What Should Tesla Product Managers Do When Your Customers Try To Break Their Product?

 Caption: Customers are trying to break Tesla's auto drive feature

Caption: Customers are trying to break Tesla’s auto drive feature
Image Credit: randychiu

Let us imagine for just a moment that you are a product manager who is in charge of a hot product – everyone wants to have one of these things. However, what if once you sold your product to a customer, they started trying to break it? Not only did they do this, but they also fully used social media to show people how they were trying to break it? What should a product manager do?

Tesla Autopilot System

Unless you’ve been living with your head under a rock, you’ve heard about the Tesla motor company and their quest to create a product development definition that will allow them to build all electric cars. They make very pretty cars that go very fast and a lot of people seem to want them. What makes these cars so very interesting is that a great deal of software goes into them to control everything from the batteries, to the over-the-air software download system, and most recently the new Autopilot feature.

When it first gets described to you, you’d probably think that the Autopilot feature sounds like something that you’d like to have in your car. What this feature does is to the cars hardware and software features to provide the driver with such things as hands-free driving at highway speeds as well as the ability to automatically change lanes. Tesla has very clearly identified this software as being “beta” software. What that means is that it’s not perfect. There are a lot of things that it can’t do. It won’t work if it can’t “see” the lane markers, it can’t detect construction cones, etc.

However, you can tell your customers whatever you want and that does not mean that they are going to listen to what you are saying. Tesla owners who have had the new feature downloaded and activated on their cars are doing all sorts of foolish things and then making videos of them doing it and posting these videos on social media. Oh oh, the Tesla product managers may have had the best of intentions when they rolled this new feature out, but it looks like it may have gotten away from them. If they are not careful, this may not look so good on their product manager resume.

Trying To Manage Crazy Customers

Before we dive too deeply into what is going on here, perhaps we should all take a step back and try to figure out what Telsa’s motivation for both making and releasing this feature is. No matter how cool it is, by itself it probably won’t help them to sell very many additional cars. What I believe that Tesla is trying to do today is to prepare us for the future. The future consists of automatous cars transporting us to where we want to go with little or no input from us.

The smart product managers at Tesla realize that making the jump from today’s people controlled cars to tomorrow’s computer controlled cars is going to be quite jarring for those of us who grew up taking driver’s ed. By releasing this feature now, even though it’s still in beta, they are starting to introduce their customer base to the idea that a car can someday drive itself. No, it can’t do it today, but with the technology that is available today, everyone can start to see what tomorrow is going to look like.

In order to stop their customers from pushing the boundaries of what this beta software can do, the Tesla product managers have designed in some characteristics of the software feature that are designed to limit how crazy their customers can get. The most important thing that they’ve done is to add a feature that requires the driver’s hands to be on the wheel several times each minute. If it does not detect this, then the car starts to slow down. No, crazy customers may still find a way around this safety feature, but it sure seems like the Tesla product managers are taking the right steps.

What All Of This Means For You

The Tesla product managers have released a “beta” feature on the world. They have upgraded the software in their all-electric cars to permit them to quasi-automatously drive themselves. The cars can self-drive on highways and can even make lane change decisions by themselves.

Some of their customers have been pushing the envelope and reading newspapers while driving, etc. The Tesla product managers, based on their , product manager job description, have tried to counter their crazy customers by installing limits to the new feature that require the driver to keep their hands on the wheel at all times. Only time will tell if these limits are enough to reign in their crazy customers and their desire to create videos of themselves doing things that they should not be doing and then posting the videos onto social media sites.

I think that the Tesla product managers are taking the right steps. They may have ventured too far too fast, but their thinking was good. If Tesla wants to sell fully autonomous cars in the future, then they need to start to create the customers who will buy those cars today. This new feature is a single baby step in that direction. I believe that the crazy customer issue is a temporary thing and over time, everyone will come to appreciate just how smart Tesla cars are.

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

Question For You: If someone crashes a Tesla while using Autopilot, what do you think the Tesla product managers should do?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

We all know who HBO is, right? They are the premium cable television channel that even if you subscribe to cable, if you want HBO you have to pay an additional fee to get. Back in the day, HBO was the place where you could watch recent movies before they showed up in your local Blockbuster video rental store. However, now HBO is the place for great new shows like True detective, Girls, and Silicon Valley. However, more and more people are “cutting the cord” and dropping their cable subscriptions. What are the HBO product managers to do?