Product Management Failure: Google’s Moto X

Google’s Moto X is pretty, but it could have been better…
Google’s Moto X is pretty, but it could have been better…
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As you slave away at your product management job, you probably dream of how great it would be to work at some progressive company where (finally!) your skills as a product manager would be truly appreciated. Some company that understood the important role that we product managers play and who would give us the authority to make things happen. A company like, oh say, Google. How great would that look on your product manager resume? Well, not to burst your bubble or anything, but the recent release of the new Moto X cell phone by Motorola seems to indicate that even these guys haven’t got the product management thing straight yet…

The Project: Moto X

So just exactly what was the “Moto X” project? It turns out that it was a very important product for Motorola. A while back Google made a surprise move and purchased Motorola. A few years ago, Motorola had been a leading manufacturer of consumer cell phones with their Razr, Droid, and StarTAC lines. However, they had fallen behind and consumers were no longer purchasing their phones.

Google’s purchase of Motorola was seen as a daring gamble by the firm. For the first time they were going to get into the business of manufacturing real products instead of just being a service provider. The big question that everyone was asking was what would the next cell phone that Motorola created under the guidance of their new Google master look like?

That phone was the Moto X. Google spent US$13B to purchase Motorola, everyone expected great things from the next phone. Given that there was this much excitement and attention being paid to the Moto X project, you’d think that the product managers would have no problems getting anything that they’d need, right? Turns out that you’d be wrong…

What Went Wrong In The Product Management Area

The stories that are starting to leak out about how the development and launch of the Moto X project went are starting to tell a tale that most product managers would easily recognize. One of the biggest issues had to do with the Android operating system that the phone uses. Developers of the phone were able to work closely with other parts of Google, but when they sought help from the Android team they often received no response, people who worked there said. Ouch!

Additionally, there were significant concerns on the team that the Chrome Web browser app (created by Google) wouldn’t be able to come preinstalled on the Moto X, because developers couldn’t get information they needed from Google as to how it would function on the device, said a person familiar with the project. This is a clear example of a failure to communicate.

Not having a strong relationship may have prevented Motorola from incorporating the latest version of Android, said two people familiar with the matter. Considering that the phone is being made by a division of Google, you would think that having access to the latest version of the phone’s operating system would be a no-brainer part of the product development definition.

Finally, in the words of one Motorola employee “It’s not like we were equally disadvantaged—we were more disadvantaged.” Clearly, the Motorola employees felt that they had less access to the Google resources that they needed than people who worked at other firms did.

Clearly this is a product manager failure. These obvious communication issues needed to be worked out and worked out early on. Going up the management ladder to get issues resolved or getting on a plane and having a face-to-face meeting would have been two ways to make this happen. Yes, the product was launched, but it could have been so much better if only these issues had been resolved.

What This Means For You

It can be very easy to dream about how great life would be if only we worked at a different company. However, every so often we get reminded that every company has its own set of product management challenges. Google’s release of their Moto X cell phone shows us that even they have their own set of issues no matter what it says on their product manager job description.

The team that was responsible for managing the Moto X product ran into a set of classic product management challenges: communication problems. Despite the high priority of the project, they struggled to get the attention of the people that they needed to talk with.

These problems could have been solved with stronger product managers. There is no product problem that you can’t resolve, you just need to take the time to do it right! Learn from Google’s mistakes and make sure that your product doesn’t suffer from the same problems.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Who’s fault were the Moto X communication problems: Motorola’s or Google’s?

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