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Book Reviews Product Management

Managing Product = Managing Tension

In a few weeks’ time my new book titled “Managing Product = Managing Tension” will be coming out. This book is all about the key factors that impact products and how we manage them; mind, matter and moves. Each of these factors in their own right will create tension and in the book I outline how we can make the most of these tensions to create great products. To give you a first flavour of “Managing Product = Managing Tension”, you can read the book’s introduction below. Keen to hear your thoughts, drop me a line!

Introduction

When consumers use a product or a service, the experience generates an emotion. Take for example, people using Uber to get from A to B; some customers will feel delighted by the experience, whilst others might be bitterly disappointed. For those of us creating those products or services, our primary focus is on the customer, helping them achieve their desired outcome and attempting to create a positive and memorable experience.

However, in our focus to satisfy customer needs, many product people or ‘makers’ don’t spend enough time reflecting and managing their own emotions when developing products. There are so many tensions inherent in creation and management, but we hardly ever acknowledge or talk about them.

Think of the last time you were at your wits’ end when a business stakeholder completely torpedoed your great product idea. Or the sense of deflation we have all experienced when launching a product that customers seem to care less about (when we were convinced it was amazing!). We are so busy learning about customer needs and releasing products that we fail to reflect on the pressures inherent in managing products.

In striving to emulate the success of Facebook, Apple or Uber, and the people who famously contributed to their success, we’ve perhaps lost track of the tensions that occurred during their genesis and the accompanying blood, sweat and tears that went into creating products used by billions of people around the world. Irrespective of whether your product serves 10 people or 10 million, there will be tensions involved in building and managing it. Think of the tensions and frustrations involved in product failures, the struggle to acquire customers and anger due to endless internal debates; just some of the common product development tensions that come to mind.

I am thinking of my previous role as a Chief Product Officer at an early stage startup that did not end the way I hoped it would. Did product tensions get the better of me, or my colleagues? Licking my wounds led me to reflect on the stresses experienced, looking back at the tensions I could have managed differently and the ones I should have embraced with open arms.

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How I first started thinking about writing this book …

I had been at this early stage startup for one year exactly and this milestone coincided with a regular catch up with my boss. As part of our conversation, she asked me to reflect on my first year in the business, getting me to think about what had gone well and what had not. I shared my thoughts honestly and constructively, mentioning some of the frictions we had encountered in the year past. I explained how I could have better facilitated collaboration between the product team and the founders. Similarly, I felt that the natural trade-off between the perfect product and speed to market could have been managed more effectively.

My boss and I discussed these frictions in detail, and it made me realise the often-stressful nature of developing and managing products. My boss was clearly struck by some of the strains and trade-offs that I mentioned, asking ‘so, why didn’t you resolve them?’. We talked through why she felt that way, and I explained more about the nature of managing products. Unfortunately, my boss and I felt that the gap between expectations and reality was too big and we agreed to part ways amicably.

This experience made me ponder the often-frustrating nature of managing products, and the different factors that contribute to this feeling of frustration. It formed the starting point for the book that you are reading now …

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Both with the product managers that I have managed over the years and the peers I compare notes with, ‘frustration’ seems to be a common theme. This frustration is usually the result of tensions which are inherent in managing products; the fact that product creation is often not a linear, predictable process, and that the people involved in the process turn out to be just as irrational and unpredictable as the process itself!

Within the confines of four walls, a cup of coffee or ‘Product Managers Anonymous’ type of conversations, I have encountered plenty of product people who opened up about their frustrations and anxieties with respect to managing products. Whenever I talk publicly about the frustrating aspects of product management, I am always amazed at the number of people that come up to me afterwards and share their personal experiences and feelings.

There are a number of lessons that I have learned ‒ the hard way ‒ and which I feel other product people can benefit from. There are a number of things we can do (differently) to utilise tensions in such a way that they create great products and teams. In this book, we will examine the tensions inherent in creating and managing products. Make no mistake, tension can be a good thing! Real-life examples will demonstrate the distinction between healthy and unhealthy product tensions and how to ensure they have a positive impact.

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