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Product Management is easier said than done

It’s easy to know what to do until you have skin in the game

Being my own boss as a freelance opened my eyes once more.

I just realized the major difference between advising people and doing it for yourself: the stakes. When you’re advising people, well, it’s not your company which is at stake. Of course, you’d better give good advices, but it’s not the same. It’s just easy to stand back.

This is especially true for Product Management.

A common wrong behavior which can kill any product is to follow his guts.

That’s the core of a proper approach to Product Management: believe data, not beliefs.

This is the core idea behind Lean Startup: run experiments. Challenge any belief. Don’t take anything for granted. Step back.

Stepping back is really hard when the product is your baby, when the product is key to your company’s success, when your future depends on this product.

I realize now that as a consultant, to successfully help my customers, there is much more to it than simply give tools, design processes and teach skills.

No, the people I try to help are so much invested in their product that it is hard for them to take the good decisions. It is not so much about the tools, processes and skills than about being unemotional.

And this is hard, really hard when it is about your company, about your product, about your ideas.

“Let’s make a Story Map”

User Story Mapping is not that hard. Of course there are better and worse ways to do it. Of course you get better by practicing and once you’re used to it you produce a better result in less time. But in the end, if you’re smart, you will get the hang of it and you will use it successfully. It is just a tool.

Now what about the content itself of the User Story Map? Why this user journey and not another one? Why this order? Why these milestones? In other words: what are the hypothesis that led to this User Story Map?

Most of the time, hypothesis are not made explicit, and too often they are not considered as hypothesis at all.

We are simply convinced — dare I say: we are sure — that it is the good product to build.

In that case we are listening to our guts, not to data.

So we end up building a really nice and comprehensive User Story Map of the new product. We end up really proud of it because we went in so much details compared to the rough ideas we had in mind. We were already quite sure it was a good idea, but now there is no doubt left.

Let’s get to work, and in six months from now the product will be a success, that’s for sure!

WRONG.

The earlier a defect is found, the cheaper it is to fix.

Building the wrong product can be the most expensive mistake ever if the product is allowed to be fully built up… Even worse, sometimes the product is kept alive for years and years before being finally taken down.

Yet, fixing this problem can be the cheapest fix ever by avoiding building the wrong product at the earliest stages.

Skin in the game

Again, that’s easy to say for me as an external consultant but it is hard to live for the owner of the idea whose company depends on the product.

There is name for this: skin in the game.

It changes everything.

It’s really hard to stay neutral then.

We tend to be fond of our ideas and creations as if they were our children… Would you kill your children? Would that be easy?

That’s really hard: to both have skin in the game and stay objective to stick to the data. Be aware of how hard it is!

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