Monthly Archives: September 2013

10 Things Henry Ford Could Have Taught You about Product Management

I’ve been reading through Richard Snow’s I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford, and I’ve found a lot of parallels to my work in product management. Below are some things you could learn about product management from Henry Ford.

 

  1. A product can be wildly successful without being user-friendly. The Model T could literally break a user’s arm if the engine backfired during cranking. Just watch how difficult it is to use: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0hQh_Ej_34
  2. Find a blue ocean. Ford’s blue ocean was people who worked in agriculture. The red ocean for automobiles at the time was the rich, monocle-wearing type; Ford instead focused on the middle class and dominated.
  3. When you’ve done something better than your competitor, make sure everyone knows it. If Ford won a race in the early days of automobiles, everyone knew it. When Ford offered his workers a higher rate of pay, everyone knew it. He took every opportunity to tell you why his company and product were better.
  4. Talking about new features means you’re going to have to continue doing new features. New features were not important to Ford, because his product was already correct. The customers became trained not to request enhancements.
  5. Don’t focus on innovation for innovation’s sake. Experiment with new product design for months before you commit to changes. Consider lots of prototypes.
  6. Once you know how to do it, build it quickly and cheaply. Focus on the efficiency and sustainability of your product.
  7. Have a single throat to choke when it comes to your product. Everyone involved with Ford’s product could have an opinion, but Henry Ford was in charge of that product. Someone else wanted it redesigned? Henry Ford noted it, but change was his decision.
  8. Eat your own dog food. Ford drove a Model T, and most of his workers drove one, too. He let his wife have a more drivable car, but he made sure most people around him were using his product.
  9. Let people talk about your product if they want to. There used to be joke books about the Model T and how cheap it was. Ford didn’t mind; he let people who discussed the Model T be a positive force for his product.
  10. When you don’t know what you’re talking about, keep your big mouth shut. Ford didn’t understand that his big mouth often hurt his product. He didn’t understand what we know as PR, but you wouldn’t make the mistakes he made.

For more information on product management and UX, read the Product Guy Daily. I publish it every morning.

How to Know You Know the Government’s Requirements for Your Product

How do you know that your product or service is compliant with government requirements? As a product manager, I’ve had to investigate legal requirements for my products. I’ve had to comply with ADA disability requirements, financial law, and transportation law. I highly recommend building a relationship with people who work for the government. Here are some tips for making sure you know the government’s requirements as the law – and your products – inevitably change.

  1. Attend industry events. This is how you can hear about current and future regulations that will impact your market.
  2. Make government connections. You can make these connections at industry events, but sometimes it’s much trickier. Sometimes you need an introduction from someone else.
  3. When you have a list of a few things you want to confirm, ask to have a meeting with them. I’m in favor of scheduling a phone call, and including people who won’t take over the call.
  4. For the meeting, make a list of things you believe are the requirements of the law. Go in prepared and let them correct you. instead of making them explain what could be dozens of pages of legal policy.
  5. Send a script to them of things you are going to ask. Let them come to the meeting prepared, too.
  6. Include what you think their answers are going to be in your script. I like to say, “my understanding of x is…” They’ll correct you when you’re wrong, possibly before the meeting.
  7. When communicating with your government connections, respect their time. Stick to your script. Avoid tangents. Don’t invite colleagues who will make the meeting longer than it needs to be.
  8. When communicating with your government connections, don’t tattle on your competitors or their clients. It’s tempting, but your focus is on your client and your product.
  9. When communicating with your government connections, don’t ask how to cheat the system. Again…tempting, but even a hypothetical cheating question will make you sound like you’re trying to cheat the system.
  10. Document what you discussed in your meeting for internal stakeholders. This is where that script comes in handy, because you’ll be able to use it to communicate with your stakeholders.
  11. Don’t give your government connections’ contact information to your clients. You should want your clients to trust you as the expert, and not bypass you to talk to your connection.
  12. When clients question your interpretation of the law, insist that you’re right. Be the expert that they need you to be.
  13. Treat the government like another one of your clients. They have requirements you have to fulfill, and sometimes you need to talk to them to clarify. It can be a very similar relationship. And you’ll want to treat them with the same respect.

 

For more information on product management and UX, read the Product Guy Daily. I publish it every morning.