor each stage of the API product lifecycle from development to testing (functional, security and performance), deployment, iterations/release management, and retirement. The goal is to find areas where the Product would need enhancements. Whatever the stage, a great analysis for product management is quantitative, comparable, and actionable.

    To show how important metrics are, let’s take the example of Heartbleed. A poor monitoring resulted in one of the most famous security issues leading to a dramatic failure. Due to a vulnerability in the data input validation algorithm, data could be forced through the overflow system without validation, executing commands that made internal data, systems, and services vulnerable to external, malicious attacks.
  • Feedback Gathering & Customer Experience
    In the API world, activities are automated and can be done in an asynchronous way. Therefore, the API provider needs empathy to be close to the developer user. It is crucial to understand the pain points of developers so that a helpful solution can be delivered to enhance the Customer Experience.

    Apple has made it quick and easy for Developers to submit the bugs they might encounter and to request enhancements on the tools they are using. This means anyone can submit the bugs they found and get a clear answer on the issues they encountered until they are resolved. This helps decrease developers’ frustration and enhances their experience.

What’s then the common trait that makes an API product manager a great one?

Martin Eriksson has famously described Product Management as the intersection of Business, User Experience, and Technology. We could summarize saying a great API Product Manager should:

  • On the Business side
    Know a lot about the API economy. Be familiar with API monetization & consumption topics.
  • On the User Experience side
    Know how to successfully implement Product Management. Have empathy towards end-users and understand their pain points.
  • On the Technology side
    Understand how building and maintaining APIs actually work.

Doesn’t that sound tough?

Well, it is! Having a great API Product Management is tricky and as mentioned, one also needs to get executive support to make sure all can be sorted out.

Product managers have that empathy towards developers actually consuming the APIs they have been building and deploying. API Product Managers should work more and more closely with the engineering team, but they should also remember to get buy-in from Marketing, Design, and Management of their own company. Since Product Management gained traction among the most famous start-ups, lots of roles have opened. In the field of API Management, an organization does not need to hire many different profiles. It just needs to hire the ones that will execute API product Management in an agile way, focusing on delivering value for their end-users and stakeholders.

In that sense, Blobr provides a tool that is adapted to API Product Managers. On the one hand, it helps define and create API Products on a visual interface, without deep tech skills. On the other hand, it provides a Developer-friendly Portal where the clients of our clients can use and integrate APIs in the easiest possible way.

Discover how Blobr could be applied to your business by talking to our experts.