Be Obi-Wan Kenobi, not Luke Skywalker
As a company or a product, our story doesn’t really matter to our customers. The customer does not care who our founders are or why they created the company.
The customer wants to feel like their story is important. Listen to your customer, make them feel like Luke Skywalker.
–Jimmy Fritz the CEO of KennedyBlue.com
At the Sioux Falls Innovation Expo
This is a great article about the value of substitutes in different industries. As a product manager you should always thinking about what products are a substitute or a compliment to your product. Even if the primary substitute is non-consumption, how do you have to build your product to get people off their couch and to make them take an action.
It is worth remembering that many unfashionable large businesses create value in ways that are often under-appreciated. No one will ever write gushingly about McDonald’s or Starbucks or PremierLodgeExpress. But what these large chains do is valuable, even if you never use them. They effectively raise what I call the ‘threshold of crappiness’ in the sectors in which they operate. To operate successfully as a coffee shop or a sandwich bar or hotel (or a minicab firm), you have to be at least as good as a chain or else you fail. This raises the bar for everyone. You can get better coffee in a truckstop now than at Claridge’s in 1990.
Here is a great article from HBR about starting a new job or just trying to cultivate collaborative relationships:
During your first month in a company, take time to ask your boss these questions:
-How do you prefer to give and receive feedback and be kept informed?
-What are your most important goals for the year, and how do they fit into the company’s strategic objectives?
-What are the two to three most critical accomplishments I need to achieve within a year, and how will they be measured?
-What should I accomplish in the next six months?
-In what specific ways can I help you succeed?
–Harvard Business Review
Even when you find genuinely good things to copy, there’s another pitfall to be avoided. Be careful to copy what makes them good, rather than their flaws. It’s easy to be drawn into imitating flaws, because they’re easier to see, and of course easier to copy too. For example, most painters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used brownish colors. They were imitating the great painters of the Renaissance, whose paintings by that time were brown with dirt. Those paintings have since been cleaned, revealing brilliant colors; their imitators are of course still brown.
The lesson here for product managers is to make sure you understand the customer for that feature you are thinking of copying. You never know when a feature that looks so bright and shinny from the outside is another product manager’s nightmare feature on the inside.
The competitor’s customers are probably different, their customer problems are probably different, and their long term strategy is probably different. If you aren’t building something that is truly valuable to your customer, you could end up with a feature that flops…that stays “brown”.
This is a great article on how to be a patient change agent:
- People don’t like hearing that entrenched problems are “totally fixable” (none of us do — not just those “other” people).
- To you, the fix is “common sense”, but to outsiders it may be counterintuitive.
- By definition, a problem that remains entrenched is not “totally fixable” (without a change in context, actors, intent, etc.) On paper it may be fixable. In context, it is not.
At a minimum, ask someone:
Can you describe an elephant in the room that I will quickly encounter, will think is totally fixable, but will be wrong? Why is the status quo difficult to change?
“Semper Gumby” is the unofficial motto of the Marines. It is a play on the phrase “Semper Fi”, which means always faithful. Semper Gumby is a reminder to embrace change and to embrace the best (and sometimes hardest) parts of the agile product management methodology.
Bad software or bad products are really easy to make. In fact, you don’t really have to try to make bad software. If you don’t try, it will just happen by itself.
Like making moldy bread.
Nobody likes moldy bread.