The product manager as a detective

The product manager’s role is one that is notoriously hard to define.

Discover something that is “valuable, usable and feasible”; at the intersection of technology, business and design; “the CEO of their product!”

All are vague and non are perfect.

This isn’t surprising, in reality the role is up to you (and your company) to define. No one PM role looks the same because it is shaped by the company’s culture and the professional slant that the PM themselves brings.

That said, little turns of phrase like those above work as helpful guides. I remember the first time I envisaged a Venn diagram of technology, business and design with myself at the centre of it. It was gave my work some grounding, even if it wasn’t going to tell me what to do next.

So I wanted to add my own adage into the mix.

Being a product manager is like being a detective.

Why?

Because the best product managers don’t wade into a company with assumptions about what is happening beneath the surface. And they don’t stop asking questions when they get told another person’s opinion, or see some surface level data. They keep asking questions, they keep talking to customers, and they keep segmenting the data until the picture in front of them is beyond reasonable doubt.

In fact, treating your job like this is the only way to make meaningful impact.

This idea was highlighted perfectly in Japan last week when Orix Auto uncovered that a small percentage of their users were renting their cars, not to travel in them, but to sleep, work, listen to music, or just read a book. The behaviour could easily have been lost amongst the large numbers of people using the cars in a more traditional way. But the inquisitive nature of the team at Orix meant they wanted an answer to why some cars were being rented and never changing location.

Who knows if this discovery will yield new revenue opportunities for Orix – it feels unlikely. However it’s discoveries like these that typically will, and why comparing a product manager to a detective is another useful adage for the mix.

Daniel Bower

Blogging about platform regulation: algorithms, interoperability, kill zones as well as other bits and bobs. Read about my research, or read more about me.