It’s not that I have run out of Samurai parallels but I ran into this blog called: “Darth Vader – The Best Project Manager in the Galaxy” and since it’s my sincere belief that this sword wielding (see there is a samurai parallel!) manager actually displays some pretty terrible Product Management Skills:
Here are 7 examples, which should help you, gauge in what side of the force your product management skills lay.
Not a team player
Vader: “You may dispense with the pleasantries, team lead. I’m here to put you back on schedule.” Team lead: ”¨”I assure you, Lord Vader, my men are working as fast as they can.” ”¨Vader: “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.”
As a Product Manager, the development of the product is often unable to keep up with the development of the insights that we gain. From the team’s point of view, this is great. It means that the PM is always one step ahead and can adjust scope based on new insights, avoiding the creation of waste. For the Product Manager, however, it means that the team is always one step behind. This means that you need to excel at expectations management to your stakeholders. Vader reverts to pushing the team beyond sustainable pace. This always leads to products with hidden flaws like say, an exposed reactor shaft.
The reality distortion field
“I find your lack of faith disturbing” Vader explains while choking the poor business analysts that tries to explain that despite sizable investments the product is not taking off. This one I see a lot. A lot of products are invented not with the customer in mind, but with the reality distortion field of the product manager. When challenged they will ridicule or try to force-choke their opponent.
I seriously think there is nothing wrong with a reality distortion field projecting a grand vision. I also believe that it helps to have proof points, showing that you are on the right track. You can achieve this by running small experiments that show you are moving in the right direction. For example Elon Musk’s vision is to colonize Mars, his proof point is a low-cost transport for the low Earth orbit.
The Minimum Lovable Product
In my book “The Product Samurai” I talk about better guidelines for you to build a Minimum Viable Product. In summary: a product should not just be viable, but also “whole”. One look at the second Death Star in “The return of the Jedi” shows that the product is far from finished.
The “customer” is quite happy with his “fully operational” battlestar, until it blows up literally in his face. A better MVP would have been a smaller variant of the Death Star’s cannon mounted on a completed battle cruiser. Probably leads to fewer asteroid fields too.
So test your ideas small, but not too small. When working to build an online system for selling life insurance we only built the front end and just typed the data in the legacy system. Tedious, but to the end user the system worked as expected, and they loved it.
Really bad at pitching
“It is your destiny” Really? I mean come on; he is even trying to sell his product! What makes the dark side so great? What problems does it solve? The emperor obviously doesn’t look like the most desirable employer, and despite the fact that questionable healthcare seems to be on the benefits list I am yet to see a stormtrooper smile.
In a previous post I explained the three-by-three pitching framework and in the Product Management training, we run students through several variants of constructing a pitch for your vision. Product Managers cannot use fear to rally their troops, nor can they appeal to destiny. You have to sell your product or rather said: the problem you can solve, not just outside the company, but inside as well.
Not using market feedback
“All right so these are the plans for the new battle star? Let’s make sure we don’t expose those reactor exhausts any more, since last time we launched our product a user managed to blow the whole thing up. So no more small pipes okay?” (Turns out you can now fly a space ship through the entire thing.)
If users misuse your product, it is not their fault. It’s yours. Now you can get away with a note in the user manual (as Apple once did: “Do not eat iPod Shuffle”) buy you may need to rethink the user experience a bit.
Talk to users. That’s it. Only then revert to tools like customer journey mapping to shape, convey and verify your understanding of how the customer experiences your product and make sure you address the issues that matter.
Changing scope, a recipe for feature gluttony
“I am altering the deal, pray I do not alter it any further…” That must sound familiar to almost everyone in a product organization. Don’t be fooled it’s not just every developer that recognizes this when talking to the Product Manager. To account managers, sales and marketing this is, unfortunately, a very common situation.
If you do not have a balanced mechanism to measure scope changes anything goes. Product Managers should take a holistic approach at prioritization so we measure objectively what is important and what is not.
My colleague Pieter has created an excellent overview of the best ways to schedule your backlog. All you need to add to that is a way to measure business value. I tend to use perverseness and impact for that.
Lead by escalation
Use of (the) force should be forbidden for Product Managers. I’ve seen one manager who, after a rather rebellious standup took the team lead aside and whispered: “you know with whom you will have your appraisal review next month.” You want autonomous aligned teams, not enforced teams, or worse enforced individuals.
So to summarize:
“Ego is the path to the dark side. Ego leads to reality distortion. Reality distortion leads to stop talking to users. Stop talking to users leads to inside-out products. Inside-out products lead to suffering.”
Want to learn more about using martial arts in product management? Go order the book from bol.com if you are in the Netherlands or Belgium or sign up to get the international edition.
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