What Do Product Managers Need To Know About Self-Driving Cars?

Self-driving cars come with a whole new set of rules
Self-driving cars come with a whole new set of rules
Image Credit: Travis Wise

The world of automobiles stands on the edge of a brave new world. Due in part to a big push by Google along with a number of universities and other car manufactures, the era of self-driving cars is fast approaching and this is going to dramatically change the product development definition for what a car is. As you can well imagine, the complexities associated with creating a car that can navigate the real world of our streets and highways are huge. However, it’s starting to appear as though most of the big issues have been solved. What this means is that product managers have to start to get ready for the arrival of self-driving cars.

The Challenges That Come With Self-Driving Cars

If you ask me, a self-driving car is pretty cool. I can just imagine myself getting into my car and then telling it “take me to work”. While I sit back and read the morning’s newspaper, my car deals with traffic, stoplights, merging on the highway and finally, finding an open parking spot at work. I’ll be a little bit surprised when I arrive at work – where did the time go? Since I’ve seen things like this before in the movies, I feel as though I have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

As ideal as my mental image of what it would be like to live with a self-driving car is, I do realize that I am living in a fantasy world. The reality is that self-driving cars are brand new and that means that there is going to be a period of adjustment that will be required. Drivers are going to have to learn how to deal with these new beasts and there will be many lessons to be learned by everyone involved. What is going to be most critical is that everyone understand that self-driving cars are not magic – instead, they are complex machines and just like every machine out there they have their benefits and limitations.

We already have cars that are much smarter than the cars that we used to have. There is a whole collection of fancy features that have never been available before: radar based collision avoidance systems, sophisticated cruise control, and self-parking systems. However, there have been a number of different incidents with these fancy cars where drivers have been injured or even killed despite having all of the bells and whistles. Clearly there is more work to be done.

How Product Managers Need To Deal With Self-Driving Cars

The arrival of self-driving cars is a new thing. However, and perhaps obviously, this is not the first time that a new thing has shown up. A great example of something else that was radical and new when it first appeared is the autopilot function for pilots of airplanes. The autopilot feature first showed up during World War I however it was not used to fly across the Atlantic until 1947. Autopilot features evolved slowly and were not made generally available until the individual elements had been completely tested.

The experts who are studying self-driving cars believe that the complex vehicles should never be turned over to a driver without that driver receiving a great deal of training first. The reason for this is that everything is very new to us. The experts believe that there is no way that we are going to be able to get into a self- driving car and be able to understand what the limitations of the car are.

The people who make automated systems for airplanes have some suggestions for self-driving car product managers. They tell us that we need to realize that reducing the risks associated with our product will take time. One area that designers and regulators are seeking self-driving car perfection in is in collision avoidance. There are a lot of subtleties involved in ensuring that your car does not come into contact with any other vehicles that are on the road. The secret to making this happen may be to provide drivers with additional training about the way that their car’s autopilot works.

What All Of This Means For You

One thing is for sure: the era of self-driving cars will be upon us sooner rather than later. As product managers we need to realize that this is going to cause big changes and we need to start getting ready if this is something that we want to be able to add to our product manager resume. The key here is that people can’t just switch over to self-driving cars, there’s going to have to be a period of adjustment.

As cool as self-driving cars are, we need to realize that they are complex systems. These systems are going to require that we take the time to fully understand how they work before we turn our lives over to them. An example of another product that had big impacts using technology is airplane autopilots. Before we start riding around in self-driving cars, we first need to understand what their limitations are. Coming to grips with what the limitations of these cars are is something that will take time.

Our lives are about to be significantly changed with the arrival of self-driving cars. Product managers need to understand that this is not covered in our product manager job description and so in order for these new types of cars to be successful, there is a lot of customer training about limitations that will need to happen. If can get our customers to understand what they don’t know yet, then we’ll have a better chance of makings sure that their first self-driving car experience is a positive one!

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

Question For You: Just how much training do you think that it is going to take in order to safely use a self-driving car?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

For a product manager there can be no bigger day than the day that your product gets launched. You’ve been working on creating the best product possible based on your product development definition for who knows how long and finally the time has come to show the world what you have created. You wake up that morning filled with a mixture of excitement and dread and then you go out and send your baby out to meet the world (and start to update your product manager resume). However, over at Samsung this is exactly what their product managers did only to have their baby burst into flames and come home. What went wrong?