I’ve just embarked on my role as Innovation Product Manager at UST Global, effectively making it my 3rd attempt at hustling in the world of New Product Development. Having spent the last 7 years putting on a variety of hats across multiple projects, my journey has been nothing short of exciting.
Like any good rollercoaster ride, my 3 years of hustling at Razer and 4 subsequent years of consulting at Accenture was full of slow, laborious uphill climbs and heart-stopping vertical drops, sprinkled with the occasional moment of serenity for me to pause and reflect upon my journey. As my journey on the “UST rollercoaster” picks up speed, I can’t help but look forward to the next drop as I began the climb.
The way I see it, every drop was a learning opportunity, and every climb was an opportunity to apply the lessons learnt. Hindsight is always 20–20, but if I could travel back in time, these are the top four lessons I’ve learnt that I would like to share with “me from seven years ago”.
All that glitters is not gold.
Ask any entrepreneur and they’ve probably experienced the “Shiny Object Syndrome” at least once in their career (guilty as charged). Entrepreneur.com calls it the “Disease of Distraction” and “An entrepreneurial equivalent of a small child chasing after shiny objects”. Left unchecked, it can easily spiral out of control and severely cripple even experienced product teams. Slow and steady progress in 1 direction is still better than paddling fast and furious in all directions.
At the end of the day, having 10 well-designed features is vastly better than 100 half-baked ones. Too many features not only confuses your users, it can also backfire and confuse your own product team. It is therefore paramount for any Product Manager plagued by it to take immediate action and overcome it.
Ideas are a dime a dozen. Ultimately, execution matters more.
Do not ignore cognitive biases.
Product Managers sit at the intersection of engineering, design and business teams. They deal with a ton of information and have to make critical decisions on a daily basis. As such, it is virtually impossible to avoid biases. However, as custodians of a product’s direction and success, it is essential that Product Managers be keenly aware of the existence of cognitive biases that could influence their thinking and decision making, and to actively avoid those pitfalls.
There are hundreds of biases identified according to the cognitive biases codex. Those that I’ve gone up against include:
“The Confirmation Bias describes our underlying tendency to notice, focus on, and give greater credence to evidence that fits with our existing beliefs.”
“The Ambiguity Effect is a cognitive bias that describes how we tend to avoid options that we consider to be ambiguous or to be missing information. We dislike uncertainty and are therefore more inclined to select an option for which the probability of achieving a certain favourable outcome is known.
Sunk cost fallacy
“The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavour if we have already invested time, effort or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.”
“The Availability Heuristic describes our tendency to use information that comes to mind quickly and easily when making decisions about the future.”
“The Hindsight Bias is our tendency to look back at an unpredictable event and think it was easily predictable. It is also called the ‘knew-it-all-along’ effect.”
Data, data and more data.
They say that data is a Product Manager’s best friend, and I couldn’t agree more. The problem however, is that more often than not, data is not the first thing that comes to most Product Manager’s mind. In fact, W. Edward Deming once said “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”
To build great products, Product Managers must embrace data and use it to guide their decision making. Else, you’re just setting yourself up for biases. Don’t make data an afterthought. Design data directly into your products. This means getting measurable insights for performing data-driven decision making.
Let the data do the talking.
Passion is overrated, and goals are for losers.
Finally, I absolutely love this presentation by Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) on the reason why chasing something you love is (unfortunately) not good enough. Put simply, “Passion” and “Goals” do not necessarily increase your chances of success.
“You need simple systems that improve your odds.”
Scott Adams describes Systems as means of substituting what he calls Willpower (What/Why) for Knowledge (How). As an example, he defines “Losing 10 pounds” as a Goal and if I might add, “Love to exercise” is a Passion but none of which brings me closer to success, aka “Keeping fit and staying healthy”. “Learning how to eat right” however, is a System. “Having scheduled, regular exercise sessions” is a System.
Most importantly, such Systems must be “Simple”. That means small and palatable that people can adopt and have the discipline to adhere and follow through (because you know, Newton’s 1st law).
My journey has only just begun, and there is still so much more to learn. What are some lessons you’ve learnt in the past 7 years? I would love to hear about them! :)