Teaching Product Managers How To Win Every Time In Vegas

by drjim on March 2, 2009

Product Managers Would Like To Be Able To Predict The Future

Product Managers Would Like To Be Able To Predict The Future

You walk into the casino and saunter over to the roulette wheel. Peeling off a wad of $100 bills, you plunk them down on black seven and then the wheel spins. When the ball comes to a rest, it is on, what else, black seven. You pick up your immense winnings and head for the door. Of course you were going to win, you’re a product manager.

If only it was so! Hey, it’s never easy being a Product Manger – we’re always expected to have all of the right answers. If there was one wish that we all share, it WOULD be to have the ability to predict the future (at least as far as our products are concerned).

The one area where this would be especially nice would be when we are trying to place bets on what future technology to tie our product to. We want to pick a winner, but how? Well Dr. Gerard Tellis and Dr. Ashish Sood have spent some time looking at how to do this and they’ve got some answers for us.

How Innovation Arrives: One mistake that product mangers often make is that we believe that successful new technologies will always follow the same standard path – they show up slower/smaller/less powerful than existing technology and then improve over time and eventually take over (as discussed in The Innovator’s Dilemma).

It turns out that this is not always the case. In fact, new technologies often show up that are better than existing technology, existing technology improves and is better than the new stuff, until finally the new stuff improves and comes to dominate the market.

Case in point are fluorescent bulbs – they were better than arc-discharge lighting when they were introduced in the 1930’s. Arc-discharge improved, kicked some fluorescent butt, and then fluorescent came back strong.

Metrics Rule Until They Change: Finally, product mangers can get hung up judging a technology by a metric that no longer matters. Case in point are televisions. Resolution used to be the way to tell sets apart from each other. However, in the 1980’s LCD screens started showing up and suddenly thinness and lightness suddenly became what everyone was looking for.

What all of this means is that Product Mangers need to keep their eyes open and realize that picking new technologies to use in their product(s) is not an easy job. Look at everything that is going on and spend some time trying to imagine the future and you’ll do a good job.

Have you ever had to pick a new technology for your product? How did you go about picking it? How did it end up working out for you? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

josh duncan March 8, 2009 at 8:20 am

excellent point on the metrics! MPG was not that important a factor in buying a car until gas hit $5 bucks!

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The Cranky Product Manager April 4, 2009 at 6:33 pm

Nice cheesecake photo. Really enhances your article’s content, doesn’t it?

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Dr. Jim Anderson April 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm

CPM: the picture was selected specifically BECAUSE of the cheese factor. Getting folks to the blog is the purpose of the photo. With a little luck, the content causes folks to come back. I like to think of this as being a “Sports Illustrated” sort of idea…

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