The One Where I Said Too Much
The NBC sitcom Friends debuted in 1994 and followed the lives of six twenty-somethings living in New York City. Chandler (played by Matthew Perry) often struggles with relationships, and goes to his friends for help. Hilarity ensues. And so does a lesson in executive meetings for product managers.
We’re about to recap the series 3 episode of Friends titled “The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel” which originally aired in 1996. You’ve been warned!
Chandler and his friends are hanging out. His phone starts to ring, and he freaks out because his girlfriend Janice is calling. The phone stops, and then his friends try to figure out what’s wrong.
Chandler: Oh, that’s great I’m gonna have to see her tonight.
Rachel: What’s the big deal? Why don’t you wanna see Janice?
Chandler: Okay, last night at dinner, when the meals came, she put half her chicken piccata on my plate and took my tomatoes.
Ross: And that’s bad because… you hate chicken piccata?
Ross: You didn’t want to share your tomatoes; tomatoes are very important to you.
Chandler: No! It’s like, all of the sudden, we were this couple. And this alarm started going off in my head: “Run for your life! Get out of the building!”
Realizing he’s afraid of commitment, his friends theorize he can move beyond his fear of commitment by forcing himself to be the most committed guy there ever was. Chandler follows their advice, and then some. After surprising Janice with a home-cooked meal and a gift, he keeps pushing forward…
Chandler: And there’s more. We should take a trip.
Janice: We should?
Chandler: Yep, we’re a couple and that’s what couples do. And, I wanna meet your parents. We should take a trip with your parents!
Janice: [laughing nervously] I don’t think we need to, because you’re tripping me out right now! Are you okay?
Chandler: I am. I actually am. I mean, this is amazing. My entire life I have feared this place, and now that I’m here it’s like, “What was the big deal?” I could probably say, “Let’s move in together,” and I’d be okay.
Janice: You probably want us to move in together?
Chandler: It doesn’t scare me!
Janice: Yeah, well, it scares me! I mean, I’m not even divorced yet, Chandler. You know, you just invited me over here for pasta, and all of the sudden you’re talking about moving in together. And, and I wasn’t even that hungry. You know what, it’s getting a little late, and I-I should just, um… [gets up to leave]
Chandler: Oh, no, no, no, don’t go! I’ve scared you! I’ve said too much! I’m hopeless, and awkward, and desperate for love!
It’s a scenario that would make any product manager sweat.
Not a date with a girlfriend or boyfriend. But a Skype call with senior executives to review the pricing model for your brand-new product.
In advance of this meeting, like Chandler, I’d done my homework and sought direction.
I met with dozens of target prospects and several relevant analysts to validate the pricing model. I captured and synthesized competitive pricing information. Then I debated the pros and cons of the proposed pricing model with my supervisor and the senior director of pricing and packaging. Next, we created a presentation designed to provide the executives with enough information to understand the product and its model. Our goal was to get the pricing approved so we could proceed to the next stage of our launch process.
During the actual presentation, various executive voices chimed in over Skype with questions. Overall, they appeared satisfied with my answers.
Until we got to one slide, which made a somewhat bold statement. It underlined who we were not considering as a target buyer for this product.
And one executive’s reaction to that bold slide suddenly launched us away from a pricing conversation and into a go-to-market one. Worse yet, people on the call who could have addressed some of those concerns started piling on questions of their own instead.
The call ended not only with pricing questions to address but also much broader issues to consider. All because a key executive doubted we did enough validation for the concept and target market — let alone the pricing.
Transparency as a strength
Transparency can truly benefit an organization. Breaking down information silos speeds up decision-making, increases the quality of those decisions, and helps hold relevant parties accountable for the decisions they’ve made.
When it comes to employee happiness, various surveys show that management transparency is actually the most important factor. And that desire for transparency factors into a company’s profitability as well. Over 70% of consumers indicate they would be willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency.
From a product management perspective, transparency can strengthen your relationship with customers. This is especially true if you share not just your plans with them, but also the benefits of upcoming features and functions. Transparency can also improve your relationships with internal stakeholders by allowing different customer-facing coworkers to bring their insights into the product management process.
Transparency as a weakness
However, transparency does require an organizational mind shift — and changing minds isn’t easy. Moreover, the investment in an ongoing dialogue between management and staff can be difficult to maintain (as recent events at Google have demonstrated).
And transparency can have unintended consequences — which I experienced firsthand in my pricing committee presentation.
In being crystal clear about our product’s intended market, I thought I was being helpful. Instead, I created more problems. I ended up learning three valuable lessons from this experience:
1. Don’t over-communicate
This particular scenario was a pricing conversation. Everything in the presentation should have focused on getting to an agreement on the business model and pricing. While providing background, I introduced what was ultimately extraneous information. I mean, does anyone really need to know who isn’t a prospect? By doing that, I accidentally opened the door to a broader line of questioning which derailed the entire conversation.
2. Align with key stakeholders beforehand
After doing the background work to validate and invalidate different assumptions, I sought alignment with my supervisor and the senior director responsible for overall pricing and packaging. However, I hadn’t “walked the halls of Congress” to do a pre-read of my key points with the stakeholders in that meeting. If I had, my presentation would likely have been stronger. Also, people other than myself could have answered questions rather than adding new ones.
3. Establish common ground using numbers
In my presentation, I explicitly addressed what we were doing, why it mattered, and our pricing proposal. But in providing background on the product, I both over-communicated and under-communicated.
In my over-communication, I distracted with minutia that ended up being controversial. At the same time, I under-communicated the amount of background work I’d completed. As a result, some of the executives felt we had more work to do, when in fact, we’d already done it.
To help address that concern, I created a follow-up slide that specifically identified each of those line items and the associated number of conversations, tests, etc. PMs on our team now use that slide template to help quickly create shared understanding.
PM transparency with executives
After that initial Skype call, I felt pretty glum. Still, it was clear what I had to do. I addressed the executives’ concerns by providing quantitative evidence of the process we’d gone through. Together with my supervisor, we walked the halls of Congress ahead of the next meeting to drive alignment on the go-to-market plan. A few weeks later than originally planned, we got the pricing approved and moved onto the next stage.
Transparency with executives is a good product management strategy. However, getting the balance right requires thoughtful execution.
And, no matter what — never suggest going on a date with their parents; that tactic never works.
New Around Here?
Watch Chandler and Janice go on an emotional rollercoaster ride: