Monday, April 11, 2011

wondering: when to let go of your "product focus"

I thought I had lost it forever, but there it was, in the bottom of a plastic bag full of crib mattress pads I discovered while cleaning out my basement.

My Newton MessagePad 120, nestled in its leather case with business cards from the (long defunct) Newton Source store in NYC tucked inside it.  Four AA batteries and one backup battery later, it booted up fine, looking as tidy as it did in 1995 when it went missing.

Alas, its handwriting recognition is still awful.  And it won't let me set its date to April 2011.

It's still as beautiful a piece of hardware as it was when it was new.  It's still delightful, even all these years later, for what it is.  But I've moved on.

I wonder if the #prodmgmt responsible for this device still think about it, or if they've moved on too.  They're all (obviously) doing something else today with their professional lives.  I doubt any of them still use a Newton.

But they still have users.  Some of them are very, very devoted. And I bet there are many more who would be ready to have their devotion restored, under the right circumstances.  Still, most have moved on.  It's the way of things.

I don't think about my old products very often, but I think about my old users, customers I used to care about deeply back when I was very, very devoted to delighting them.  I wonder if any of them are still delighted, or if, like me, they've moved on to other products, other problems.

It's why, as Boss Strouse once said, you don't meet many product managers over 50 - because by the time you hit that age, you've figured out that it is organizations that last, not products.  If you care deeply about people and you're trained as a product manager, eventually you need to let go of your product-focus and become organization-focused and brand-centric if you want to keep on delighting people over time.

Because those are the only two things that can last - products never do.  They're not supposed to.

So when is it time to let go of your product focus?

You'll know.  It's one of those forest and trees problems.

"That is. . .so frustrating.  I made it all the way to the end of the piece and you spring some zen mumbo-jumbo on me?  Damn.  This is why Cauvin and the other PM bloggers kick your butt these days.  They answer questions.  Forest and trees. . .you're losing it."

"What can I say.  There are some things you can't teach, you have to find them out for yourself.  All I can do is let people know that the question is looming out there so they're not surprised when it hits them."

"You used to be a lot more fun."



Larry said...

Very true in today's ephemeral world. I am struggling to keep that product focus but you've opened my eyes to what may lie just beyond the horizon. Damn you in the best way!

Aging Ophelia said...

A perceptive piece, no less useful because of the necessary mystery at the end-- when will i know these things??/ when i know them. True of many arts. Very applicable to other creative structures than business/management.

Olaf said...

Your comment about no product managers over 50 is very thought-provoking. I wonder if there's a way to keep that product focus from a design perspective--there are designers over 50, right? I'll have to chew on this one for a while. Thanks!