Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Ultimate Product Manager

Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple. Nobody was surprised, yet everybody was still shocked. There has been and will continue to be a lot of commentary about his reign at Apple and his business savvy. Personally, I look at Jobs as the ultimate product manager, who came into his own long before the profession itself did.

As my tribute to him, I'd like to take a few of his quotes and discuss them from the product perspective. Afterwards, I'll sum up with a few thoughts of my own.

A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.

As all great product managers know, you lead a company through great products. Once you start nickel and dining the product, while your accountants might love you next quarter, you have started down a path to mediocrity. Customers don't come in droves to a mediocre product. Steve practiced investing to gain returns, not quibbling about returns on investment.

We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.

Given all the demands Jobs has on his time, he still manages to focus on the details. Not just focused, but he sweats the details like no other person I've known of. And that, in turn, leads to lick-worthy buttons.

Apple's market share is bigger than BMW's or Mercedes's or Porsche's in the automotive market. What's wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?

You don't need to own the market. You don't even need a large percentage. If you are the best, you can command larger margins and thrive on a smaller piece of the pie while others race to the bottom..

For something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

When truly innovating, your customer can explain their pains and desires, but they won't be able to tell you the right solution. Instead, they will tell you to build a faster buggy. All product managers should have Jobs' empathy for his customers and the courage to fight to bring innovation to their customer. This applies to all products, not just highly complex ones.

[The iTunes music store] will go down in history as a turning point for the music industry. This is landmark stuff. I can’t overestimate it!

Jobs isn't afraid to go orthogonal to his products to add value. I'm sure he heard time and again, "Apple isn't a content company". Apple is still a software company that adds value through its hardware and the revenue content through iTunes brings is a very small percentage of Apple's revenue, yet the value it brings to Apple's product line is immeasurable. Maybe you need to become a content company to succeed.

I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.

Doing it once isn't enough. Nor is resting on your laurels. Product managers need to one-up themselves as much as any competitor.

And now for my thoughts:

First, a major component of any success is luck. Jobs could have had an ordinary life. His fate was not pre-ordained. Instead, he just kept trying, giving himself more chances to succeed. Keep giving yourself chances and your ticket could come up, too. Stop trying to excel, and your future is certain! Edison, 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb and all that.

Second, he was not alone. He surrounded himself with other brilliant people, trained them in what he expected and let them do their jobs. Notwithstanding that, he owned the products. He gave the final approvals, he made sure everything was just right, he didn't let anything out the door until it was right.

Finally, Steve appreciated simplicity. So many products try to be all things to all people and wind up being nothing to anybody. The first iPhone was released without copy and paste functionality, a move pundits said would doom it. In fact, looking back, the first iPhone didn't do much of anything, yet what it did, it did very well.

And although I know he will never read this, I want to say thanks. Thanks for the great products (boy, did I want a NeXTcube!) but, moreover, thanks for showing us how to make great products. Good luck in your fight! I can't wait to see your next product.

No comments: