Amie-Rose Long is a contract product manager at NBC Universal Media. In this ProductTank London talk she discusses the answers of three product managers to her question: “Give me your horror stories, spare no gory detail.”
The stories reveal just how much the law of unforeseen consequences and ethical dilemmas can affect the decisions we make – and ultimately the users’ experience.
Any journey to create a product is rarely a matter of right or wrong decisions taken by one person. There are always lots of people involved and many grey areas and complexity within the organisation to be navigated. But when Amie analysed what motivates people to make the decisions they do, she realised that everyone in any organisation is just trying to do the right thing and do their job to the best of their ability. She sums it up as: “Everyone is the hero of their own story.”
Three Cautionary Tales
The problems encountered by the product managers in these stories are cultural and structural in nature rather than the fault of any individual. Amie illustrates this point using real-life examples given by the three product managers: Jack at Tiny Tech, Alison at a charity Hats For Cats, and Tim at Game On. (The data has been anonymised and all names have been changed).
#1. Jack at Tiny Tech
In Jack’s company Tiny Tech, free upgrades are promised as an incentive to every customer who signs up to a three-year contract for their product. At the point Jack joins, Tiny Tech has gone three years without releasing any upgrades.
Jack understands the problem from the users’ perspective and arranges to meet the customers in person to talk about the problem.
During the meeting the sales team promise to give the customers whatever feature they want to make sure they renew. The failure to give upgrades is not mentioned.
Jack decides to do the “right” thing and tells the customer’s CFO that no upgrades have been released for three years. The CFO is unaware that the company had not received the upgrades and now launches an internal investigation. This multi-million pound client may now not renew, not because it didn’t have the upgrades, but because the CFO didn’t know it hadn’t had the upgrades.
Was Jack right to do what he did with so many people’s jobs relying on the renewal of the contracts? Something to think about…
#2. Alison at Hats For Cats
In the second story, Alison, the product manager for the charity Hats for Cats, is faced with a dilemma. The charity donations platform has a bug and is stealing £50 from people who donate through the platform. As soon as Alison discovers the bug she takes it to the CEO, however the CEO does not share Alison’s concern. He says the same bug was on the platform last year so he and the CFO set the default amount it would take from donors at £50, as it “seemed about right”.
Alison is not allowed to fix the bug, instead she gives the CEO a list of all the people who complained about the site taking £50. It’s not what she wants to do but faced with resistance from the CEO she feels she has little choice if she’s to keep her job.
#3. Tim at Game On
In the last story, Tim, the product manager for Game On, finds himself sucked into the culture of a business which values profit over users’ wellbeing. Tim suggests implementing regulations to help users moderate their use of the site, but his suggestions would interfere with the company’s success metrics – so his suggestions are refused. Tim becomes part of the company’s gaming culture until one day a little girl calls asking for her daddy’s money back as he’d lost all his money “gaming”. Tim could no longer ignore the impact gaming – or more accurately, gambling – was having on people using the site and quit his job.
Amie distills the lessons she learned from all three stories this way:
- Be conscious: be mindful of unintended consequences
- Model the behaviour you wish to see: you don’t know who is relying on you to do the right thing
- Know yourself: you don’t want to regret the decisions you make later on