Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Muggle, A Wizard, or a Product Manager?

Minister Fudge looks across the table at Professor Dumbledore. Even though the man has always made Fudge uncomfortable, he is still the most brilliant wizard Fudge knows.

"My days at the Ministry are numbered," Fudge says. "Given how messed up things are in the wizarding world, I'm thinking about going into business in the muggle world."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkle brightly as a smile plays across his lips. "Business in the muggle world is tough. How will you know you are selling what a muggle wants to buy?"

Fudge smirks. "I'm not the fool you think I am. I'm going to hire a muggle to tell me what muggles like."

Dumbledore nods sagely, eyes twinkling even more brightly behind his half-moon spectacles. "You are wise. But how will a muggle know what a wizard is capable of making? Seven years at Hogwarts gives a witch quit a range of skills that your muggle won't know about."

A look of panic crosses Fudge's face. "I hadn't thought of that! I guess I do need wizards telling me what I can make."

Dumbledore raises his bushy eyebrows. "I remember Harry Potter telling me about the first time his friend, Ron Weasely, called him on the muggle talking device called a telephone. While it was humorous to hear Harry tell the story of Ron generally making a fool of himself, his muggle uncle was far from pleased. I could tell you dozens of stories about our Muggle Studies class that would show you wizards really don't understand muggles."

Sweat breaks out on Fudge's brow, trickling into his eyes. "So I do need a muggle! I'll hire him immediately." Fudge looks at Dumbledore. Those damn twinkling eyes. I know he's laughing at me!

Dumbledore chuckles at Minister Fudges discomfort. "Minister, if you hire a muggle, you will have to bring him into our world to teach him what can be done. What happens after your muggle has been in the wizarding world for a while helping your wizards and witches?  They won't really be muggles anymore and certainly won't know about the muggle world anymore."

"So it's hopeless, isn't it?"

"No, Minister, it is not. What you need is a Product Manager!"

When you hire a professional product manager, you are hiring somebody who understands how to systematically bridge the gap between the market and the producers.

I've experienced many companies who have hired customers as product managers and found themselves with a person who understands the market today but doesn't understand how to keep up as the market changes over time. Invariably, these become dated, me-too products instead of market leaders as the "product managers" lead the product based on their out-of-date knowledge and what their competitors are doing.

I've also experienced companies who just throw an engineer into the roll because the product is "too technical" for a business guy. Neither the company nor the engineer are particularly interested in making sure she can accomplish the job (after all, it must be easier than the engineering work). These products tend to become technological monstrosities: Amazing features but no clear understanding of nor solution to the customers' pains. Features get added based on what gets voted for most with no clear product direction.

The key point here is that product management is a learned skill. People can move into the career, but they will need to be trained. If you are planning on hiring a junior member of a product management team to train, both of the above paths are completely valid. 

On the other hand, if you are looking for somebody to come in, understand your market, and direct your product to bigger and better things, you would be much better foregoing the muggles and wizards and choosing a product manager instead.

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