December 29, 2022

The power of a point of view for a Product Manager

Olga Shavrina
Under any product decision, there is a point of view. It's either yours or someone else's. You either control what you do and why, follow someone else's lead, or even copy someone else's moves, which stifles your initiative, limits your ability to make decisions and puts you in danger of losing direction altogether.

There is no such thing as a "correct POV" for any given situation. The irony is that it is very difficult to work as a Product Manager without having a clear point of view on every area that you influence.

Our recent example

We have one of the main flows in the app that causes confusion but clients don't drop during it. So they struggle, likely don't quite understand what is needed from them but go through the flow and achieve their goal.

The team members reacted in two ways:

  • Data says that we don't lose users during the flow, so there's no need to improve it. Let's better focus on things that can move our metrics.
  • We want our app (at least the main happy path) to be awesome and now it's not. Clients are unhappy. Let's invest time and fix it.

Both approaches make sense and it's a PM's call to choose one of them. And the decision is based on the POV – what is more important to us right now and strategically: awesomeness or metrics? We have to choose because resources are limited.

A point of view in a daily life

It's easy to make decisions in daily life. For instance, if you overslept and are late for work, it's a no-brainer for you to choose between a shower and breakfast. An answer is obvious to you (despite it can be the opposite for another person). And you never doubt or regret your decision.

– But this is a tiny daily situation. Not a "point of view that matters".

Ok, let's look at the bigger picture. There's a certain pressure from society on how a "normal" person should live and behave:

  • Be friends with neighbors
  • Be patient with jerks
  • Buy your own apartment asap
  • Buy stuff on credit
  • Buy new clothes every month
  • Know popular music
  • Follow football
  • Love running

However, I have no communication with my neighbours, happily rent an apartment, never buy on credit, don't remember when I last time bought clothes, give zero sh*t about football, cut jerks out of my life, hate running, ignore popular music and prefer heavy metal to it.

This point of view allows me to be at peace with myself and make life decisions. It would be very unhealthy and devastating for me to conform to the list above, so I choose not to and feel very comfortable with this view.

Why it's so easy? Because nobody gives a sh*t about what I do, listen to, love or buy. People just consider me a weirdo, which makes them feel better about themselves. Awesome!

What about a POV in product management?

Professional preference is something else entirely. It often feels like whatever decision you make, it would be wrong for one reason or another. Why? Because everyone on the team cares a lot about what the Product Manager is doing with their precious product. This is what feeds them every day and ensures their prosperous future.

In product management, there's a certain pressure from clever guys who write books and everybody else who read them, that a product team should:

  • A/B test everything
  • Be bug-free
  • Build fast
  • Provide a quick and smooth user experience
  • Encourage a user to generate rich content
  • Keep a user as much time as possible in the product
  • Provide value asap
  • Retain a user to the product every day
  • Make only data-driven decisions
  • Monetize value aggressively
  • Implement freemium

Every point of the list is valid, no doubt. It's logical and proven to work. But it often contradicts other points. And unlike daily life, if you don't meet some of these points you feel like you are doing a bad job.

The truth is that no one knows what is right and what is wrong, but doing things that are logical, recommended, and tested makes you feel safe, which justifies our desire to comply with the above list. Unlike our personal lives, wrong steps in product development can have much more important consequences: we can lose money, customers, reputation, team trust, etc. We are afraid of making a mistake and afraid of being blamed if we fail (even if our manager is amazing and will never blame us).

But trying to use all the best practices and expert advice is unhealthy because it leads to conflicts that you cannot resolve. It is right to create an awesome product and it's right to make decisions based on data, but in some situations, these points contradict each other. It's the same as "build fast" and "bug-free" or "monetize aggressively" and "implement freemium".

Develop and verbalise your point of view

Easier said than done, huh?

For example, if we were Apple, we wouldn't doubt to choose awesomeness above all. If we were, we would prioritise data and run an A/B test.

While in daily life we don't usually verbalise our POV in order to make decisions, in product management it is very helpful to do it explicitly. Just write down your POV, arguments and decision making criteria before jumping in the conversation with various stakeholders especially if they might have their own view.

It also helps a lot to explore alternative POVs and compare them agains yours. By answering questions like "What would BI think about it?", "What would tech team say?", "What's marketing's take will be?" you can get a way better perspective, adjust your solution and prepare decent arguments to defend your point of view.

I can't help but recommend the incredible book Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets, which tells about category creation, the role of POV in it, and the power of POV when taken to scale.

"A powerful POV guides every decision the leadership team makes and every initiative it pursues. The POV helps employees intuitively feel how they should perform their jobs so they align with the company's strategy. Most great, enduring companies have a POV imprinted on their DNA."

Long story short

There's always a POV involved in your decisions. In the best-case scenario, the POV is yours. Thus you are in control of what you are doing and why, you have the freedom to choose what to sacrifice and what to push forward, to be flexible on details without losing a direction. You are empowered and stand your ground in discussions.

If the point of view is not yours (you copy your competitor, try to apply all best practices, or just follow the lead of somebody with a loud voice), you'll be trapped and confused. You'll inevitably face contradictions that you won't be able to resolve, you will struggle to stand your ground in discussions, and likely make chaotic steps without a bold direction.

So the recipe here is to find a way to develop a point of view for each area of the product you influence and make sure you have a strong enough conviction built around it so that you can confidently push that point of view forward.
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Olga Shavrina
Product manager. Human being