Sweat the small stuff

If you want to be a bad product manager, don’t worry about the details of your product. Sure, that one section of the web site won’t work with Firefox. Okay, there’s a few extra pages you have to click through when you register. Yeah, the carrying case sometimes can break if you’re holding the product incorrectly. But people don’t care about that — you’ve got such a great product that they won’t worry about these little issues at all. They’ll totally forget about those small things when they realize how incredible the product is. You’re so far ahead of your competitors that, no matter what bugs or defects you find, it doesn’t matter.

If you want to be a good product manager, sweat the small stuff. Overlooking the details is dangerous for a few reasons:

  1. The sum of many small problems may equal a big problem. One defect or idiosyncrasy will not ruin the experience of using a good product, but when you add up enough of those little issues, they can become substantial. A web site with one minor bug is not noticeable. Two bugs that disrupt someone’s experience is annoying but tolerable. As the number of problems grows, the more the person becomes aware of them, and each subsequent issue encountered becomes more and more annoying.
  2. That one overlooked detail may be very important. For a web site, a very awkward interface design on your Terms and Conditions page is much less significant than on your Home Page or on your Checkout Confirmation page. Or, for a product where users regularly repeat the same steps, an extra click or scroll or keyboard entry each time may turn from unnoticeable to aggravating in a short period of time.
  3. The details may be the differentiator. While you may be convinced that your product is so far ahead of the competition that customers will tolerate flaws, your customers may not agree. Their willingness to put up with defects depends on how important the problem is that your product solves, and how well other products can solve the same problem. Yes, the competition’s product may not meet all of their needs, but at least it does not crash their computer every once in a while. Sure, the other bank’s web site does not have as many nice features, but it is a lot easier to use.

There is a balance that product managers need to find, of course. “No defects” may be cost prohibitive or just technically nearly impossible. Or, it could be that all the bugs and defects could be fixed, but the resources required to do so would then not be able to make other product enhancements that are more important. This is a challenge for product managers — to realize what is “good enough” when it comes to quality and attention to detail, and whether “good enough” really is good enough.

Regardless of how you find that balance, realize that the details do matter. Ignoring them entirely or merely delegating them to others to figure out may not be enough. So many of the products classified under that most exalted banner of “delighting the customer” belong there because of their near perfection in their incredible attention to detail. As Charles Eames said, “The details are not the details. They make the design.”

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5 thoughts on “Sweat the small stuff

  1. I am afraid that the differentiation between product manager and project manager is incorrect. Having worked in both fields, I can say CoolNerd is describing a bad project manager. Although, I do not want digress and but I think it is important understand the differences and similarities two separate profession.

    Project management is all about details, a lot more details than product features. Lack of details and their management is one the causes of 80% of the project failure ( source- PMI). The difference between project management and product is that project is a short term effort with definite end. The primary objective of Project manager is to meet that definite end date (deadline) within means, and also meet the business/ project objective. Of course, product management manages the longer life cycle of the product. In doing so, product manager manages several projects throughout the life cycle of the product. In every product manager, there is a project manager.

  2. By looking at the blog, I feel like the product management function is confused with the product audit function. The product audit is not the primary function of the product manager. However, product related documents should guide any auditor (SQA) to do a walk through of product. Ofcourse, product manager will be a person who should give the guidelines to anybody who engaged in such activities

    I agree that a product manager should be good project manager. However, the product managemer should be more into customer life cycle management than project management. I thought the role of a Product manager starts with opportunity for a product, visualizing the product requirements, closely working with the project team to materialize the product, launching of the product, be part of acquiring cutomers and to make them use the product, be with the customer and feel the product usage, timely upgrade, decommissioning of the product before outdating. In addition to this, he should always look ahead for the next version of the product.

  3. Mahes — I’ll admit that I’ve rarely heard the term “product audit.” From what I’m aware of it, it’s more of a quality assurance function, something like product acceptance testing that comes right at the end of the project. In my mind, this is more about just checking to see whether things were completed than evaluating whether they were done in the best way possible.

    There are many details in any product’s design and development that require product management decisions. Paying attention to details is not project management — project managers make sure that decisions get made, though they usually are less concerned with what the decision is so long as it keeps the project progressing well. I agree that a product manager should be involved in the entire lifecycle of a product, as you mention, and I would argue that ensuring the details are all attended to correctly is an important part of this lifecycle.

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