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.

2 Responses to 10 Things Henry Ford Could Have Taught You about Product Management

  1. Great list! Don’t let anyone get the wrong idea by #1, though. The “I win” of the Model T was not about starting it, it was about going 20 mph down a road with your family that you could only ride at 5mph on your horse before. Enabling your customer to kick ass (@seriouspony’s term) is the most important thing in your product. If your UX prevents that, it’s a problem.

  2. Good list. Yet the “single throat to choke” is not ideal, in my view. The most effective product teams have a shared sense of ownership of the product and its success. The best product leaders cultivate this shared sense of ownership and can foster a relentless focus on a coherent vision. It can be a sign of dysfunction if members of the team view the success or failure of the product as the soul responsibility of the product manager (or any other single individual).

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