One of the ongoing challenges that we face as Product Managers is that we’re primarily charged with predicting customer and user behavior. We’re constantly asked to come up with new ideas, new features, and new designs that we “know” will delight our users, or at the very least satisfy them. But the fact is, predicting human behavior is incredibly difficult — there are many thousands of people who have spent hundreds of years trying to figure out why people do what they do (they’re called psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists), and we’re still making educated guesses at best. So, what are some of the challenges that we face?
Never have I heard a better description of the challenge that faces Product Managers than a quote that I overheard at this year’s ProductCamp Seattle — “Humans are hard…” spoken by none other than my fellow General Assembly Product Management instructor Tricia Cervenan, as part of a panel discussion. Those simple words struck a chord with me, as it made me think about all of the different ways in which we as Product Managers attempt to understand, document, and predict human behavior. Every single day I can come up with some variation on the idea that “humans are hard” impacts us in some way. [Read more…]
While Product Management might be my career of choice, my primary hobby of choice has to be gaming. I’ve been playing games in one form or another for as long as I can remember — tabletop games, video games, role-playing games…you name it, I’ve played some permutation of it in my life. As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, I’ve begun to see the benefits that come to people who play such games on a regular basis. The best games, after all, are based in some fundamental way on reality — and the lessons that we learn from gaming can easily translate into skills, knowledge, and talents that you can use in your everyday life as a Product Manager…
Note: The links below go to Steam where the game is available online or Amazon for the board games mentioned; The Clever PM makes no commission on any purchases through these links.
There are a lot of potential pitfalls that threaten our success as Product Manager — but by far the worst, in my opinion, is falling too much in love with your own ideas, whether those are problems, solutions, or even assumptions about the market and our customers. While I think they take it a bit to the extreme, Pragmatic Marketing does have a point when they say, “Your opinions, while interesting, are irrelevant.” It’s in our nature to make assumptions and inferences from what we see going on around us — to create plans in the face of uncertainty and to identify potential opportunities that others are missing. But we do so at the very real danger of drinking our own product’s Kool-Aid and thinking that we have the one true solution and the one truth in the market. But in reality, that’s never the truth, and we need to check ourselves every single day against this danger.
As Product Managers, we’re often right on the front lines when things start to go sideways — when the demo fails in the middle of a big customer presentation, when the Ops team can’t deploy the “fully-tested” and “ready for production” release, or when your customer acquisition and retention numbers start to dip. But rarely do we really talk about or adequately prepare ourselves for how to properly deal with these kinds of situations — the best Product Managers I’ve known have been optimistic and pragmatic, but when emotions are hot and fires are burning, how can we effectively jump in with productive direction and effective problem-solving skills? Here are some ideas…
The single most powerful tool that Product Managers have to make products that amaze and delight their users is to figure out what problems their customers have that they don’t even realize are causing them pain. Most people didn’t understand the benefits of 1,000 songs in their pocket when Apple first introduced the iPod back in the day, but MP3 players have now merged with our cell-phones and morphed into online streaming services to provide an ever-present library of whatever music strikes our fancy at the time. Sure, they weren’t the first, nor were they the fanciest, but Jobs and Co. tapped into something important — the latent need for us to have our music with us, wherever we were, in a package small enough to slip into our pocket.
There’s a lot of truth to be found in the classic mis-attributed (and possibly entirely fabricated) “Henry Ford” quote, “If I’d asked people what they’d wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” People know what their obvious pains are, what the problems are that they experience every day — but most people only examine those pains at a very superficial layer. Someone who tells you they want a better way to manage the password on their work computer, for example, might never consider how much simpler it could be to simply add a biometric fingerprint scanner to their desk that would save them both time and effort. Customers focus on their current pain, and want that solved immediately — and they’re satisfied when you do so for them. But they’re amazed when you discover a problem that they didn’t even know they had, and deliver that solution from the word “go”.
It’s the difference between evolution and revolution, between iteration and innovation.
It seems that lately Agile (and Scrum in particular) have become the latest targets of non-stop complaints and criticism in the Product Management and Development worlds. I’ve read articles that talk about how “Agile is destroying the business” or where “Scrum is a career-limiting methodology that only creates generalists.” Neither of these are necessary conclusions from the data provided, nor are they necessarily a reflection of weaknesses of the Agile principles or of a specific methodology — more often than not, they’re a reflection of a certain culture or work environment that itself is fighting against the fundamental tenets of Agile and Scrum.
If you’re one of those people for whom either Agile or Scrum doesn’t seem to be working, here are some hard questions to ask yourself and your organization — “The fault…is not in our stars. It is ourselves…”