Product Managers Know To Never Go Hunting With Beach Balls

by drjim on January 14, 2013

Sometimes you have to change directions…

Sometimes you have to change directions…
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If you got a chance to sit down with another product manager and share with them what you thought that they would have to do in order to be successful, what would you tell them? I’m thinking that a lot of us would tell them that they needed to make sure that once they came up with a development plan for their product, they needed to make sure that their team stuck with it. This is considered to be part of the product development definition. It turns out that this just might be the worst advice that you could give to a product manager…

Why Beach Balls Are The Wrong Thing To Take When You Go Hunting

If you decided that you were going to go out into the woods and go hunting, you’d probably like to take a weapon along with you. When you were picking out what weapon to take, what criteria would you use to make a decision? No matter what your exact criteria was, I’m willing to bet that you would not decide to take beach balls along with you to accomplish your task.

Why not? Simple: when you saw the duck or deer or whatever you were hunting, throwing a beach ball at them would not accomplish what you wanted – you’d be going home hungry. A beach ball travels too slowly and really doesn’t accomplish anything when it reaches its target.

What this all has to do with product management is pretty clear: all too often we product managers believe that the sooner we start a new product development program, the quicker we’ll be able to successfully launch a new product. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What ends up happening is that we start too many new product programs at the same time. When we do this, then things move very slowly because the company doesn’t have the resources or the staff to fully commit to developing the new product. This means that the new product project is going to end up taking too long and the market for the product will probably have changed by the time we finally get it out the door. Going hunting with beach balls never works.

What’s The Best Way To Run A Product Development Project?

So now that we know how not to run a new product development program, it brings us to the question of just exactly how we should be running one of these programs. What’s the right answer?

The #1 thing that all product managers need to agree on is that we need to reduce the amount of new product development work that is currently in progress at our company. The more that we have going on at any point in time, the more diluted our efforts will be.

If you need further proof that this is a good idea, then all you have to do is dig out your university queuing theory text books and look up Little’s Law. Simply put, this law says that how long you’ll be standing in line is a function of how many people are in front of you and how many people are servicing the line. Your new product development projects are ruled by this law also.

In order to be a successful product manager, make sure that you limit the number of new product development projects your company is working on at any given point in time. By doing this you’ll be making sure that what products you do work on get to market quickly and have a much better chance of being a success.

What All Of This Means For You

Creating new product is one of the most important tasks that any product manager does. All too often we can get caught up in the multiple new markets that our company is trying to enter and we’ll allow many new product development programs to all be started at the same time. This is never a good idea.

One of the biggest problems that product managers can run into is when their company starts to work on too many new product development projects at the same time. Doing this will make the process take too long and the market will change before you get there. Instead, limit the amount of work that you have going on at any time and focus on completing it as quickly as possible.

What this means is that you need to be constantly looking at how much new product development work in progress your company has going on. Keeping this at a manageable level is key to being a successful product manager.

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

Question For You: What do you think is the proper amount of work in progress is for a product manager?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you got a chance to sit down with another product manager and share with them what you thought that they would have to do in order to be successful, what would you tell them? I’m thinking that a lot of us would tell them that they needed to make sure that their product had as many features as was humanly possible to cram in there. This is considered to be part of the product development definition. It turns out that this just might be the worst advice that you could give to a product manager…

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