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The ‘Tug of War’ Tension

Ever managed a product where it felt like there were lots of people involved, but all pulling in different directions?! The typical product lifecycle is riddled with tensions, and mostly caused by ourselves.

In my latest book “Managing Product = Managing Tension” I cover the tensions that are likely to occur at the different stages of the product development lifecycle, from inception to retirement:

Market Development – ‘Which opportunity should we go for?’ ‘Why (not)?!’ ‘But my product idea will make more money than yours!’ ‘OK, but your neck is on the block if this product fails …’

Growth – ‘The product is doing great, we don’t want to mess it up it now’ ‘I understand why you want to make changes to the product, but the CEO doesn’t want to rock the boat now that we’re making money.’ ‘Yes, I know it feels like a bespoke product for one client, but trust me, it will be worth it …’

Maturity – ‘What can we do to grow revenue?’ ‘Our product is growing stale, perhaps we need a complete overhaul?’ ‘Why change things whilst we’re not losing money?!’ ‘There’s no alignment about how to best move the product forward …’

Decline – ‘Did you see all those negative customer reviews?!’ ‘Where did we go wrong?’ ‘Did you see the new feature just launched by [name any competitor here]?’ ‘Why didn’t we take action sooner, now it feels like it’s too late …’

These examples show how we can be our own worst enemy, irrespective of the lifecycle stage a product is at. Equally, there are lot of tough choices to make throughout the life of a product, with each choice having the potential to cause tension (see Fig. 1 below).

Fig. 1 – Common strains and trade-offs throughout the product life cycle

Whilst it’s unrealistic to think that these tensions won’t appear throughout the product lifecycle, there are lots of ways in which we can manage these when (or even before) they appear. For example, having shared goals or encouraging constructive dissent are powerful ways in which we can manage or even embrace the ‘Tug of War’ tension.

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