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Myths that Misguide

Myths can powerfully guide or misguide.

Myths, in the sense of fables or epics, historically captured and conveyed important life lessons to members of a particular culture. The adventures, misadventures, trials and triumphs of the protagonist served as examples of what choices (or lack thereof) could deliver.

Myths, in the sense of commonly held misconceptions, can be tremendously unhelpful.

I'm interested in hearing from others on the misguiding myths you've encountered in product management and marketing, and how you've identified them as such and how you've acted to counter them.

I have a few examples to share. Of course, the interpretations of these depend a lot on their definition and to what degree we believe they hold water. But that's the point of deconstructing them. Let's equip ourselves with clarity on what portion of truth and untruth these contain.

Examples of Internal Myths

"I have to do it all"
Many product managers fall for this one, even more so than some other roles, because we typically have the personality that cannot leave dropped tasks or processes alone - we have to pick them up! But we also learn through painful experience that burn-out is all but guaranteed if we aren't willing to invest some time and energy in convincing other people to help out where they can (or should), even if that means escalating the discussions into some uncomfortable territory.

"Quality is more important than speed" (or vice versa)
The quality versus speed trade-off is sometimes a false dichotomy, even though a persistent one. It's just one example of a false dichotomy in product management. The simplistic expression is seductive because it compresses many considerations into a either/or choice, and it is human (and lazy) to desire just two alternatives to choose from. An experienced product manager recognizes that the speed-to-market versus product quality dilemma often hides incomplete positioning or a feature set assumed to be written in stone. The alternate choices get more interesting when the debate recognizes all the variables, and embraces the deliberate compromises that need to be made, given the product's ultimate goals.

Examples of External Myths

"The customer is always right" or "The customer is always wrong"
The real question is what is the customer right and wrong about? Depending on your business model, your market, your position on the product lifecycle curve, where your customers are on the technology adoption curve, as well as your instincts, your customers will be right and wrong about different things, but never absolutely either in all things of interest to your product's success. There are customers worth listening to. There are listening techniques that maximize the value of their input. There are some things, innovation being one, where only a special few of your customers might contribute anything. And there are customers, no matter how well you execute, that may be worth firing - they are that wrong!

"Our customers want too many customizations"
I've encountered this one many times in the B2B software space. The subtext of this myth is "we didn't design the product in such a way that the inevitable customer customizations would be manageable in terms of cost to us". This is typically the result of technical debt, which is a lot like credit card debt in the sense that it's a method for delaying cost at an eventually greater overall cost. Addressing this myth may be possible in your strategic plan. If you make configurability a strategic feature of your product early on, you'll rarely feel that customers want too much customization, because you'll be delivering it at speed and at a reasonable cost.

Have you held any of these myths? Debunked them for yourself? For others? What other misguiding myths have you encountered?

Trevor Rotzien
the product manager


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