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Product Management Rule #15: Get Your Hands Dirty

Product Management Rule #15 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by John Cook, VP of Consumer PC Marketing, Hewlett Packard Company

People who can practice theoretical product management are a dime a dozen. Those who shine are the ones who have that “aha” moment.

You must be willing to get your hands dirty if you want to be a great product manager.

I’m still amazed at the number of product mangers that seem to have little or no interest in actually using the product or service they’re developing. Some seem just as happy to go through the motions of the job with little or no passion and zero personal insights into what they’re marketing. For some product managers, it’s just a job it seems. And they could care less whether they’re making a new salad dressing or developing the next killer phone. You see, there’s nothing wrong being the product manager for a new salad dressing, but you better be taking home test batches and trying it on yourself before you test it on the public. Do you use your products every day? Do you contribute to bug count? Have you ever broken a hardware prototype? If you’re not, you’re not doing your job.

Just how do you expect to be credible with engineering, your manager, or even your peers if you’re not passionate about what you’re building? Being passionate means actually having an opinion and insights that can only be gained from actually hacking, cracking, and beating on the very thing you’re trying to develop.

With few exceptions (I have friends that develop surgical robots, for example), you must find a way to install the pre-alpha software, to test the earliest version of your new cloud service, or to break the latest prototype that engineering has. This is not optional. It’s a big (and important) part of your job to get inside your customer’s head. Don’t just talk about the “voice of the customer.” Be the customer.

Yes, yes, it’s a “survey of one,” but it’s absolutely necessary to being conversant and being able to more passionately (there’s that word again) support your business proposition.

I’ve found that people who can practice theoretical product management are a dime a dozen.

Those who shine are the ones who have that “aha” moment getting too caught up in their own work, the product managers who clearly understand the limitations of their product and who discover the hidden elegance that only comes of time and repetition.

When I first came to Silicon Valley, I worked for Apple. Even back in the day, the competition for jobs there was fierce. I had flown out from the East Coast where I worked for a large mainframe company. In my briefcase was a nicely printed copy of my resume and a floppy disk. I had written a program using Apple’s recently announced programming tool, HyperCard, to show off my skills with the Mac as well as how we should “eat our own dog food” when it came to gathering customer requirements.

In every interview there, I brought out the disk and offered to showcase my talents. Would you believe that not a single person in the department had HyperCard installed on their Mac or enough RAM to run the program? I got the job (partially because of that disk I believe), but the sad fact I discovered was that the disk could have been blank. No one was actually using the technology they had just announced and were continuing to develop and promote. We changed that when I came onboard. Everyone got equipment to take home, have on their desks and even share with friends and family when it made sense.

Two lessons I learned:

I always ask about a candidate’s best hands-on experiences when I’m interviewing and always make sure my department practices what we preach.

Product Management Rule #15 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management

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One Response to Product Management Rule #15: Get Your Hands Dirty

  1. P S B Srinivas Jan 3, 2014 at 2:40 am #

    Its an eye opening article. Getting your hands dirty,using the product you have developed or marketing will also give you great confidence to handle clients and also your internal management.

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