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Product Management Rule #33: Let the Customer End the Debate

Product Management Rule #33 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Noël Adams, President, Clearworks

Product managers need a way to stop the debate—a way to provide proof and evidence that the product recommendations they support are the right approach.

One of the biggest challenges (and opportunities) of being a product manager is moderating the internal debate around what the product should “be”.

What it should look like, what features should be included, what functionality is important, etc.

You spend endless hours with your engineering team telling you why all the cool things they can build should be included in the product. Sales teams lobby for what they believe is needed for the product to sell. Your CEO probably even chimes in with his/her own great new feature idea. You find yourself agreeing with and even welcoming some of the recommendations, but disagreeing with many others. You base your side of the debate on your market knowledge and your customer-focused approach; meanwhile, all your stakeholders continue to persist that their thinking is correct. You often find yourself in a stalemate, at your wits end thinking about time lines that are being pushed out and budgets that are being over-run. You are left wondering whether you’ll even have a product to take to market.

Product managers need a way to stop the debate —a way to provide proof and evidence that the product recommendations they support are the right approach.

Product managers need the customer.

Successful product managers don’t argue their own position on what the product should be. Instead, they present a point and support it with real live customer insights and feedback.

I learned the hard way that the best way to stop the arguing is to present the customer’s viewpoint, not my personal viewpoint. Early in my product management career, I battled the engineering team without being armed with the right data, and I lost. The product unfortunately got launched with those “cool features” I had argued against, and internal teams were left wondering why customers were confused about how to use the product. As a product manager, I didn’t wonder why products weren’t meeting customer needs. I wondered why I hadn’t been able to convince my internal team to support my recommendations.

And that’s when I learned the value of arming myself with real customer feedback from solid market research. I learned that customer research generates not only good, unexpected insights for your product throughout the lifecycle, but also provides the tool you need to garner support from your team and other stakeholders—the tool you need to win debates.

Later in my career when engineering questioned me about certain requirements, I pointed to focus groups that I had conducted to gather requirements. When sales asked why we wouldn’t include a certain function, I pointed to our customer interviews. And so on. The result was the debate stopped. If you think about it, it makes sense. After all, we aren’t building products for ourselves; we’re building them for customers.

We can’t speak for customers.

They have to speak for themselves.

There are a lot of great reasons to get customer input. As a good product manager, inherently you understand the value of talking to the customer. However, it’s important to remember to use that feedback to manage the internal discussions and debates. Doing so will alleviate many headaches and deliver a better product.

Product Management Rule #33 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management

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