The Cranky Product Manager is still in her funk. Such things happen when layoffs hit too close to home. No, the Cranky Product Manager was not laid off, but this guy she knows was. And apparently, he lives in her house, is father to her child, and pays a bunch of the bills.
As such, the CPM is not up for much writing this week. Thank Cheezus there are some marvelous, cranky guest posters out there who are stepping up — all to ensure you readers get your weekly dose of Crankitude. You’re welcome.
Anyway, the following extra cranky article was contributed by Ivan Chalif. Ivan is a Product Management and Product Marketing professional with over 10 years experience in technology Product Management and Marketing. He has built successful web-based products and services at companies like StrongMail Systems, ValueClick, The Gale Group and Acxiom Digital. For less cranky (but still witty) Product Management and Product Marketing articles, visit his WICKED AWESOME blog, The Productologist.
(The Cranky Product Manager likes The Productologist blog very much, but thinks it is unfortunately named, since she constantly confuses it with The Proctologist. Especially because Ivan’s guest post recommends Kevlar thongs — ouch!)
This is NOT a Democracy
You know what chaps my hide? When people mistake feedback for requirements. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me spell it out for you.
In almost every organization, Product Management is viewed as a collaborative role, responsible for connecting all of the disparate product stakeholders. We’re charged with communicating with everyone (and their mothers) in order to get the real picture on product strategy, feature and release prioritization, and execution. Go talk to Sales; they know what the market is asking for. Call your top 5/10/20/100 customers because they’re the most important. Find out who the biggest users of Technical Support are and why. Attend the next Professional Services staff meeting to hear what special sauce they’re whipping up and how they think it’s the next big thing. Everybody wants to have their say. Even Engineers have suggestions on what should be added or changed or updated, even if they’ve NEVER met with a customer or prospect in their lives.
The first thing that the Product Manager hears when the product is released is “Where’s MY ______? I told you we needed the ______ to get customer/keep customer/be cool/placate the board/appease the analysts/blah blah blah. For the love of Pete, weren’t you even listening?!”
To which the Product Manager responds, “That didn’t make it into this release. Didn’t you read the email I sent explaining the adjustments to this release?” This usually flusters the person accosting the Product Manager, and they storm off muttering something about how nobody ever listens to them. Wahhh.
Guess what? Just because the Product Manager asked you for your input about a bug, or a feature, or prioritization, or whether you think the UI should be red, blue or chartreuse, does not mean that everything you specify will actually happen. The whole point of soliciting folks for feedback is just that…to get feedback. Any Product Manager worth their salt is not asking you to tell them exactly what to do. They’re collecting information that will help THEM make a decision about what to do. NEWSFLASH: Making great products is not about democracy.
In fact, being a democratic Product Manager guarantees that you will deliver a crappy product. Building a product that meets the needs of a minimum of 51% of the market is not a very useful solution, since you leave upwards of 49% of the market unsatisfied.
Unfortunately, 51% products are what you get when you try to build what everyone wants.
Let me be clear. No release will have everything everyone wants. Over time, product democracy will insure that you build a bloated product that tries to meet the needs of every possible user, does none of it well, and is a bear to maintain.
Unless creating bloated, useless products is your market strategy, don’t be a vote counter. The role of the Product Manager is not to go around to all of the stakeholders and collect the relevant data points and then deliver a product that meets 100% of those requirements. Any monkey (code, sales, or otherwise) can do that using Cut/Copy/Paste. Product Management is bigger than that. The Product Manager has to distill all of that information, and discern what’s really important, not just regurgitate it so that everyone can feel good about their contribution and maintain their high level of self-esteem (that’s what all of those “certificates of participation” from grade school were for…well done, Ruprecht).
1 + 1 + 1 EQUALS 5, NOT 3
Great Product Managers take all of the data that they collect–insights from customer and prospect calls, competitive analysis, Tech Support research, UI feedback and more, and create a panoramic view of their product. With that view, they build a product strategy that balances the needs of current users while envisioning “what could be” in the future. What emerges is something more valuable than the sum of the original parts. It’s something revolutionary and rare.
Building a democratically determined product doesn’t get you revolutionary and rare. It gets you a big heaping bowl of ordinary. That’s not exactly ideal for being the leading whatever-you-want-to-be-the-leader-of or creating the kind of emotional response in customers and prospects that’s so big they’re all banging on your door to get it (think iPhone).
If adding features and defect fixes just because someone else said to is all you do, that’s not being a Product Manager. It’s being an administrator. Listen closely, because I’ll let you in on a secret: administrators don’t make great products. They make 51% products. You say you don’t want to create 51% products? Great, but it’s hard work and usually involves getting into fights with just about everyone, so make sure you’re wearing your Kevlar underpants (or thong, for those of you who like to go that route).
JUST SAY NO
If everyone is happy about what’s in the product, then you aren’t doing your job as Product Manager. Releasing great products is about sacrifice. It’s easy to say “Yes” to every Tom, Dick, and Mary; you’ll just have to wait 6 years for your product to actually make it to market. With all those features, I’m sure the market will wait for it.
The hard part of being a Product Manager is saying “No.” If you want to be successful and deliver great products, you have to say “No” to Sales. You have to say “No” to Tech Support. You have to say “No” to customers. You have to say “No” to the board. Sometimes, you even have to say “No” to yourself.
Ultimately, there has to be one person to make the tough calls about what goes in the product and what doesn’t. That one person is the Product Manager.
If it isn’t, the Product Manager should probably start looking for a new job.