Product committee’s/product councils

It is no secret Steve Jobs disregarded product committees. Adam Lashinsky’s book, Inside Apple. Clearly articulates this vision –

Clearly, consensus decision making was not his forte albeit he gave importance to only one thing: may the best idea win! So, why then do I disregard hierarchy and committee based decision making from my own product management experience?

Let me start by being blunt – Rarely have I seen exceptionally great products being conceived by Product committees. The sure shot sign of organisation bureaucracy is when you see an organisation being driven on strategic issues by mere committees. I have seen this repeatedly.

While in his book One strategy, Steven Sinofsky espouses both top down bottom up and middle out decision making, has that really created a revolutionary product like the iPad with its purported killer, The Microsoft Surface? No, right? Sales of the Surface RT are way below even Microsoft’s own expectations and while Julie Larsen-Green can defend this by saying, “we build products for people who use them more every day every month and every year repeatedly etc. (the sticky, repeat user) and not the first 20 minutes reviewer”, not a single Technology column/journal worth it’s salt that has reviewed the Surface spoke favourably about it. I agree, technology journals can sometimes be a mixed bag but the point is the two worlds (the Metro / Windows 8 GUI and the regular Windows 7 desktop view) aren’t leaving too many people pleased. I have Windows 8 and its confusing the heck out of me – an avid Windows user and a passionate technology enthusiast / early adopter! I bought Windows 8 OS the day it launched and installed it on my non touch enabled desktop to experience it! Go figure!

Its precisely the point.

I like the Steve Jobs autocratic approach with a few select decision makers than going around asking every single person what they think. Moreover, UX is such a subjective item, you will rarely get straight consistent answers out of even seasoned UX professionals!

I don’t say Product Managers should be dictatorial etc. I’m merely saying, they have to get VERY good at being decisive. People pay them a LOT of money to take these decisions; sometimes, split second decisions that can make OR break a pet product! So, it’s a high risk, high return job but that adrenaline rush is what excites me to goto work everyday. I’m not a process person. I like seeing results and the sooner we put our products in front of REAL customers / end users, the better the product matures! The better we measure its progress. Therefore, its imperative, we act decisively and fast without decisions crowding and getting stuck in organisation bureaucracy.

I have seen a room full of VP’s decide pricing of products and getting it all hopelessly wrong. The product never gained the required traction and i know (by experience) that it will die a slow painful death. Someone will ultimately put the product out of its misery!

If you don’t want your next product to suffer the same fate, avoid these common sense pitfalls. Learn to take decisions, take them fast, know not all of them are going to be the right decisions, some might boomerang, be prepared to face brickbats, pump that feedback into your learning cycle and just DO IT! Also, learn to consult a select few well knowledgable people (not the entire company on the direction YOUR product should take).

Great products rarely get built by consensus! Remember that. Do not blind side people but do not run to others for every product decision you take either. Balance it well. You will do better.


About Naveen Athresh
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