Creating The Perfect Product Isn’t Enough

Monday, we sacrilegiously summarized the epic graphic novel Watchmen in 10 Panels Or Less™.

Today, we’re going to use that story summary as a springboard into a discussion on how being right sometimes just isn’t enough.

Hold on, Ozymandias: Creating the perfect product isn’t enough.
A good product manager has to get the market right, too. And avoid giant blue hands.

Who Watches The Product Managers?

Our friends at Giving Up The Ship challenged us recently to consider how sometimes being right isn’t enough. This got me thinking: When have I done the right thing, and failed?

And then I saw a commercial for the Watchmen movie.

Which reminded me of the graphic novel Watchmen.

Which reminded me of a powerful sequence in the graphic novel where a bizarrely principled character refuses to compromise–and gets atomized for holding fast to his principles.

To the best of my knowledge, none of my products have ever reduced anyone to subatomic particles–but I have built genius products for the right reasons and learned, first hand, it just wasn’t enough.

“Magic” Is Big, This Should Be HUGE

About seven years ago, I had the genius idea to capitalize on the popularity of the card game Magic: The Gathering by creating an online, multiplayer card game that hit the same geek beats as Magic but did so in our own unique, wink-and-a-nod way.

This, I argued, would grow our audience and diversify it–attract more of that young male demo the advertisers know and love.

We wrote up the rules, prototyped and play-tested with paper cards, consulted with a local Magic state champion, illustrated a complete deck of virtual cards with a cool sci-fi theme–tested, tested, tested until we got the balance of the cards exactly right–and then, finally, proudly, launched this shiny, polished, perfectly-balanced product into the market.

Know who played? Us, and about 20 other people.

The product was fun and smart, but ultimately a failure.

The Fatal Flaw

With the benefit of hindsight, there were many flaws in my approach to that product. But I think the fatal flaw wasn’t the theme of the game or any attribute of the product itself. The problem was the business analysis. Or, in this case, the absence of business analysis.

I got so caught up in the excitement–of building something new, something we were all into, something that could be The Next Big Thing–that I focused almost exclusively on the tactics of the game design and skimped on the market potential of the product and our ability to market this product to a totally new customer segment.

This might sound like the mistake of a newbie product manager (and it is)–but I know enough seasoned PMs working at startups around the country today to know it’s also a chronic and persistent problem. Because everyone wants to be part of the next overnight sensation. Because we’re hard-wired to imagine, “What if…?” Because it’s fun.

You Need To Get The Market Right

Look at your product proposal objectively, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are my customers–and how many of them are there?
  • Where are they located?
  • What are their needs and resources?
  • Is my product essential to their day-to-day lives?
  • How many competitors provide a similar product?
  • Can I realistically compete in price, quality, and customer service?
  • Can I price my product effectively to yield a sustainable profit?

If you can answer those questions in detail, you already know if you’re on your way to creating a viable product.

If you can’t answer them–you’ve got some work to do, right?

Clearly, it isn’t enough to build the perfect product. As a product manager, you need to get the market right, too.

Which can increase your chances of success and–take it from me–greatly decrease your chances of being incinerated by a giant, blue man with weird electrical powers.

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2 thoughts on “Creating The Perfect Product Isn’t Enough

  1. Great article, thanks for the info. It is always good to hear/learn from someones first hand experience.

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