The Cranky Product Manager is Back…. Presenting “Market Interviews GONE BAD, Part 1″

Ever wonder why so many startup entrepreneurs put out misguided and doomed products, EVEN AFTER attempting to take four steps toward an epiphany and drinking the “Lean Startup” Kool-Aid?

Market Interviews Gone BAD: Too Vested To Listen

****Face Palm****

Alas, the Cranky Product Manager has witnessed similar “attempts” at market validation too many times to count. Maybe they could use some help from a real product manager.

Also in Market Interviews Gone Bad

  1. The Cranky Product Manager is Back…. Presenting “Market Interviews GONE BAD, Part 1″

Cranky Product Manager #Fail.

The Cranky Product Manager sincerely apologizes, but there will be no book. No tome entitled ‘Product Management, the Cranky Way’.

This was an effort that so many of you generously supported via KickStarter, and the Cranky Product Manager is so very sorry to let you down. She is also deeply disappointed in herself.

Writing this book was a long-term dream of the Cranky Product Manager. She really wanted to share what she’s learned about product management, and maybe share some of the humor and pain as well. She was motivated to contribute to the field and the profession she loved.

But, alas, the book has defeated the Cranky Product Manager. There are many reasons, but it’s mostly because she’s a working mom with a demanding job, plus two small children for whom she is primary caretaker. The family is her absolute top priority, and the job is second because it helps keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. All attempts to fit other, lower priority activities — like writing — into the schedule have left the Cranky Product Manager feeling extremely overextended, stressed out, and sleep deprived, which meant she couldn’t be at her best for her family, colleagues, or customers.

The situation is unlikely to change for some years because the kids are still small. To finish this book in the near future, the CPM would have to see a lot less of her family, and that feels like the exact opposite of what her kids need right now.

The other major reason? The Cranky Product Manager sucks at writing books. She can’t keep such a large thing in her head at once, and this caused all kinds of problems, resulting in an unreadable 600-page blob at one point. If you’re interested in the details, you’ll find them in the "FAQ" at the bottom of this post.

In hindsight, the Cranky Product Manager should have realized that writing a book was too ambitious at this point in life. When she hatched this KickStarter campaign in 2012, she had only returned to full-time work just two weeks earlier, after a maternity leave and working part-time for several months. Already, she was already having difficulty keeping up with the blog. Why the Cranky Product Manager thought a book would be less time-consuming than a blog can only be chalked up to extreme naivete!

And so again, the Cranky Product Manager sincerely apologizes. She knows that you all believed in her, and you all supported her. She’s so sorry to let you down, and so disappointed in herself. She expects many of you will be angry, and she finds that very understandable. She takes full responsibility. She will do what it takes to make it right for each and every one of you. She hopes that you will eventually forgive her.

So this is what is going to happen.

  1. You’ll get back 100% of the money you contributed. Because KickStarter does not have a built-in way to refund money, it will be a semi-manual process that will take a few weeks. The Cranky Product Manager strongly prefers to do refunds via PayPal transfers, to avoid even more transaction fees (she’s already in the hole from KickStarter fees), but if that won’t work for you, we’ll find another way.

    • Within a week, she’ll contact you via a Kickstarter survey, to gather the details needed to send you money via PayPal.
    • If PayPal won’t work for you, make sure you tell me in the survey. I’ll then contact you individually so we can figure out another way to get money to you, even if I have to mail cash in a paper envelope.
    • WARNING: the refund process will take a few weeks (money has to be moved around and there are waiting periods, plus there’s a lot of manual bookkeeping involved), but it should be all done before Christmas.
  2. The Cranky Product Manager will occasionally publish content over the next year, but it will not be in a big book. Instead, it will be in long articles and e-books that each focus on a specific topic (such as Market Feedback Programs or Doing Product Strategy). After all, the Cranky Product Manager did write a bunch of stuff already, and she doesn’t want it to completely go to waste.

    But the CPM now realizes that she cannot make any promises about dates, given that this is basically a hobby and will always be lower priority than family and job.

    Note that as a former supporter of this project, you will be entitled to any e-books for free. If you want, she’ll email you a note when they are ready.

  3. Last but not least, the Cranky Product Manager thanks you. Even though she never managed to write this thing, the research and writing process made her a far more knowledgeable and capable product leader. At the beginning, she had a lot of experience and practical knowledge, but writing forced her to dissect all her beliefs about product management under a microscope and learn more — lots more. She researched deeply, learned from others, and did on-the-job experiments. As a result, she has made some big changes to the way she "does" product management, and is much more effective and knowledgeable than before.

Thank you for the opportunity you gave me and for your generous support. I sincerely regret that I was unable to deliver.

FAQ on the Failure of the Cranky Book

Q: What did the Cranky Product Manager find so difficult about writing a book versus writing shorter articles?

A book can hold a lot of stuff, and somehow the Cranky Product Manager thought she’d be able to stuff everything — yes, everything — she knows about product management into just one book. Alas, turns out she could fill around 10 books.

Having too much to say led to much difficulty structuring the book and letting go of the non-essential. Because she only had time to work on the book sporadically, she’d go sometimes go 5-20 days between writing sessions, and would then forget what she had already written. For instance, she’d forget that she had already introduced a topic, and so would introduce it again in a different section.

Result: the book soon became a big rats’ nest of overlapping content and unconnected topics without a central narrative. At one point, the book had ballooned up to 600 pages (mostly bullet points, alas), and read like The World’s Most Boring yet Schizophrenic PRD.

At other points, the writing process made the Cranky Product Manager realize she didn’t know a topic as well as she thought. So, she’d go off and extensively research, say, product editioning, metrics-based Product Management, end-of-life best practices, or whatnot. But then she couldn’t bring herself to actually write about these new ideas without first trying them out for real, on the job. And in trying them out, she’d learn so much more and have new ideas that she wanted to try out and write about….and so on and so on…Result? More delays.

Finally, a proper structure for this book never emerged despite dozens and dozens of attempts.

Q: Why didn’t the Cranky Product Manager apply what she knows about Product Management to the writing of this book?

Excellent question, dear reader. The same thought has popped into the Cranky Product Manager’s head on many occasions. The irony is super thick. As the Cranky Product Manager wrote about the virtues of Agile, she ensnared herself in a very Waterfall approach to writing. And not surprisingly, the results were similar to what she’s seen with many waterfall projects: bloated, poor usability, where the product does not "hang together properly," and then the product ultimately fails.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that she should have used a more Agile approach, doing one chapter — or even smaller — at a time, releasing early drafts instead of fully baked chapters, soliciting frequent feedback, etc. In fact, a few readers explicitly recommended she go Agile after the second schedule slip.

So, why did the Cranky Product Manager resist "going Agile"?

  1. Rightly or wrongly, the Cranky Product Manager viewed the book as "Art" more than "Product." With Art, the artist has a vision of what he/she wants to create, achieve, and give to the world. The satisfaction of realizing the creative vision, which was fully born and germinated inside the artist’s head alone–without compromise driven from the outside–is what drives artists. The desire to achieve her specific artistic vision is what drove the Cranky Product Manager in this endeavor. It was what drove the blog, as well.

  2. She believed an Agile process would suck the humor right out of the book.. The Cranky Product Manager knows damn well that her snarky-assed sense of humor/tragedy is the only thing that distinguishes her blog from countless others on Product Management, and is the only reason this book ever got funding. So the book had to be funny. But all humor relies on SURPRISE. There’s a reason why comedians don’t do Beta tests with their actual audience. The Cranky Product Manager worried that putting out early partial drafts, before she had fully figured out the jokes, would suck the humor right out of the book.

The Cranky Product Manager now realizes the folly of at least #1. But for #2, she is still not sure. With Agile methods, she might have been able to deliver a decent book. But it probably would not have been funny.

What the Cranky Product Manager Hates About Aspiring “Product Guys”

Hey there, aspiring “product guy“!

First off, you’re a douchebag for your calling yourself a “product guy.”  

What IS a “product guy” anyway?  Do you mean “product manager” or “product marketer” or something?  Or is the GUY part the emphasis here?  What’s the equivalent female term anyway?  Product Gal?  Product Princess???

The Cranky Product Manager says *gag*.

Second off, you’re pretty frackin’ unqualified to do product work.  

After all, until last week, your only job experience was as a programmer. Or as a student. Yet you think you should be in charge of all of Product (the department).  Or at least of one product.

Sure thing. Go for it. Be the “product guy” you always wanted to be. Dictate features and future product direction from up high on your Product throne.  Wow the Silicon Valley startup scene with your spankin’ new title on mod business cards…

…Just as soon as you let the Cranky Product Manager become your Head of Engineering.  Or your Senior Technical Architect.

Oh wait. That’s probably not a good idea, is it?

Because the Cranky Product Manager is unqualified for those roles.  Even if she took a 3-day “certification course” in software development, she would not be qualified.  

In fact, the Cranky Product Manager is probably far more qualified to be your Head of Development than you are to be Head of Product.  (She at least has a degree in Computer Science, and actually worked as a programmer for a few years early in her career.)

Alas,  just WANTING to be a Product Guy/Gal/Princess/Manager/Marketer/Dweeb is not enough.  You actually need some education, skills, and above all, some EXPERIENCE. 

Professional Services Engineer or Surly Gifted-and-Talented Teenager?

Professional Services Engineers and Senior Customer Support Engineers, the Cranky Product Manager loves you.  She truly does.  

You get in there and make our products truly work– sing even! –for our most important customers, many of whom have really bizarre requests.  

You are ingenius, a MacGyver for the new century.  You can work around any product deficiency with a wad of gum, a Perl script, and a laptop stuffed with SSDs.

You keep the Cranky PM informed about what the customers are experiencing and the problems they face, and keep the Cranky Product Manager apprised of the experience of using her product day-to-day.  

You are great. And the Cranky Product Manager could not be prouder of you.  

Except for one thing:  your attitude.  You remind the Cranky Product Manager of a surly teenager.  A “gifted and talented” teen, to be sure, but an adolescent with all the part and parcel attitude problems.  

Witness the Cranky Product Manager’s awesome chart:

  Surly Gifted-and-Talented Teenager

Professional Services Engineer
/ Sr. Customer Support Engineer
 

General Attitude Embittered and feeling put-upon by parents’ rules. Embittered and feeling hampered by all the product’s warts and failings.
Opinion of self

Convinced she is brilliant and her parents are biggest idiots ever, and that everyone else’s parents are cooler.

Convinced that Dysfunctosoft Engineering are biggest idiots ever, because Engineering requires months to add the product feature when he hacked up an absolutely brilliant work-around within a few weeks. 

Ability to Understand Not Everyone is Like Him/Her If her best friend thinks something is cool, then she does too. Even if any reasonable person can clearly see otherwise. Believes that if his customer needs this feature, then surely everyone does.  Even if it has no alignment with future product direction, obfuscates the user interface, or would take effort away from more critical areas.
Understanding of Broader World Remarkably naive about life outside her home/school, but thinks she knows all from watching a lot of reality TV. Knows nothing about writing production-worthy code that will work for hundreds of customers, not just one: scaling, internationalization, integration, standards, platform support, testability, user experience, error handling, APIs, etc.  Thinks he already solved 90% of the problem when he really only solved 10%.
Political Savvy If Mom says no, asks Dad. If Dad says no, ask Mom.  If both say no, involves the grandparents or teachers.

If Engineering says “no” to including the hacked-up workaround in official code-base, lobbies Product Management, Sales, and the CEO/GM.

Unreliable 

To gain a privilege, promises to do an unpleasant task like cleaning out the garage.

Then does not do it.  Parents nag her for weeks before finally giving up.

Under political pressure, Engineering caves and agrees to add the hack to the official product code base, but ONLY if the PS engineer makes the code thread-safe, uses standard libraries, etc.

Naturally, this never happens.  Count on the PS Engineer to get very busy on a customer crisis instead.