Don’t provide answers, ask questions

If you want to be a bad product manager, provide lots of answers. Make sure you immediately and fully answer all questions from others within the organization and from customers. Don’t bother clarifying, since it should be clear from the question what you’re being asked. Product management is all about talking, right? — talking to the market, talking to your internal stakeholders, talking to customers. If a customer asks if your product has a certain capability, and it doesn’t, make sure to provide a through accounting of why your product doesn’t, why it doesn’t need it, but why you’re planning on adding it in the future.

If you want to be a good product manager, ask lots of questions. Sometimes the question you hear being asked isn’t the question you’re actually asked. Rather than assuming and jumping right in to provide a response, take some time to clarify not only the question but the intent of the question.

A customer asking about capability is often just asking for clarification, not because the capability is a make-or-break factor in their purchase decision. Assuming it is and providing too detailed an answer sends a signal that you really weren’t listening to the question. As Steve Johnson writes, “Understand the question before the answer is given. We all need to learn what is being said, not just what we’re thinking about when the question is asked.”

Use questions as opportunity to learn more. Product management is about listening — listening to the market, listening to your internal stakeholders, listening to customers to understand their needs. When a customer asks about a capability that your product doesn’t currently have, use that to probe more. Why is that capability important? What is the underlying need? Do other comparable products have that capability? Would that change a purchase or use decision? Would that impact the price the customer expects to pay?
By understanding the question fully before you answer, you’ll be able to better answer the actual question being asked. And by using the question as a prompt to ask questions in return, you will find out more about the underlying needs and drivers behind the question.