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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”