Apparently a lot of software engineers fail to understand the importance of product management and most product managers are well aware about this. Unfortunately, most of the time, they blame the engineers’ education for the lack of vision, while in fact there is a much simpler explanation – engineers have witnessed product management failures once too many times. Truth be told, relatively few businesses value product management, even if they hire one product manager for every three engineers.
Why Product Management Fails?
When product management fails, there are tens of pages of explanations, starting with market condition, technology changes, competition, investments and so on. But in most cases it’s much more simple. Most products I’ve witnessed failing did it due to at least one of the below reasons.
The Power User Myth
Relatively few products are targeted to power users. Especially on the consumer market, people need straightforward, accessible solutions. Still, many times products focus on corner cases and complicated usage scenarios to satisfy the most demanding (potential) customers. Truth is that a product does not have to satisfy everyone and listening to isolated and different criticism is very damaging. A product is not designed for a single person, it’s made for a lot of people. A product manager must be able to say no very often.
Good software engineers love constraints and complicated problems, therefore they tend to focus on corner cases as well. It’s the product manager’s job to see the most users waiting for a product to solve their problems. Satisfying a few users means sacrificing the product market. Remember that most potential customers out there do not even use a competitive product – because they cannot.
The Hidden Secret
Other product managers have learned the power user lesson and therefore they want to push products that are very easy to use, the kind of products that solve the problem for 90% of the users. Unfortunately, in their quest, many forget that their product must do at least one thing exceptionally and at least 5 times better than any competitor. Without this ingredient, the power of keeping things simple is weak.
Not relying on a secret is highly dangerous for small companies, but even larger companies are vulnerable.
Take a look at mobile apps – most of them solve basic problems, are simple and easy to use, but there are many others doing the same thing. Being the first app that does something maybe helps to gain users, but unless there is a secret, followers will copy fast and they might even learn from your mistakes.
The Huge Market
Many companies start a product with a multi-billion market in mind. I’ve seen startups going after $500B market and hoping to grow quickly. 🙂 It’s true that sometimes the potential market can be huge, but this is not an advantage, it’s a stressful problem waiting to be addressed immediately. The solution is to artificially limit the market. The product must satisfy very well the demands of a small market. Sounds simple in theory, but in practice it can be extremely difficult because it’s very hard to identify that right segment and then focus on it.
Sometimes, the first choice might be wrong. That’s why every product manager must be open to repositioning, but this does not mean that they must give up fast. It’s easy to be distracted – sales will always come with amazing deals that require only a couple of changes in the product. Again, it’s the power to say no.
Do We Need Product Management?
Product management is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Many startups do not begin with a professional product manager, but somehow someone ends up taking this role. This approach is not wrong; in fact, many founders get quite good at this.
Product managers are the ultimate authority over the product, the product’s CEO. They may not be the ultimate technical authority, but they still need to get their hands dirty. Good product managers understand technical details and are able to work together with engineering teams to find solutions. Working with engineers and gaining their respect leads to a mutual learning process. In this process, even the most skeptical software developers start to value product management, because they realize how important it is for them to find solutions to the right problems.
Engineers not caring about the product and product managers overlooking technical issues translate into unsuccessful products. Of course that following these three basic rules does not lead to success, but not following them guarantees failure. Now, change your PM or give him a raise 🙂