Product Management Rule #1: Rules are Meant to be Broken

42 Rules of Product Management

Product Management Rule #1 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Greg Cohen, Senior Principal Consultant, 280 Group

Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly. -Dalai Lama

The best product managers I have known are independent people who are passionate about their products and have deep conviction about how to make them succeed. Sometimes this means bending the rules, disregarding the advice of management, and ignoring conventional wisdom.  This is important for progress.  We must always look at things in new ways.  For often, true innovation requires that we challenge the status quo in the creation of new products that deliver significantly more value to the customer than existing alternatives.  If we are fortunate, have done our homework, and are right in our conviction, we can even create an entirely new market.

Some successful examples of rule breakers include:

Henry Ford creating affordable automobiles:

In 1908, Henry Ford produced an automobile that was differentiated in one characteristic—it was the first “affordable” automobile.  The price continued to drop each year and within ten years, 50 percent of cars in the United States were Ford Model Ts.

Frederick Smith of FedEx and guaranteed overnight delivery of goods:

Fred Smith launched his overnight delivery service in April 1973 with a twenty-five-city network.  On its first day, the company delivered 186 packages. Smith worked hard to grow the company’s volume and network, but also had to contend with a postal monopoly that prevented FedEx from delivering packages, and ill-suited airline regulations that first restricted the company to flying only small jets.  The company struggled to have enough cash to survive during these early years. Federal Express became profitable in 1975 and was finally allowed to fly large jets in 1977 when air cargo was deregulated.  Today FedEx is a household brand with worldwide operations and its fleet travels nearly five hundred
thousand miles per day.

Masura Ibuka of Sony and the transistor radio:

Although not the inventor of the transistor radio, Masura Ibuka saw its potential and seized upon the opportunity to license the technology from AT&T when they made it available in 1952. Ibuka and partner Akio Morita convinced Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to finance the $25,000 licensing fee and then went to work creating the first “pocket” radio under the Sony brand.  Sony repeated a similar feat of miniaturization in 1978 when it introduced its Walkman line of portable cassette players.

Each of the individuals above knew that the path to success would not be achieved by following the rules. Each also dealt with many setbacks.  Ford did not succeed until his third company.  His first company, Detroit Automobile Company, failed, and he left his second, which later became Cadillac, due to a disagreement with investors. The first Model T cars only came in black. Similarly with Sony, Ibuka’s first two radios were not commercially successful.  His third attempt still had inferior sound quality to the tube radios of the day. Fred Smith overcame the rules of commerce including airline regulation and the US Postal Service’s monopoly.  What carried all three visionaries through these challenging times was the strength of their convictions and their relentless pursuit of customer value.

Thus, believing in yourself is key and creating customer value is paramount. These two things are all that really matter.  You must trust in yourself to have the strength necessary to deal with the adversity and setbacks that sit between product failure and product success.  Further, only by creating customer value do we ensure the long-term viability of our respective companies.  Generating profits and shareholder value are secondary. These are outcomes of delivering a product to the market that customers find valuable and better than the alternatives.  Each of the visionaries above understood this.

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