Saturday, March 3, 2012

Product Management: build a product to be counted

You have an awesome idea.  You saw a problem.  You have been thinking about a new way of solving it.  You have been perfecting it to get it just right, i.e. simple and highly usable.  Now you are ready to build it.  You go find an angel investor.  You go out and get coders who can implement your idea into an actual product.
All awesome ideas need to be turned into products first.
Ok, I admit it; there are some exceptions...
I've seen products built this way.  You first come up with an idea, go look for an investor and get a team to build it.  But I would not recommend you follow these steps.  Why?  It's because product development process is not linear.  I don't care how great you are in thinking through details in user experience and know where market is going to be in a year.  Problem is that what you have is still an idea.  It's not an actual product.

Product managers are dreamers by nature.  We dream things.  We dream big.  We like solving problems that customers run into from our own perspectives.  We have many ideas (and so does everyone else too).  And although software patent trolls would like to have us believe ideas are what makes companies valuable, we all know that ideas are cheap.  In fact, ideas alone are worthless.  Idea must be applied to a problem and to a market to create value, AND must be realized (implemented in software product) to become valuable.

The trouble is that when you start implementing your great solution with engineering team you will discover many "this cannot be done the way you thought of", or "you haven't thought of this case", or even worse "wouldn't users be confused by your UX design?" situations.  Implementing a concept to working code is continuously defining the behavior and scope of product.  It's because a concept is what exists in one's imagination and software product is a thing that exists as machine instructions.  Product development process is even more handicapped by the fact that concept exists in Product Manager's head while code is written by Programmers.

Product development process is inherently a team effort.  That is why so many VCs won't even look at you if you don't have a product and some customers (although it did happen quite a bit in late 1990's before the Dotcom bust).  You first have to have a good team.  Then you and your team must create the product from the ideas.

Funny thing is that most of Product Managers are aware of this fact.  Many of PMs in Silicon Valley including myself have engineering background and are familiar with product development process.  But what we often forget is that our idea is only worth a few cents unless it is made into a product.  And in order to turn it into a product, there are lots of collaboration work needed with your development team.

PMs must think on their feet to tweak the original idea based on questions and comments from Programmers.  At the same time PMs must realize that it's not having wealth of ideas that counts.  It's the rate at which you and your team can deliver products.

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