Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace Sheds Light On How Product Managers Can Overcome Bad Product Strategy
A spoof of bad 80’s TV dramas, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace presents itself as a lost, low-budget show now getting its first modern-day screening. Each episode features Dr. Rick Dagless, M.D., fighting the forces of evil that haunt Darkplace Hospital. Episode three “Skipper The Eye Child” carries an important message for product managers haunted by bad product strategy.
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We’re going to reveal key plot points from “Skipper The Eye Child” as we explore ways product managers can combat bad product strategy. And we’ll do it all in 10 screencaps or less (something we have not done in, literally, 10 years). You have been warned!
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The episode begins with Dr. Rick Dagless ruminating about his deceased son, saying, “He was born half-human, half-grasshopper. He didn’t stand a chance…” The hospital intercom interrupts his brooding.
Dagless and a security officer answer the call and find a giant mutant eye sexually assaulting a male patient. Dagless shoots the creature, but not before it somehow impregnates the male patient, who quickly gives birth to an eye child.
Inspired by memories of his own mutant son, Dagless takes the eye child into his own care to protect it from hospital officials who will want to study and potentially harm it.
Reports of the missing eye child spread throughout the hospital. Thornton Reed, the hospital administrator, suspects Dagless may be behind its disappearance. Dagless flatly denies any involvement.
With suspicions mounting… primarily because Dagless is seen skulking around the hospital carrying the eye child… Dagless pops into the break room to hide the creature in a locker and collect his thoughts.
Dr. Liz Asher, who is a touch psychic, makes small talk with Dagless in the break room in an attempt to read his thoughts and determine his guilt or innocence. Dalgess reads a novel to obfuscate his thoughts from his telepathic coworker. But he slips up and she brings her suspicions to Reed and Dagless’ best friend, Dr. Lucian Sanchez.
Meanwhile, Dagless escapes with the eye child to the roof, where he names the creature Skipper, after his own deceased mutant son.
The hospital staff corner Dagless on the roof. Sanchez presents lab results to try to convince his friend to hand over the creature. But a sudden vision of his co-workers experimenting on Skipper drives Dagless into a fighting frenzy. Many people get hurt.
Unfortunately, the lab results prove correct: Skipper is dangerous. It attacks Dagless and, in self-defense, he kills the creature.
Later, Dagless and his friends mourn the day. Dagless realizes his mistake: Nothing could ever take the place of his real son. Not the eye child. Not even a Jack Russel, despite them being very clever dogs.
“He was born half-human, half-grasshopper. He didn’t stand a chance…”
In this episode, Dagless confuses himself, and causes a lot of mayhem at Darkplace Hospital, when he transfers his affection for his deceased natural-born mutant son to a newborn eyeball monster.
Product managers, and entire businesses, sometimes mistake real product strategies for monstrous ones. We mistakenly focus on features delivered or team productivity to the exclusion of other KPIs that actually indicate progress. Often, undergirding the entire effort are assumptions that are unvalidated.
Identifying Bad Strategy
Dagless wakes up to his mistake when Skipper attacks him. At work, you probably won’t get bitten by a giant eyeball; the danger signs for a bad product strategy will be more subtle than that. You can tell a strategy is working or not by its effects.
At work, you probably won’t get bitten by a giant eyeball; the danger signs for a bad product strategy will be more subtle than that.– Chris Cummings
Are you adding new customers? Are customers using your new features? How are customers rating your product? If the answers to these questions aren’t good, then something is wrong in either the strategy or the execution. But knowing the answers to those questions is the first step to setting things on a better path.
Fixing Bad Strategy
From there, you’ll be able to ask better questions of your users and buyers to understand the problems they’re challenged by and how your product can solve those problems. Then you can segment your customers into logical groups, identify the segment best-suited to your business, and identify the most compelling problems for that segment — the problems that generate the best ROI for your business given your segment’s willingness to pay and your business’ unique resources and capabilities.
To shift from the old strategy to the new, you’ll need to present evidence to your stakeholders to convince them of your approach. Armed with the insights we’ve been talking about, you’ll have the proof required to articulate the need for change as well as the direction to take. Just keep focused on the facts and you’ll find your eye-deal approach.
Watch the “Best of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” with stars Matthew Holness, Richard Ayoade, and Matt Berry: