4 Product Management Lessons I Learnt Playing Farmville

Farmville is an absolute turd of a game! Let’s get that out of the way first. I have no clue what I was doing playing this, but it was 3am on a Wednesday morning and I was hopped up on caffeine worrying about demoing an early version of my product to a client — You know the drill.

Having said that, there I was, hours later still clicking away at virtual plants and animals, eager to grow my burgeoning agrarian economy. I even had goats that produced pre-bottled milk! (Technology, huh!) I was expanding my turf and my inventory, while simultaneously raking in the virtual moolah. I had Ennio Morricone playing in the background and for a brief moment in my life I fancied myself quite the farmer in the Wild West!

While one does find strange sources of solace in the dark recesses of the night, what intrigued me most though were the parallels to product management I found within the game. (You can chalk this down to caffeine overdose) There I was dreaming of setting up a vast farmland whilst juggling limited resources and tending to needy chickens. It all seemed eerily similar to my daily work life. Hence, faced with the dilemma of accepting that I spent an entire shameful week tending to a virtual farm, I’ve decided to make some use of it and pen down these four product management tips inspired by Farmville.

Juggling Resources

There was a point early on in the game when I was aimlessly planting random crops without realizing that I was using up the last of my water reserves, and that I couldn’t get more water until I unlocked another section of the farm. The catch though was that to unlock that section I needed to have planted very specific crops (which I hadn’t). Luckily my remaining resources were just enough to get me over the line.

I realized that I had almost painted myself into a corner by not paying attention to the resources I was using up. As a product manager, this is one of the most important and early lessons you learn. There are tons of features and requirements that you could follow, but you usually only have a finite amount of resources — people, funds, time etc. How and where you use them could easily make or break your product. Invest too much effort on one feature and you might find that you don’t have enough left for another critical one.

Adapting to the Situation

Unlike many other games which allow you to save and make mistakes, games like Farmville exist in a persistent environment. This means that your actions have lasting consequences and there is no undo button. Any action you take is one you must live with and constantly adapting the situation is the norm. When I accidentally sold off a crucial resource there was no back button to fix the mistake. Instead I had to figure out how to make to do with what I had left, and alter my plans accordingly.

Similarly, while developing a product you constantly have your ear to the ground listening to feedback and observing the competitive market develop. You can’t afford to be rigid with your product execution, and instead have to constantly adapt your plans to suit the changing environment and requirements. Especially if you are working in an agile format, being flexible to change and thinking on your feet are mandatory requirements from any product manager worth his/her salt.

Grinding It Out

A huge chunk of this game is as boring as watching grass grow, because that’s literally what you are doing! You have to wait hours for your crops to grow before you can harvest them. In the meantime all you are left to do is either shoot Farmville spam to your enemies on Facebook or else browse the lineage of the royal family on Wikipedia. It is just a long list of repetitive chores that you need to get through in order to level up.

The product management analogue to this is the endless documentation that accompanies a good development process. A PM has to spend day in and day out managing backlogs and documenting feedback. There are also daily stand ups and regular sprint reviews. In many ways, a PM’s schedule could almost be a metronome — a fact that can at times turn tedious. However, the key thing to remember when the occasional monotony begins to set in is that all this is necessary for improving the product, i.e. levelling up.

Having Fun

However, at the end of it all there is only one question you really need to ask yourself — are you having fun?

If the answer is yes, then fantastic! This means that you are working on something that consistently challenges and fulfills you. As a product manager there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that work isn’t just work, but a way of life.

On the other hand, if the answer is no, then you really need to ask yourself if what you are working on is really worth it. Development processes have a habit of going down a dead end road where everyone involved has already lost interest and is just going through the motions. Seldom does any good come out of this. As a PM, if you find yourself dragging your feet to work every day and doodling your time through every discussion, then maybe it’s time to stop and question the product. Trust me on this — there’s no shame in pulling the plug when it’s 6am in the morning and your new best friend is a digital cow!

Sidharth Sreekumar

Product Innovation Manager at The Smart Cube

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on February 21, 2017.