Do you believe in love at first sight? Some people quickly answer this question with “yes.” But ask if they can pinpoint the very moment their affections blossomed and you usually get a vague reply. Something like, “We met in college at a mutual friend’s party.” That is because most love grows over time — there is no one magical moment.
“What is your product, really?” If you work for a technology company, you might think of it as the item you directly sell, the software that you ship, or the basic service you provide. But this is only part of the answer. Your product is actually the complete experience and relationship you and your customers share.
Rave reviews are unusual. For good reason. This kind of adulation is only reserved for the truly outstanding. Even artists who refine their craft for years may not be recognized for their genius during their lifetime — if ever. Product builders can find a lesson here. Complaints come fast and easy. Adoration, not so much.
You want to build something great. We all do. And we hope that customers will love our products as much as we do. But too many people cut corners simply because it takes hard work to earn that desired love. And when the shortcuts lead to a focus on product hype and bolstering company valuation rather than serving adoring customers, it can spell big trouble.
Have you ever said “I love you” … to software? Maybe once or twice. One product that has earned my heartfelt devotion is the Strava cycling app. I use it on my morning rides to record my speed and routes. This real-time data provides a history of where I rode, with whom, and how fast (or slow) I went. Today’s ride: 25.2 miles at an average of 19.4 mph. Not too bad.
Would you ever eat a can of cat food? Under the right conditions, perhaps. On a dare or if you were hungry enough with nothing else to reach for. But cat food is created with felines in mind. For most humans, it would undoubtedly be edible, but nauseating. And you would probably not be inspired to crack open another can any time soon.
Is product management the new “it” job? It’s starting to look that way. More and more business students are considering it as a dream job. And I can understand why. Product management offers the opportunity to build something meaningful. But I can think of another meaningful dream job for product managers — Customer Success. Before you conjure up images of phone banks and call scripts, keep reading.
“We should not launch this.” It was a surprising announcement to make just 30 days into a new product management job. My friend had been hired to own several products at a telecommunications company. After doing her research, she could see that the newest product concept, which was woefully behind schedule and poorly defined, was going to fail.
I learned a hard lesson early in my career — one that I never forgot. I was working on product strategy for a media company. Third-party studies showed that prospective customers were interested in a new content format. So we decided to revamp the site. When the mockups were ready, we interviewed our existing customers to get their take on the new look. And boy, am I glad we did.
“What kind of product manager will you be this year?” This was THE QUESTION that smacked me early on in my career. I had just come back from a holiday break and was catching up with my boss. I wanted to give a strong reply, but I needed time to unpack the question.
Two slides, every day. That’s how a former colleague and friend told me that he put together his annual strategic plan. When I asked him why, he said, “If I thought of having to create the entire presentation at once, I felt overwhelmed. But completing a few slides a day — that I could always handle.”
Great product managers ask questions — lots of them. But product managers need to answer questions too. And the more complex the work, the more questions abound. When I was working at another SaaS company in the HR space a few years ago, this became very clear.
What degree do you think most product managers have? I will bet that you did not answer “B.A. in environmental science.” But I do know of at least one product manager who studied just that. After college, his first job was supervising the removal of asbestos (and asking his onsite teams not to smoke while they were doing it).