Among all the qualities that separate a great product manager from a good one, the ability to overcome the perspective gap is at the top.
In his 2013 best seller, Give and Take Adam Grant explains the perspective gap:
“When we’re not experiencing a psychologically or physically intense state, we dramatically underestimate how much it will affect us. For instance, evidence shows that physicians consistently think their patients are feeling less pain than they actually are. Without being in a state of pain themselves, physicians can’t fully realize what it’s like to be in that state.”
Ok, Product Managers are not the equivalent of physicians – it is not a life and death situation (for the company, it might as well be!), but the perspective gap applies to the role of the product manager as well.
In his Pulse article Don’t become a Product Manager if …, Abhishek says:
“Become a Product Manager only if you are inspired to serve the problems of customers and build great products to ease their lives.”
“You will love Product management if you are a person with great vision.”
“If you know how to break that vision into tangible chunks and lay out a plan to fulfill that vision, you will be a good PM.”
“If you are empathetic and can put yourself into customer shoes every time before you think, you will be a great PM.”
I couldn’t agree more!
Being empathetic does not mean creating new features based on every single customers’ wish. It means making sure the customer knows you have heard their needs, and that you will or will not address them, and why. It is very easy to let customers know you are going to address their problems. It is tough when you are not going to. But, the customer will understand if you take the time to explain why you are not going to. This “why” falls into a couple of categories:
- There is an easy work around to the problem, and you can educate the customer
- The feature is a one off; no one else has expressed an interest, and your engineers tell you it will be expensive to implement.
When you are not going to address a specific request, an empathetic Product Manager would take the time to reflect on the impact to the customer, let the customer know the reasons, giving as much details as possible. A customer who is well invested in the product or service might surprise you by doing away with the problem with modifications to their process, instead of insisting on the feature.
In Give and Take, Adam Grant says:
“In collaborations, takers rarely cross this perspective gap. They are so focused on their own viewpoints that they never end up seeing how others are reacting to their ideas and feedback.”
Product Management is a collaborative process – with customers and all the other stakeholders.
So is a great Product Manager a giver?