Good product managers are good detectives

I finally started watching Sherlock a few weeks ago, and it is definitely in a different league than most crime series on television.

Whenever Sherlock makes a seemingly out-of-the-world deduction and Watson asks him, “How did you know?”, Sherlock always responds with, “As always, the evidence was right under your nose to see.”

The deductions always seem quite obvious after-the-fact when he explains how he arrived at the deductions, like the type of shoe a person was wearing pointing to their nature of work (indoors or outdoors), the dog-hairs on their trousers indicated they had recently walked a god, etc. Yet, in the normal course of the day, we may never make these observations in the first place about the kind of shoes someone is wearing or the presence of dog-hairs on their trousers.

The deduction itself involves three key aspects. The first is the actual act of making the observations (and quickly at that). The second is the background knowledge of many things, like the fact that walking a dog results in dog-hairs being left on one’s trousers. The third and most important is to take the observation that has just been made and to reverse engineer all the possible scenarios that could have led to that particular observation, ruling them out one by one by overlaying other available information, until just one scenario is left — which is the deduction.

Outside of solving crime, this is a very useful skill to have as a product manager.

It is a very useful skill to be able to make precise deductions about user intentions by observing user behaviour. This involves a thorough understanding of the domain in which the user resides, which will help in reverse engineering scenarios from the observations that are made. It involves making the observations in the first place, which means a strong familiarity and a healthy affinity to working with data. And finally, the ability to do the reverse engineering quickly and accurately that leads to the deduction of user intentions.

In that sense, all good product managers are good detectives.

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