You, yes you, the product manager.I know that sounds counter intuitive: how can the product owner/manager be the biggest hurdle in the product development process? Kind of asking for your P45 here mate.
But, I mean this in the sense of what is the purpose of product management? To grow, enhance, and create products that people use (duh) and hopefully love.
Now the more time you spend on a product, the more you will naturally know about it, the more you will know about the internal struggles of your business, the more you will know your products nuts and bolts, and ultimately, the more you will like your product. You will be proud of this product, you will be a super user, a champion, and the visionary for the product. You will end up loving it with all its faults.
That is a dangerous place to be. Being in that place where you accept the status quo, where you make excuses for it: like a bad parent whose child is misbehaving at school you look at the teachers, the other kids in the class, the environment, and of course it could never be your child’s fault!
Product narcissism is common in our industry. I will mingle with product folks in our industry at the odd event over a beer and I will hear and see these proud parents talking about what their teams have released. I will look at it on my phone, it crashes or I click on something they didn’t intend me to and I hear “it wasn’t meant to be used that way”. It’s weird when you hear a product person say that, the first 6 words of that sentence directly contradict the point of product people in the first place. So instead of having a mini breakdown of excuses every time someone critiques your work here are a few mantras I keep practising to myself to ensure I can still see when the emperor has no clothes on.
I have mentioned this one in a previous blog, but it’s very relevant here. Every now and again I will attempt to clear my head and look at what I do through the eyes of the person who will replace me. Someone who wants to better me, someone who will laugh at any feeble excuses as to why something isn’t up to the standards that the end user would expect. Look at your weaknesses and make them action points.
Before you can create anything of value you need to smash basic expectations. Sometimes we think that just because we have met basic expectations in the past that our product will always meet basic expectations. It’s good to go back to basics and ask: “What is this?” “Why would someone love this?” “What makes this different to what’s out there?” “Why would someone come back?”. Highlight what’s good and what’s bad and what’s “meh”.
It’s amazing what talking can do. I love watching people use products I have had my hand with. Just watch people use the product, if you have a public facing service like a website or an app this becomes a lot easier.
Not too long ago I was on a train heading home from the work Xmas party, a little worse for wear, inevitably I ended up talking with a gentleman who was also a little bit rosy and I couldn’t help but notice he was using the mobile app of my employer for finding his news content. Watching that drunken businessman (or he claimed to be at least, once I had a great time convincing someone I was an astronaut in training but I digress) using our mobile app taught me far more than anyone inside that office ever could about user behaviours. But, you can’t find drunken businessmen on trains all the time, so I recommend using testing agency’s for UI. See my blog about testing for more options.
Accept your product isn’t perfect, and do something about it
This is more common with brands that have been around a while. Culturally the bigger organisations that are still at the start of their agile journey tend to think they are perfect, that just because their company has been around for the past gazillion years that they have a god given right to be around for a gazillion years more. That tends to rubs off on their employees: there is nothing wrong with being proud of where you work, but accept where your competition is better and start to think why that is, rather than just dismiss everything that isn’t in your field of vision.
Blockbuster laughed out a pitch of a potential collaboration with a video on demand start up in the early 2000’s called Netflix, and now Blockbuster no longer exists.
Kodac was one of the biggest organisations on the planet, ignored an internal pitch to develop a digital camera, and now no longer exists.
Media organisations that are looking down their noises at Buzzfeed are really, really starting to worry. The ones that aren’t are just in denial, I am sure they are the same ones who said Huffington Post was a flash in the pan or that portal websites will always be the way people consume content.
There are literally hundreds of examples of companies who were the big dog of what they do only to get gazzumpt by the latest tech because of arrogance blinding them. A mentor once asked me, “if you were starting this company from scratch today what would it look like?”. I like that question: from the ground up what would a new version of the thing you do look and behave like. I am willing to bet folding money it looks completely different to what you currently work with. Why is that?