Product Development is for Dictators

Michael Arrington recently wrote an article about Digg and its ‘travails’ on Techcrunch.

I know little about Digg, but I believe he makes a very good general point about Product Development. He wrote;

Product should be a dictatorship. Not consensus driven. There are casualties. Hurt feelings. Angry users. But all of those things are necessary if you’re going to create something unique.

I love that line. It speaks to me exactly about what is important in Product Development.

The Product Evangelist. The person who conceived the idea or the person who ‘owns’ the product in an organisation.

That person or persons should be front and central in any organisations conversation about that product with the market. As Jason Fried wrote in Rework;

Pour yourself into your product…how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it and how you deliver it. Competitors can never copy the you in your product

It isn’t that the Product Owner is the only person who cares. Users, especially those dependent on the product, might think about the product on a day to day basis. But they only see their own view. Marketing and Sales and other groups can also provide input, but again in the context of the piece they know.

The Product owner is the only person who sees all this input. The Product Owner is only person who thinks only about their product on a day to day basis.

The Product Owner then should be the person who gets to soak up all the product ideas and to decide what goes in or what goes out. And when they go in and when they go out.

As Fried also wrote in his book, you need to draw a line in the sand;

You’ll turn some people off. They’ll accuse you of being arrogant and aloof. When you don’t know what you believe, everything…is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious

So be a dictator, take casualties, be considered arrogant – just continue to deliver excellent products.


2 thoughts on “Product Development is for Dictators

  1. I completely agree with your points: I’ve certainly had my fair share of bad experiences with validating ideas and product development items across Sales teams and customers and feeling a lack of value/insight in the whole process.

    Product Managers are the central filter of all groups – we decipher what makes sense for the company, how much effort is required and the merits of the functionality to a customer. It’s a key reason why I work as one – I luuurrrve being in control 🙂

    But there is a point in which getting others involved looks beyond the product – seeking buy-in in a political setting, esp. when you work for large corporates such as Telstra, or IBM. Presenting your proposal would then be a lot easier if they feel like they’ve contributed.

  2. Agreed! Product Management requires bravery (and a little diplomacy). In my experience, product by committee just doesn’t work. Someone has to make decisions (often the decisions that no-one else wants to make). And someone has to be accountable (and that’s also something few people really want!).

    That’s not to say that input isn’t required (by stakeholders, colleagues, crowd-sourcing etc), just that the final say needs to rest with ‘the informed’. And generally, the most ‘informed’ party, the one who is able to look at the product holistically is the product manager. After all, it is our job to ensure we understand the big picture!

    Be brave, continue making informed decisions and above all make beautiful products!

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