Dave Wascha started as a product manager 20 years ago working on Internet Explorer 4.0. Since then he’s had his share of successes and failures in a storied career spanning the US and Europe, and in this entertaining and insightful talk from Mind the Product San Francisco he distills those 20 years into twelve key lessons.
Listen to customers… This sounds obvious but it’s surprising how little we actually do listen to our customers. Our job as product managers is to maniacally understand your customers’ problems – and you can’t do that without listening to them and understanding them.
…but don’t listen to customers. While we should listen to customers about their problems – we shouldn’t listen to them about the solutions. That’s our job.
Watch the competition… What our competition is doing is a rich source of information that can help us better understand our customer’s problem. Every time a competitor ships a new product or feature it’s a free user test for you to understand how the customers respond.
…but don’t watch the competition. Stop worrying too much about what the competition is doing. In the tech industry we can get overly excited by new technologies or features, and it is too easy to simply follow the competition into building something shiny and new, even though it might not be the best solution to a customer problem.
Be a thief. Don’t actually steal anything, but don’t be afraid to take ideas from others and build on them. Your job is not to come up with all the best ideas, but to make sure you’re implementing the best one for your customers.
Get paid. Most of us work on commercial endeavours, and when we’re taking new features and products to market we often forget to ask the most fundamental question – is this valuable enough for a customer to pay for it?
Stop worrying about getting paid. We are business-casing the soul out of our products – focusing just on getting paid can lead to a risk-averse culture of small incremental improvements that don’t focus on the customer experience. Sometimes engaging your customers require things that have no clear ROI.
Speed up. Every time you put off a decision you are destroying value. Cost of Delay is an incredibly important concept – there are many reasons why we put off decisions but it’s our job to remove obstacles and make sure that decisions are made – and made fast.
Say no. We have lots of competing priorities and stakeholders, but our job is not to make people happy – it’s to solve our customers’ problem. If sales come to you and ask for a feature for just one customer, you should say no. If the CEO comes to you with a crazy new idea from his cousin, you should say no.
Don’t be a visionary. Products don’t need visionaries – they need product managers who are obsessed with solving customer problems and who put in the hard work to grind it out and solve those problems.
Don’t confuse yourself with your customer. It’s far too easy to look at your products from your own perspective, but you’ll probably be wrong. Only by striving to really understand your customers will you be able to solve their problem.
Be dumb. When you’re starting out you’re unencumbered by experience and knowledge – and that’s not always a bad thing. Companies and product teams drift away from their core mission over time and the best product managers have the ability to be dumb – to look at things from a customer’s perspective, and to bring the focus back on to the core customer problem.
Watch this entertaining talk for all the details, soak up some of the wisdom amassed over Dave’s career, and then think about your own lessons and what you think is key to great product management.