20 Years of Product Management in 5 Minutes – The Discourse #5

Summary of Dave Wascha's MTP Conference talk with commentary

It's always better to learn lessons from others than to make the same mistakes ourselves and then learn from them. Here is a summary (along with commentary) of a talk that Dave Wascha gave at the Mind the Product conference in 2017 called ‘20 years of Product Management in 25 minutes’. 


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Listen to your Customers

This is seemingly the most obvious advice but still, a lot of folks get this wrong. Listen to customers to understand the problems they face.

You don’t want to build products that no one wants to use. Dave gives the example of Smalt - IOT based salt dispenser. This is not a problem that needed solving. Just because it is possible to create doesn’t mean it needs to exist.

Stop Listening to your Customers

Don’t listen to customers when it comes to solutions. They aren't the best at figuring out what to build. When you get a feature request, it is important to understand the use case behind the feature request.

For e.g., one of my users requested a button to save progress. I knew that the underlying problem was that they weren't sure that the changes were being saved in the background. What we then added was a toast notification to give them this feedback.

Watch the Competition

See what features the competition is building to get a second-hand understanding of the customer problem. Features built can be a proxy for customer problems.

Watching the competition is also beneficial to field questions from investors. Anecdotally from my experience, investors spend more time on the competition slide than others. This may be more true for investors who don’t understand the space well.

Don’t Watch the Competition

Although you must be mindful of what your competitors are doing, don’t be fully dependent on it. If you only ape features built by competitors, you aren't being innovative, especially if the features aren't working for customers.

Be a Thief

If something that the competition is doing is working, don’t be afraid to adopt the idea. As a product person, you don’t have to come up with all the ideas. Your job is to solve customer problems. Even within the team, ideas can come from anywhere. You have to connect the dots and select the best ideas for implementation.

Get Paid

This is probably the most important aspect of product management. If you ask the customer questions like: would you like this feature and would you like us to add this to the product – the answer will be mostly yes. But there's no exchange or commitment that's taken place.

Get an understanding of the willingness to pay and a pre-commitment from the customer. Read The Mom Test for more on this.

Stop Worrying about Getting Paid

If you only look to add functional features that have a pre-defined ROI, you're missing out on a lot. Focus on emotional and social needs rather than only functional needs. This can be achieved through small efforts of good microcopy, design and animation. Making someone smile might not be measurable, but it's worth spending time on.

Speed Up

As a product person, you can destroy value through inaction. Any product has a limited shelf life and therefore there is a true cost of delay. Any question that goes unanswered contributes to this. You have to understand the reasons behind delays in decision making:

  • Don’t have enough information

  • Who is the decision-maker

  • Can't get a meeting room to take the decision (!)

Say No

While building any product, there are a lot of stakeholders with competing customers. You will receive requests from every direction to build this or build that. The number one job is to solve the customer's problems. It is to protect the customer, and not protect the team or egos.

But make sure you are saying ‘no’ for the right reasons, and not just because you dislike the person requesting the feature.

Don’t be a Visionary

Unless you are Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, don’t think of yourself as a visionary. You don’t have to create the future. You should continue obsessing over the customer's problems.

Don’t Confuse Yourself with the Customer

In most products that you build, you are not the customer. You are the voice of the user, but that doesn’t mean your problem is an accurate reflection of the customer's problem.

I remember taking an interview for a Product role and asked the candidate what feature they would remove from WhatsApp. He said I would remove voice calling. When probed why he said, “because I don’t use it”. Don’t be this guy.

Be Dumb

By this, I believe he meant to say that always have a growth mindset. The moment you think you know everything is the day you stop learning. Always look at problems through the eyes of the customer.

Try to build true empathy for the customer by putting yourself in their shoes.


Watch the full video here (25 mins)


Follow me on Twitter @KavirKaycee


That's it for today. Talk to you soon!

— Kavir

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