If you want to be a bad product manager, assume your product is the center of your customers’ world. After all, you’ve created the most amazing product ever, so who wouldn’t want to use it all day? Sure, you’re spending 40+ hours a week thinking about your product, though you’re sure that customers and users are just as enthralled by it.
If you want to be a good product manager, realize that your product is likely one of a multitude which your customers use in the course of a day. Only in very unique cases is a product truly the center of someone’s universe. Product development teams need to recognize that they are thinking about their product much more than anyone else outside their organization, and make decisions about design and communication accordingly.
Overestimating the importance and focus your customers place on your product can have negative implications — here are a few examples:
- You come up with a fancy new user interface, which you think is “better” than anything else out there, though it’s so different than the other programs your customers interact with that they can’t figure out how to use it.
- You add features that users would find relevant only if they used your product exclusively.
- You do not consider any potential opportunities to integrate your product with other services or products, and thus do not realize that those integration touchpoints are key to users’ workflows.
- You use very specific terminology which is not easily recognized by anyone new to your product.
- You send emails to people on your mailing list talking about nuances of your product, yet you don’t remind recipients what your product actually is. (I received an email like this recently, with the email boasting about new features in their 2.0 version — yet nothing in the email told me what the product was or what it did. Had I been a regular user, I would not have needed this explanation; however, since this was one of probably many web-based free “beta” products I had signed up for in the past year, I couldn’t remember what it was or why I would have tried it.)
As a product manager, you likely think about your product all day, every day. It is very unlikely that your customers think about or use your product nearly that much; to them, it is more likely just one of a thousand stars in the galaxy.
Taking this into account, here are a few things a product manager can do:
- Use existing standards whenever they are relevant and applicable. “Control-C” is the shortcut for copy — do not use that key combination for some other function. If there are standard sizes, connections, conventions, or metaphors with which customers are familiar, avoid breaking them unless are absolutely necessary — and even then weigh the benefits of the new approach versus the drawbacks of doing something different than what is expected.
- Reinforce your positioning and benefits on a regular basis. For customers who are using a multitude of products, they may need a reminder about the explicit benefits and value proposition even well after they have made a purchase decision. Confusion or forgetting about your product could lead to apathy, lack of recommendations / referrals, or even negative attention.
- Understand how your product functions as part of a system. Realize that your product needs to work with other products which your organization produces as well as products and systems created by others — including your competitors.
By not overestimating the importance and use of your product in your customer base, you will end up creating an improved product which ultimately will better serve the needs of your customers — and, in a strange coincidence, may actually make it a more important part of their day.