Product Focused vs. Customer Focused Product Management: What’s the difference?

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Recently I found myself having a debate with a colleague over what it means to be a Product Focused and Customer Focused organization.  The conversation became a sort of brain buster that continued to linger in the back of my mind.  The more I thought about the two approaches, the more they began to blur into one, and I started to wonder if there really is a difference between the two.  And if there is a difference, is one approach really better than the other?

Before I drove myself slightly crazy trying to think through these deep, deep philosophical questions on my own, I thought I’d open up the conversation to all of you and get your thoughts on the topic as well.

To structure the conversation, let me start with how I’m defining both approaches. They may not be the “right” definitions, but a place to start.

In my mind, a Product Focused organization is one that has a roadmap and even vision for the product based on delivering something that the team believes will meet market demand – whatever the market may be.  I think of iPad and Apple as a classic example.  Mr. Jobs and Apple have yet again created a product that most likely wasn’t identified by consumers as something they must have or even need in daily life. Instead, the focus was on creating a product Steve and team thought was right for market (although what market, I’m still not sure).

On the other hand, a Customer Focused organization is one where decisions about the product are made based on aligning customer needs and wants with the overall goals of the organisation.  Simple as.  Customer feedback via surveys, customer service emails, Tweets, blogs and more in-depth qualitative research are golden nuggets in these organizations.

Here’s where I start to get confused.  In keeping with my definitions, in order to be a Product Focused organization, don’t you need to be a Customer Focused one?  After all, even if Steve and team were imparting the “build it and they will come” philosophy in creating iPad, they had to have some sort of customer research/insight that the product would float.  Right?

I’d like to hear from all of you on this.  When you think about Product Focused and Customer Focused, what do you think of?  Does your organization fit in one camp or the other? Or is the something in between? Is one approach better?

If we can solve this quandary together, we’ll next move on to even deeper philosophical questions like why do people still use PowerPoint.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m cheating because I reviewed this post so I had a bit more time to think about this question. Here goes…

    Sometimes it’s impossible to perceive a difference but I think there is one.

    If you are building a product to solve a pain point (e.g. Hootsuite, Shopify, Eventbrite), you will be engaging in customer-focused product management. Your customers define the problem. They will help you understand the scope and requirements of the product and your aim is to fit this perfectly. Thus, the whole product development will be aligned with customer feedback. This is most common amongst tech companies.

    However…

    If you are building a product which (you believe) the world will want but is not yet recognized  (e.g. iPad, Twitter, Facebook, even Spotify), you will be engaging in product-focused product management. In this case, the team has a vision for a better way of life that the consumers are unaware of. It is essential in this case to *ignore* a lot of a customer feedback. Twitter, Facebook and Apple have all fought back against widespread customer requests e.g. Twitter follower model was refuted initially but the product manager extraordinaire, Ev, pushed onwards with a product focus and ignored the “customer” requests. This is now one of the most defining characteristics of the service and set a new norm for others.

    My summary here isn’t bulletproof but I think it lays the groundwork. Great post by the way!

  • Anonymous

    I’m cheating because I reviewed this post so I had a bit more time to think about this question. Here goes…

    Sometimes it’s impossible to perceive a difference but I think there is one.

    If you are building a product to solve a pain point (e.g. Hootsuite, Shopify, Eventbrite), you will be engaging in customer-focused product management. Your customers define the problem. They will help you understand the scope and requirements of the product and your aim is to fit this perfectly. Thus, the whole product development will be aligned with customer feedback. This is most common amongst tech companies.

    However…

    If you are building a product which (you believe) the world will want but is not yet recognized  (e.g. iPad, Twitter, Facebook, even Spotify), you will be engaging in product-focused product management. In this case, the team has a vision for a better way of life that the consumers are unaware of. It is essential in this case to *ignore* a lot of a customer feedback. Twitter, Facebook and Apple have all fought back against widespread customer requests e.g. Twitter follower model was refuted initially but the product manager extraordinaire, Ev, pushed onwards with a product focus and ignored the “customer” requests. This is now one of the most defining characteristics of the service and set a new norm for others.

    My summary here isn’t bulletproof but I think it lays the groundwork. Great post by the way!

  • Anonymous

    I’m cheating because I reviewed this post so I had a bit more time to think about this question. Here goes…

    Sometimes it’s impossible to perceive a difference but I think there is one.

    If you are building a product to solve a pain point (e.g. Hootsuite, Shopify, Eventbrite), you will be engaging in customer-focused product management. Your customers define the problem. They will help you understand the scope and requirements of the product and your aim is to fit this perfectly. Thus, the whole product development will be aligned with customer feedback. This is most common amongst tech companies.

    However…

    If you are building a product which (you believe) the world will want but is not yet recognized  (e.g. iPad, Twitter, Facebook, even Spotify), you will be engaging in product-focused product management. In this case, the team has a vision for a better way of life that the consumers are unaware of. It is essential in this case to *ignore* a lot of a customer feedback. Twitter, Facebook and Apple have all fought back against widespread customer requests e.g. Twitter follower model was refuted initially but the product manager extraordinaire, Ev, pushed onwards with a product focus and ignored the “customer” requests. This is now one of the most defining characteristics of the service and set a new norm for others.

    My summary here isn’t bulletproof but I think it lays the groundwork. Great post by the way!

  • Anonymous

    I’m cheating because I reviewed this post so I had a bit more time to think about this question. Here goes…

    Sometimes it’s impossible to perceive a difference but I think there is one.

    If you are building a product to solve a pain point (e.g. Hootsuite, Shopify, Eventbrite), you will be engaging in customer-focused product management. Your customers define the problem. They will help you understand the scope and requirements of the product and your aim is to fit this perfectly. Thus, the whole product development will be aligned with customer feedback. This is most common amongst tech companies.

    However…

    If you are building a product which (you believe) the world will want but is not yet recognized  (e.g. iPad, Twitter, Facebook, even Spotify), you will be engaging in product-focused product management. In this case, the team has a vision for a better way of life that the consumers are unaware of. It is essential in this case to *ignore* a lot of a customer feedback. Twitter, Facebook and Apple have all fought back against widespread customer requests e.g. Twitter follower model was refuted initially but the product manager extraordinaire, Ev, pushed onwards with a product focus and ignored the “customer” requests. This is now one of the most defining characteristics of the service and set a new norm for others.

    My summary here isn’t bulletproof but I think it lays the groundwork. Great post by the way!

    • Alexander Dean

      You’re describing “red ocean” strategy (established market, lots of competitors, incremental innovation) versus “blue ocean” strategy (great leap forward, no customer data to go on, hunch-based product development – Steve Jobs’ forte). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Ocean_Strategy

    • http://twitter.com/Cesc_Vilanova Cesc Vilanova

      Great point smcllns.

      Products addressing a problem that people are conscious about (Mint, Buffer, Basecamp) require a different approach than products improve an activity people already value (iPad, Angry Birds, Flipboard).

      But even when products don’t address a conscious problem, there has to be a real problem for the product having any chance of succeeding.

      Angry Birds solved a problem of conventional games being hard to play on the go. Basically, it did so by being playable with only one hand and in shorts sessions of time.

      iPad solved the problem of having to be away of your living room while browising the internet. It did so by designing a device that lets you be with in the couch with your family while cheking your favorite online content.

      You always need to solve a problem so that users feel the product is valuable.

      Maybe the difference is that while people can talk about problems they’re conscious about (so you can design a product from here), you will need bigger doses of instinct (and the necessity of testing your idea with and MVP) to address their unconscious problems.

    • Project Guacamole

      I totally agree! I also think at this day and age, most new companies start with product-focused vision (twitter, mint, etc…) Then they become customer focused once there is user adoption.

  • http://www.ijonas.com Anonymous

    Product focus commences with having the idea, gut instinct, self-belief, arrogance, whatever… and then moves backwards towards market validation, development effort/cost, go-to-market costs. Dominant question: how good/useful/fast/etc. is the product?

    Customer focus commences with customer/competitor market analysis. Looking for unexploited niches and then through similar development/go-to-market costings as product-focus approaches, decides on what products will be most profitable. Dominant question: how big is the market?

    My bias is product focused, as I think there’s too much wasted analysis in customer focused approaches. Most market analysis tells you there’s lots of potential customers and numerous successful competitors or early-entrants – i.e. its too crowded.

    IMO approaches like Lean Startup, although they portray a customer-focus or being customer-led, are actually product focused. From a product management perspective Lean Startup helps a product-focused approach without betting the farm by weaving a customer-focussed elements early into the process.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

    • Anonymous

      Interesting but I think I disagree Ijonas. I don’t think product or customer focus hinges on  broad market analysis because you can successfully run either style with a customer base of 1.

      Lean startup stuff is pretty much all about customer validation at the start and I would have called that a hardcore customer-focus product style. Conversely, I would say product-focus pretty much ignores everything about lean startup methodologies and means “build it and they will come”—you just have to build the right thing.

      • http://www.ijonas.com Anonymous

        I think the Lean Startup aspects that are wholly customer focused are those that concern themselves with building a business, i.e going from startup to bonafide business with gravy-train/revenue stream (pivot, pivot, pivot).

        The pure product management aspects of Lean Startup are IMO product-focused with a healthy dose of customer-focus. 

        What defines each approach is entry point into the process. Both approaches need to end up answering the bulk of the same questions. 

        • http://www.blossom.io Thomas Schranz

          From my point of view the lean startup philosophy concerns itself with the customer for very pragmatic reasons.

          It tries to reduce/avoid waste and therefore encourages frequent reality checks on whether the thing you are planning/building or the things you already have built are something your customer finds valuable.

          Also by aligning your team with the customer (and his problems) the things you work on get context (how is it going to be used and why) which usually makes it easier to deliver something of quality.

          John Prendergast wrote about something they do at blueleaf which is “progressive fidelity testing” to get customer feedback on things they haven’t wasted time implementing yet. A very clever technique that I also observed in other products like KISSmetrics which apparently are also very into the lean philosophy.

          http://johnprendergast.posterous.com/what-do-we-build-now-a-page-from-blueleafs-le

  • http://simoncast.blogspot.com Simon Cast

    Some initial thoughts.

    You can argue that Product Focus is the initial part of solving a problem and then the customer focus comes once you’ve got a product that solves a customer problem and you are focused on refining to improve the solution.

    Using the example of iPad. The initial iPad proved the solution (whether the market knew there was a need) and then follow on has about improving the solution; the customer focus. I am wary of confusing customer focus with market analysis. Both customer & product need to start with an idea of a problem that needs to be solved. In some cases the problem is well defined (e.g. CRM) and it is about producing a solution that solves the customer problem better. Other cases you suspect there is a problem or need there (e.g. iPad) but can’t prove that until you get something out there.

    Asking customers what they want, often leads to that inevitable “Faster horse”. Customers think within the boundaries of what they already know. They aren’t looking at whether there is a better solution (a car) to the problem of getting from A to B.

  • http://www.blossom.io Thomas Schranz

    I think you are spot on with your observation. If you really care about building a great product then you end up with an approach that is a convergence of product focused and customer focused. Some of the best brands like Apple (but also startups like Soundcloud) listen very careful to the demands of their customers and at the same time build products with a strong internal vision.

    If you ignore your customers or if you build exactly what your customers are asking you without taking a step back and thinking about the vision & bigger picture (“the customer does not know what he wants”) you are on the best way to build something no one wants to use :)

    As often the art is to find your path in between. Great thought provoking article!

  • http://www.blossom.io Thomas Schranz

    I think you are spot on with your observation. If you really care about building a great product then you end up with an approach that is a convergence of product focused and customer focused. Some of the best brands like Apple (but also startups like Soundcloud) listen very careful to the demands of their customers and at the same time build products with a strong internal vision.

    If you ignore your customers or if you build exactly what your customers are asking you without taking a step back and thinking about the vision & bigger picture (“the customer does not know what he wants”) you are on the best way to build something no one wants to use :)

    As often the art is to find your path in between. Great thought provoking article!

  • http://twitter.com/CallaghanJosh Josh Callaghan

    Great BLOG and interesting discussion. The first point i pondered while reading was whether Apple was actually meeting the customer’s need for new toys when developing the IPad. For years we have known about early adopters, customer fashion trends and any number of seemingly unexplainable product success stories. Maybe there doesn’t need to be a functional or practical customer need for a product to fit into that category. Anyhow, that was just an initial thought.

    I think that like all aspects of product management there are many forces at work. ie: the weight of the voice of the customer in relation to internal strategy in relation to my own motives in relation to available resource in relation to… well you get the point. I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive but rather different weightings of forces require a different mix of the two philosophies. To harp back to Apple (as much as I hate discussing apple as it seems to be the ‘go to’ brand for any product debate), the IPad might have been a 70/30 weighting ‘Product Focus’ to ‘Customer Focus’. Their next product might be the exact opposite, or as Simon has said below, the future enhancements to that product might be more heavily weighted to the customer.

    I know what you’re thinking… “what a cop out, of course every product development has a little of each.” The importance though is identifying this, defining it and being conscious of it the whole way through development. Allowing yourself to be more fluid with how the two interrelate and adapting your processes to account for this will ensure that you end with a product that is true to your vision and ultimately make you a better product manager.

    In a single sentence… “Don’t get boxed in by a single philosophy”

  • http://twitter.com/lucyjspence Lucy Spence

    I like the topic and it’s a great discussion, but I’ve got a bit of a problem with the framing of the question. I generally try to avoid semantic debates, but here goes, I’m about to plough head long into one….

    In my mind it’s not one or the other and I don’t think you have either a product focus or a customer focus. We’re product managers and should always be ‘product focussed’. That’s our job. Customer feedback / response is a vital input into the product development process. Sometimes you need a lot of it, sometime you need even more, occasionally (very rarely) you need to be able to see past it and go beyond what can be imagined by mere mortals. But it’s always going to be part of it. Although when Apple produced the iPad they couldn’t expose it to customers, they’d had years of feedback on iOS and touch devices and I’m guessing did quite a bit to simulate customer feedback. There’s a reason an prerelease iPhone went walkies at a pub…

    I know in practical terms that that gets to the same point that others have made, but I guess I wanted to point out that they shouldn’t be seen as opposing forces. They should be so interlinked  that distinguishing one from the other is almost impossible and it’s just a matter of what’s appropriate when, and how do we optimise that customer input into our product development.

    • Anonymous

      I think Lucy wins.

  • Kateleto

    Thanks so much for all of the responses.  It’s great to see that I’m not the only one struck by the initial question about Product focus vs. Customer focus.  At the end of the day,  as Lucy says, this may indeed be a semantic debate (we may be chasing our own tails a bit), but I think it’s worthwhile discussing if only to remind ourselves that we as Product Managers do have different ways/tools/philosophies available to create remarkable products.  In our day to day operations, it’s very easy to fall into one line of thinking (customer, customer or product, product) that could lead us to – unintentianally – loose sight of other approaches, data points, etc.  – that could make the product even more incredible.  I completely agree with Josh -”Don’t get boxed in by a single philosophy”

  • http://twitter.com/ohrworm Cath Richardson

    Interesting post.

    I have a problem with the term customer focus being narrowly defined as a customer feedback based approach. I would argue that customer focused product development is driven by a core need to understand and solve the customer problem. 

    But as discussed in the comments here, this is rarely achieved by just asking people what they want. It comes from a combination of strong vision, passion for the problem, ability to dig under the surface to discover what the *real* issues are, and yes, some level of customer engagement. I think at its best, this is what the lean start-up process can achieve. 

    And on that level, I would also argue that there is no difference between being product focused and being customer focused. If you want to make the best product, then you want to understand your customers. 

    Apple may not spend ages poring over market research but they sure as hell understand the customer needs and desires they want their product to solve.

  • http://twitter.com/ohrworm Cath Richardson

    Interesting post.

    I have a problem with the term customer focus being narrowly defined as a customer feedback based approach. I would argue that customer focused product development is driven by a core need to understand and solve the customer problem. 

    But as discussed in the comments here, this is rarely achieved by just asking people what they want. It comes from a combination of strong vision, passion for the problem, ability to dig under the surface to discover what the *real* issues are, and yes, some level of customer engagement. I think at its best, this is what the lean start-up process can achieve. 

    And on that level, I would also argue that there is no difference between being product focused and being customer focused. If you want to make the best product, then you want to understand your customers. 

    Apple may not spend ages poring over market research but they sure as hell understand the customer needs and desires they want their product to solve.

  • Pingback: Customer development is *not* a substitute for creativity | Made by Many

  • Indradeep Mazumdar

    I realise that this has been around for some time. It is a good question and interesting to see so many different viewpoints especially around Steve Jobs and how he viewed product management. My two cents and maybe a slightly different take on this – I am of the opinion that Jobs was an extraordinary observant and the way he decided on a product innovation was by observing the current products out there and what were the specific pain points of the customers while using the products i.e. clunky keyboards. Often the difference between product and customer focus is that blurry; whether you do customer interviews to get insights or you observe and think strategically about what customer need – it is hard to distinguish one from the other. How you obtain customer insights and customer feedback does not necessarily make an organisation product or customer focussed.
    I think the definition of what focus an organisation has is not that clear – in my opinion, most organisations are customer focussed, in some form, way or shape. Their manner of customer interaction may be different though. Product Management in its essence is all about customers.  As an aside, what Jobs had going for him apart from his keen observation and ability to sense out was that Apple takes full control of software and hardware as opposed to other electronic giants like IBM, Intel or Nokia (although this may require a separate blog for discussion).

  • Anonymous

    I realise that this has been around for some time. It is a good question and interesting to see so many different viewpoints especially around Steve Jobs and how he viewed product management. My two cents and maybe a slightly different take on this – I am of the opinion that Jobs was an extraordinary observant and the way he decided on a product innovation was by observing the current products out there and what were the specific pain points of the customers while using the products i.e. clunky keyboards. Often the difference between product and customer focus is that blurry; whether you do customer interviews to get insights or you observe and think strategically about what customer need – it is hard to distinguish one from the other. How you obtain customer insights and customer feedback does not necessarily make an organisation product or customer focussed.
    I think the definition of what focus an organisation has is not that clear – in my opinion, most organisations are customer focussed, in some form, way or shape. Their manner of customer interaction may be different though. Product Management in its essence is all about customers.  As an aside, what Jobs had going for him apart from his keen observation and ability to sense out was that Apple takes full control of software and hardware as opposed to other electronic giants like IBM, Intel or Nokia (although this may require a separate blog for discussion).

  • Daven

    It seems that they are both a different stair step in a long staircase… where the first step is opening a business and the last is realized profitability. Considering that companies usually do not produce just a single product, then clearly there must be a long chain of options or tools that a company would use to improve market placement of a single product… especially compared to how well/poorly their other products are doing….

  • Tankut Beygu

    If being customer-focused is to be anything but empty words, it has to be admitted that there must be some other good ways to be focused. I think focusing a corporation is related to the organisation of the value chain in a corporation. So, well, if you have enough confidence in your innovative product (or service), it is good to be product-focused and organise the corporation according to a value chain ending with the product. If you have a relatively stable product already at hand, but your concern is to enahnce the customer base and customer satisfaction, then it is better to organise the corporation around the customer as the last link of the value chain.

  • Deepak Vikram

    Hi, This is Deepak from India. Am an MBA student who came in search of certain materials for my examinations tomo,wherein I found this topic interesting.The question as well as the topic discussion was amazing. Though , I don have any work-ex and me still being a fresher , I wd luv to join in the so called semantic debate. There are people here debating who ahve their work ex in industries which is more than my age. But I just want to interact and have some responses from you all for my queries as well.My college in INDIA , follows the case pedagogy systems with HBS cases. So there were many cases based on Product focussed organizations.But what really matters at the end of the day is solution to the customer’s problem and satisfying their wants THAN THAT OF A PRODUCT DESIGNED that would be used by the customers. So, I just want to clarify myself whether LUCY was right regarding giving preference to product oriented than customer oriented stuffs. Anybody pls explain. Thanx in advance. Cheers…

  • Jeremy Chatfield

    I think the confusion comes when you choose successful companies as exemplars – because they balance the demands to make it work; they don’t hew that closely to a single rule.

    OTOH, I’ve worked in organisations where product design dominated (classic failure mode: customers were wrong about what they wanted, because they didn’t understand how great the new product would be) and ones where customer focus dominated (classic failure mode: we can’t build a product like that because the needs are already met in a hugely competitive space).

    I suspect that where the differences lie are the *failure modes*, not the successes.

  • http://feedspot.com/ Anuj Agarwal

    I think every company starts with either a product focused approach or a customer focused approach. After a certain point, both follow customer focused approach.

  • bsonderg

    In a healthy organization with effective product management, I’m not sure there is a difference between being Product Focused and Customer Focused. We have to be both. I tend to simplify it down to 1) Understanding Market Problems, and 2) Delivering Solutions. You mentioned the Product Focused approach works on “delivering something that the team believes will meet market demand – whatever the market may be.” Maybe we can shift the language ever so slightly to be “delivering a solution that the team believes will solve a market problem – whatever the market may be.” Then we work to become Market, Customer, and Product focused:

    1. Market – Understand the “real” problems across the market and domain.

    2. Customer – Great source (but not only source) of insight into the market. But we have to translate what they describe as a “problem”. Usually they’re describing a “solution.” We have to dig deeper to get to problem.

    3. Product – One good way to deliver solutions. And the better we do at vision and roadmap, the more accurate the solutions become and the more readily they’re embraced in the market.

    Together, the three dimensions work together to create an integrated feedback loop between problems and solutions, which allows us to learn faster and solve more accurately.

    Thoughts?

  • http://www.parasoft.com Jason Schadewald

    Good discussion. I think your definitions are equivalent in that they are both customer-focused, but they take different paths to get there — internally defined versus externally defined. Both have value, and the correct approach depends on a variety of factors unique to your company and your market.

    To offer a different definition of “Product-focused,” consider an organization that is a bit too tech-happy. They love gizmos simply for the fun of creation and they fail to connect their creative technical endeavors to a real market need. Similarly, a Product-focused company (according to this alternative definition) might take customer feature requests too literally — implementing the request in a neat techno-centric manner rather than finding the “real problem” and solving it via product in a user-oriented manner.

    I’ve experienced various flavors of both types, and I can say that I much prefer the customer-focused companies. Glad I work at one!

  • http://dklounge.github.io david kim

    You have to be customer focused. A product manager’s job is to first understand what customer success looks like. A good product manager then knows how to align that with the business goals.

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