Why Failure Is A Product Manager’s Best Friend

by drjim on January 28, 2013

The first version of your product doesn't always have to look pretty…

The first version of your product doesn’t always have to look pretty…
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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 Product Managers Fail (One Reason)

It is with a deep level of embarrassment that I must confess to you that, along with many other product managers, I suffer from one of the biggest problems that product managers face. This is a fault that can cause your next product development project to crash and burn – and that’s not going to look good on your product manager resume. What is this terrible personal flaw you ask? It’s the desire to get the product right the first time.

So what does that actually mean? It means that during the development process, I want what pops out the other side after all of the work has been done to be a product that exactly meets my customer’s needs. A product that they will be more than happy to pay me in order to own. However, all too often it doesn’t work out that way.

The reason is that my development teams don’t want to make a mistake. They don’t want to screw up. That means that they follow a standard 6-step product development process that is a part of the product development definition (specify, design, build, test, scale, and launch). Generally this process has “gates” at the end of each stage so that the product development team can report on their status to the company’s management.

The problem with all of this is that I am not the best guesser in the world. I miss things and so there is no way that I can tell my product development team how to create the perfect product. This means that anything that is discovered during testing is generally considered to be a bad thing – nobody who is developing a new product likes surprises.

The Right Way To Create A New Product

So if my natural inclination is to do the product creation process the wrong way, what’s the right way? The first step is to create a culture of accepting that you’ll “get it wrong the first time”. I can’t say that they have this culture, but Microsoft is the best example that I know of a company that generally takes about 3 times before they get a product right.

Push the initial product through the process as quickly as possible and keep your costs low. Learn quickly from everything that goes wrong. Take a look with a critical eye at the product that has been created and determine what’s wrong with it.

One thing that is generally missing from the standard new product development process is the ability to do early and frequent tests of what is being created. All too often the teams hold off on testing until they have the whole thing ready. By then it’s generally too late.

It’s as much a mindset as a process. If as the product manager you can communicate to your team that they don’t have to get it all right the first time. Perhaps they just need to get it “right enough”, then the whole dynamics of the new product creation process will change. People will be willing to do more testing and they’ll be willing to interpret test results in a way that will cause the product to change and become more desirable for your end customer.

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 creating a perfect product the first time around. I’m sorry, but none of us is perfect and that’s just not going to happen.

When we try to create a perfect product the first time, then we implement fixed development programs and all too often hold off on doing testing until it’s too late in the game to fix the problems that we might find. Instead, we need to acknowledge that we won’t get it right the first time and instead we should try to make it “good enough”. Then we can learn from our testing and create a better next product. It almost seems like this should be part of our product manager job description.

What this means is that you need to be constantly looking at how the new product development process works in your company and determine if you are trying too hard to create a perfect product the first time around. Communicate to the team that this is not the goal and ask them to create a “good enough” product and then learn from the process.

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

Question For You: What do you think that you should do with your first generation product: sell it, use in pilots, or just give it away?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If there is one thing that really should scare a product manager, it’s the prospect of using the product development definition to create a brand new product. I mean really, just how likely is that you are going to fail big time? Fairly good if you ask me & that’s not going to look good on your product manager resume. If only there was some way to ensure that you’d at least be able to get your new product to market. Then you’d have a fighting chance – you could really use your Product Management skills. Good news – I’ve got 10 tips for you to use to make sure that your next product development effort is a success…

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