What kind of car do you currently drive? There’s a real good chance that it’s a Toyota because Toyota has become the #1 car maker in the world. That used to be all fine and good, and then a little problem popped up. It turns out that a whole bunch of Toyotas are suddenly having a problem: the accelerator pedal is getting stuck in the “all the way down” position and people have been crashing their Toyotas. If you’re a Toyota product manager, clearly you’ve got a mess on you hands. What should they do now?
What’s The Problem?
You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what the problem is. It turns out that in the case of Toyota’s stuck acceleration the cause of the problem isn’t completely understood. It’s pretty clear that the way that some of the floor mats were designed was wrong – they’ve gotten wedged in a way that kept the acceleration pedal pressed to the floor. That’s not a product feature.
Another cause of this problem is a bit more complicated. It appears as though there is something wrong with the pedal itself. Somehow the pedal is coming apart and is getting wedged in the “all the way down” position. This is the one that has everyone running scared.
We need to keep in mind that this is probably not an exhaustive list. I’m sure that there are also a bunch of cases in which there was user error – people pressed on the acceleration pedal when they thought that they were pressing on the brake. However, the end result, a crash, always seems to be the same.
How Can This Problem Be Fixed?
What would your first step as a Toyota product manager be once you learned of this problem? Hopefully you’d think of your customers first and not try to sweep this issue under the rug. One of the biggest selling features of Toyotas is that they are super reliable. Clearly having them turn into chariots of death is not going to do anything to help out with your branding efforts.
The correct first step was shown to us product managers a long time ago during the Tylenol product tampering scare. The product managers quickly pulled their products off the shelves once a public safety issue was detected. The product managers at Toyota have done the same thing: they’ve stopped selling new cars until this sudden acceleration problem is fixed.
This is a great first step; however, it’s what they do next that will really determine how this event is remembered. First they need find a complete fix to this problem quickly. Next they need to get the fix out to all of the cars that might have the problem as quickly as possible. Finally, the actual process of having your car fixed needs to be as quick and enjoyable as possible. Free good coffee, a complementary newspaper, maybe even a doughnut or two while you wait for you pedal to be fixed and your car to be washed might do the trick.
What’s The Long-Term Impact On Products?
One of the things that we product manager seem to forget about when we are in the middle of a fire-fighting product-related crisis is that no matter how this all turns out, our products will never be the same again. We need to start realizing this and taking actions as early as possible.
In the case of the Toyota product managers, the biggest impact is going to be on the price of their product. Since they can never have a problem like this happen again, they are going to have to start to do more testing of each car. With the increase of both the number of computers being used in cars as well as the interdependencies between various car systems (engine, breaking, control, etc.) it sure seems as though the amount of software testing that is going to be required in order to ensure a safe product is going to go through the roof.
On top of becoming more expensive, Toyota is going to lose market share and its brand is going to be damaged. It’s going to take the Toyota product managers a long time to come back from this one.
What All Of This Means For You?
As product managers, it goes without saying that we need to be doing everything in our power to avoid ever having to recall our product. The damage done to our product’s reputation not to mention the expense of the recall are to be avoided at all costs.
With that being said, it makes a great deal of sense to move quickly if a serious product problem arises. The Toyota product managers have done this – they’ve made the hard decision to stop selling cars until the sudden acceleration problem can be fixed. This is a step in the right direction.
How the Toyota product managers go about solving this product problem will determine the long-term impacts. If they make the process of getting your car fixed quick, painless, and maybe even enjoyable, then they will have started the process of rebuilding their product’s reputation.
Question For You: What would you do to make the process of getting your Toyota car fixed the best possible experience?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Product managers may be very good at managing a product and making it a success in the marketplace; however, all too often we do a really bad job of looking for our next job. My point is that it’s all the other actions that we take during a job search that really end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Still confused? Maybe I should explain myself…