A while ago, I was through to the final stage of an interview for a product role at a company whose primary focus is a well-known mobile app. I wont name names but lets just say it’s the app everyone uses to cheat on a music pub quiz. Guessed it? Yes that one.

 They loved my C.V, we had a laugh during the phone interview, and I had a great rapport with the staff I met in the first onsite face to face. They loved my philosophy and management style, and truth be told, the company seemed like a great place to work. After each stage of the interview process I got that hunger and the fire you get when you know you on to something good. So when I got the invite for the final stage, a presentation to a VP, I was over the moon.  The recruiter gave me the pep talk and informed me that only I was put through to this stage and they are looking to hire very soon. So reading between the lines it was fair to say that if I nailed this presentation, the job is mine.

 Presentation: “If you got the job on Friday, what would you do on Monday morning”.  I made a cheeky “hand my notice in my current job” slide but that was probably the only part of the presentation that bought any joy to my audience.

 I started the presentation with how I would get to know the staff, and reach out to all areas of the business. I then moved on to how I would run persona activities, how I would work shop to find the pain points, establish what the most important things are we should do, then I went into what I would do…. research, research, research, and only after those activities are done, come up with a plan. I pulled out all the stops for this presentation. I wanted my audience to walk out the room thinking, “This is an ADAM FLINT presentation, WOW!”. I had the presentation clicker, I designed each slide to be stylish and clean with some nice elegant transitions, it was a masterpiece. Halfway through this rock show of a presentation the hiring manager asked me to stop said this isn’t what we are looking for and asked me to leave.

 I was mortified, not only did I think it was rude the manner to which he stopped me but when I asked why he snapped, “we want to know what you would do with the product? This isn’t what we wanted” he clearly felt embarrassed for backing this “great” product guy and here he is NOT telling us what to do with the product we want to give him.

 The reason why I positioned the presentation in the manner I did was because I simply didn’t know what I was going to do, I didn’t want to have a preconception based on being an outsider, on being a user. My philosophy at the time was I let the data and research tell me where the gaps were and react to that.  Obviously I wouldn’t have the level of insights a person with access to the companies analytical suite would, so I wanted to tell them how as a product person, what processes and tools I would use to get to that point where I would then go on to say what we are going to do.

 Anyway, back to the awkward moment when for the first time in my life I didn’t ace a presentation. The presentation had come to a premature end, I shuffled away and when the VP briefly said “sorry for the misunderstanding” I replied with “Hey, its better to fail Friday afternoon than on Monday morning right?” she laughed, out of pity or disbelief, and I escorted myself out of the room and waited for my handler to buzz me out the building.

 Bruised pride and my ego a little bit smaller, I walked away saying to myself “don’t worry mate, your better off without them”. It was the first and only time I have not been offered a job I’ve interviewed for. But it was only when looking back, I see I completely missed the point of the Product Manager in this situation.

 The role of a Product Manager is to improve/create products (duh) and consumer products aren’t invented for sales people, marketers, accountants, or even the CEO. The clue is in the name, consumers, USERS! Even with my misguided logic as to why I didn’t have an accurate plan, I should have had a plan based as a user. AS A USER I WANT…..See where I am going here? This is why User stories are so important in product management.  It’s the basis of how we should articulate the “thing” you are going to create. Essentially you are saying, “I see something for our users here, lets explore”.  It’s only when you have a goal can you then look at the data and establish if it is the right thing or not.

 People set out the goals not data, in fact data on its own is nothing without analysis. My point here is, you as a Product Manager need to say where to focus efforts on and you do that based on the assumptions you have. These assumptions can be validated by data but you have got to start somewhere and I can’t think of a better place to start than in the shoes of the person who will use your “thing”.

 Look at it this way, yes the data approach is a dam fine way to figure something out, but leadership comes from the front, you need to say “I think we should do this” based on either expertise you have acquired or from someone you trust.

 So if I had a Delorean that could travel back in time would I stop myself the night before and say “Yo! Better actually write a strategy even though you don’t know all the analytics”? Nope, better to fail on this job interview than on the next big job right?