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Why do we fall, Master Bruce?

Early on in my career as a Product Manager, I was told that I owned a particular product. Back then, I didn't particularly know what it meant to own a product. I just assumed that it was my responsibility to build it up to a world class product that all the users loved.

I did a lot of research on the kind of people that used this product (and other such products), I explored all the competing products in the space and was the go-to person to know anything about the state of the features offered by each of these competing products and which one was better than the others when it came to different use cases.

And I brainstormed and came up with lots of ideas on how my product could be better than the products that were out there in the same space.

I ended up with two sets of features to build - ones that would help my product catch up to the market leaders and be on par in terms of the features and the offering, and others that would help differentiate my product from everything else in the market and make it even better. In addition, I talked to users and gathered what features they would like to see in the product and sorted those ideas into one of the above two buckets as well.

And then, I put together a multi-month roadmap that outlined what feature would be released when and how it would make my product better than the others out there and lead me to world domination. And I started to build.

Alas, I failed miserably.

I soon learnt that I had taken one fundamental thing for granted. That I had to enhance this product that I was now the owner of. I never stopped to question whether this product ought to exist in the first place. I never stopped to think if I could solve the underlying problems of the users in a different way than what my product was currently doing.

But the whole exercise was a great experience. After all, we learn from failures. "Why do we fall, Master Bruce?" "So that we can learn to pick ourselves up."

I soon learnt that building out a lengthy and detailed product roadmap that was full of features to come was pointless at best and dangerous at worst. And that the way to go about it was to simply identify the problems we need to solve and the value we need to add to users and keep iterating on how to do that. If one solution doesn't work, if one feature doesn't work, we learn from it and try a new idea. Until we eventually make the difference we want.

But this iteration won't happen if we simply get busy building and ignore why we are building it and who we are building it for. There was a popular knock-knock joke in tech circles a few years ago that went like this:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
User who?
You sir, are welcome to Microsoft.

When I learnt this about product management, I thought I should have known this from the start. But then, I realised that I hadn't learnt this lesson in my own life.

I had always treated my life like I had treated my first product as a product manager. I just picked up what I was told and did everything I could to enhance it and make it the best among others in the space.

I had made the same mistake of not questioning whether this kind of a life was what was needed in the first place and whether the underlying problem couldn't be addressed a different way.

This realization led me to be more deliberate about the things I chose and the paths I pursued. While I'm no expert, I'm definitely better off in this way of thinking and approach than I was several years ago.

And that's all I can ask for - progress.

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