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Product Management Rule #38: Great Execution Trumps a Great Product Idea

Product Management Rule #38 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Janet George, Director of Research Engineering, Yahoo! Research

A good product idea with great execution can be worth $200 million. A brilliant idea with mediocre execution is worth about $20.

Focusing on execution is often challenging, especially for product managers, because there are thousands of little decisions that need to be made when bringing a new product to market. These decisions can be broadly classified into four categories:

  1. Market, customer, product, and functionality
  2. Sales and distribution
  3. Usability
  4. Technical, engineering, implementation, maintenance, and support

Category 1: Market, Customer, Product, and Functionality

Product managers are only experts in the first area but have to drive decision making in all four categories. They must resist taking the path of least resistance offered by the loudest, most political, or powerful stakeholders. Although expedient, this will not yield the best decisions. Instead, the product manager must seek out the low-key experts in each area to ensure optimal decisions.

So what are some of the hurdles in these broad categories? And how does a good product manager overcome them without losing sight of the market requirements and the ultimate goals for the product?

Category 2: Distribution

How does one make the right product execution decision when market requirements conflict with the distribution requirements? Which one takes precedence? For example, if the distribution of the product or the application is through iPhones but the target market customers do not use iPhones, do you execute the product for the target market and then try to figure out how to get the product in the hands of your customer? Or do you go after the iPhone users—in other words, develop for the distribution channel without focus of the target market and demographics of the customers in the target market? These are complex decisions, and thorough market and competitive research is necessary. The work must be conducted without bias.

Category 3: Usability

Great technology and sometimes great functionality can be highly unusable. Focusing on one without the other will lead to mediocre products that are either too hard to use or too limited in their functionality. Instead, focus on great usability with great functionality to create the “wow” experiences that will set the product idea and concept far above the competition. The product manager’s goal here is to make decisions that focus on actual usability with great functionality. Stay away from cool designer touches and a fancy, eye-popping, flashy look and feel without ease of use. Likewise, sort out conflicting marketing and usability requirements.

Category 4: Technical, Engineering, Implementation, Support, and Maintenance

Derived technical requirements, including performance, systems, hardware, infrastructure, load balancing, and scalability, are all really hard to uncover in full depth at the early stages of requirement analysis because these usually have embedded dependencies. As implementation proceeds through nested dependencies, new technical requirements emerge. Often this occurs late in the execution stage making the matters more challenging and urgent.

To overcome these problems, the good product manager must understand from where the derived requirements stem and solicit a good evaluation of trade-offs and downsides from experts in specific technical areas. Cost factors must also be fully considered. Surprises in cost can turn a money- maker into a money loser and sink a project.

Great execution is all about establishing the right requirements and goals for the product. The entire product’s success and return on development investment depends on it. A simple example illustrates this point. Consider the goal of “sending a man to the moon” versus “sending a man to the moon and bringing him back alive.” These two similar goals would lead a team to different conclusions and design decisions. In the first case, it only matters that the man makes it to the moon for the project team to claim victory. In the second case, the project would be deemed a failure if the man made it to the moon but was not returned safely to Earth. It is, therefore, critically important to get the product requirements, spanning all broad categories, right for the team to successfully execute on the product.

Product Management Rule #38 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management

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