Why Write Fictional Product Reviews From the Near Future

Narrative is an Essential Part of Scoping the Product Roadmap.

John Wolpert
Jun 6, 2017 · 3 min read
That’s Walter — He’s a stuffed animal come to life…like Ted without the weed.

I’ve been teaching my four-year-old about the difference between stories and lies. It’s tricky. But she’s a pretty smart kid, so I tried an advanced concept:

A lie is a story people use to trick someone. Fiction is a trick storytellers use to find the truth.

Of course now, when she tells me she didn’t eat the cookie, she says it’s a story. Progress?

I’m a product person. Product people are storytellers who find the truth in a story and then make it real. The trick is making lots of people believe in the story and offer resources before it’s real. One must live in the future — the near future. Far enough to see opportunities around the corner. Near enough that the team doesn’t lose sight of you and get lost. (I’ve lost to more than a few competitors — and I’ve lost more than a few teams — by not getting that balance right.)

These days, with kids in the house, I like to get up early — 3:30–4:30am. Best time of the day. Time to think. Time to write. Time to get right. Without this, it’s easy to lose balance.

First thing I do is breathe. Second thing I do is drink water. Third thing I do is start typing. I used to type anything: Nonsense; bits of my great American novel; email…whoops! Never ever do that. Better to stay in bed.

Turns out that the most fun and rewarding thing to type that early in the day — for me — is fictional product reviews.

The product review from the near future is a variant of an old tradition in product management — the fake press release. When planning a new product, service or feature, some product managers write the press release before doing anything else. It helps focus on the value proposition and primes the pump for telling a story people can believe in.

But to me, the press release can set a salesy tone. It can fool the mind into believing the story too much, and that can lead to confirmation bias when testing assumptions. The press release form also leaves little room for laying on detail about the experience.

A product review keeps the focus on value, like the fake press release. But the voice of the imaginary reviewer can lead to a wider spectrum of insights by expressing what they liked and didn’t like about the experience. Think TechCrunch, VentureBeat or Consumer Reports, but on things that don’t exist yet.

Once I got in the habit of writing these for actual planned products, I got the bug and started imagining products I have no plans to build. Here are a few:

Now, it’s my favorite writing workout. Days I do this are days my brain works best.

Turns out, I’m not the only one that likes this exercise. Today, we do this every week or two to fill our pipeline of work at ConsenSys .

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John Wolpert

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Seeker of Awesomeness: The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of my employer, ConsenSys.

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