Hey Product Manager: Stop Building Before Asking
August 18, 2020

Hey Product Manager: Stop Building Before Asking

by Brian de Haaff

Building is in your DNA. It is your nature to constantly think about what is next on your roadmap. You are on a perpetual search for opportunities to create something new. And you love that your work serves real people and makes their lives a bit better. These are the signs of a great product manager — you are driven to build.

But this drive can easily lead you into a trap — moving fast to build without thinking deeply about why.

This happens to the best of us. And it is easy to understand why. Many product teams focus on continual iteration and delivery, quickly moving from one feature to the next. And there is always the pressure from investors, executives, sales, support — all eager to see progress against what you have promised will be new.

I recently wrote about operating vs innovating, which is a dilemma that many product managers experience. It is a balance to somehow make the time and space to do both. You want to put your energy towards identifying which opportunities will create real value before you start building.

Value is created when what you build actually matters to the people you are building for.

That involves challenging your own assumptions about what you think is the best path to success. Whether you are looking at a series of enhancements or considering releasing a major new functionality, try posing these four questions to your product team during your next planning meeting. The answers will help you make stronger choices:

How does this support the company (and product) objectives?

Company and product goals should be aligned. So put both at the center during planning meetings. Evaluate opportunities against how each could move these goals forward. Consider how what you build will serve a broader strategic purpose.

Is this consistent with what customers truly want?

Go beyond the bits of code and think about what customers are really buying. Then look at patterns in recent customer requests and support tickets. Identify themes of deeper needs, then use this insight as a lens to evaluate what is next. Drastic deviations from what your customers expect from you can lead to confusion, frustration, and even churn.

How is it different from alternative solutions?

Ask yourself if the feature or functionality you are considering delivers value in a unique way. Avoid building something in reaction to another tool or system your customer might choose as an alternative to your product. Instead, build solutions to unmet needs that those other options are failing to address.

Is this the bold choice?

And finally, ask yourself if the opportunity you are considering is a bold one. Choosing the easy or convenient path is likely not going to yield exceptional results. You should build because it is the right thing to do. Because you know it is true to who you are and what your customers deserve.

Never stop building — just make sure that what you build serves a greater purpose.

These are not easy questions to answer. And sometimes the answers are not going to be what you or others want to hear. But it is worth showing up and doing that hard work. And I know you will because you are a product manager. You would not have it any other way.

How do you prioritize what to build next?

Build what matters. Sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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