Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Product Management: Art + Science + Intuition.

Jeff Lash's recent post caught my attention :-) [Stop gathering requirements:link]. I guess the title is meant to be provocative and attention grabbing (it worked :) . I agree with most of what Jeff says - I would like to clarify it further.

I would amend the title to say "Do not stop with gathering requirements". Gathering requirements is just the first step, the science part. The subsequent steps are where the art and the intuition factor in. The job of the product manager is to collaborate with the other teams (engineering, services, support, docs, etc.) and try to flush out the true customer market need that is buried within those requirements. Sometimes it means extrapolating (customer is not seeing their own problem), and other times it means pruning (customer is treating multiple symptoms instead of one cause).

To me it translates to the following guidelines:
  1. Always listen to the customer but the customer is not always right: Do not ever make stuff up. A product manager has accountability across the organization so the sooner you get into the habit of not making stuff up the better.

  2. Look for clusters and patterns: This is the art and intuition part. Your job is grok the market. You do that by meeting with customers one at a time but you do not solve an individual customer's problem, you solve the markets problems. Look for patterns, this is where intuition plays a big role. Learn to listen to your own intuition and trust it.

  3. Collaborate and Communicate: Take the time to earn the respect and trust of your peers and the market, do not assume it comes with the title. The quickest way to get there is to listen and ask others who might know better. For instance you think your product needs better user profile management. A good way to validate this is to ask your support team how many of their customer interactions are around password management and address book management.

  4. Do not be afraid of failure: A good product manager focuses on making sure the product being developed is a best-fit for the market needs. This will automatically ensure your individual success but the corollary is not always true.

This is my current mantra and what I call "Evidence based product management".

1. Assumes you are not a brand new start up. If you are one with no customers, then your only guideline is "market research - build - release". Keep doing this till you have enough customers and can extend the hyphen between the three stages.

1 comment:

Mohit said...


Great take on differentiating between customer and market needs in terms of requirements for product management.