Product Managers: Dare to make products crafted with care

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Generally speaking, craftspeople take great care and pride in their work—their passion for what they do shows in the final product. Some craftspeople, however, are still remembered decades, even centuries, later. Here’s just one example. Of the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of stringed instruments in the world today, only 1,100, or so, were made by Antonio Stradivari, the great Italian luthier. Almost 300 years ago, he hand-built what are widely acknowledged as the finest violins and cellos (and a few other instruments) on the planet. His are still the standard to which all other luthiers aspire. Despite now living in the age of technology and automation, we must follow in Stradivari’s footsteps. Our #1 priority should be building products that are crafted with care and designed to delight.

Craft [noun \ˈkraft\]: an activity that involves making something
in a skillful way by using your hands

While successful products over the centuries have been crafted with care, the age of technology has seen a focus on cost reduction and the outsourcing of everything. This has moved the attention to detail down the priority list for many. No wonder customers are increasingly less loyal and are quick to switch to something that they believe understands them better.

We need to remember that software is written by humans, that robots who build machines are programmed by humans and that while technology is everywhere, people create technology. In an environment where “Software eats the world,” a key differentiator of successful products is the love users have for their tools and the strong emotional link that people have with their devices. And this can be achieved only if everyone involved in getting the product to the market has passion and pride in their work and focuses on delighting the customer.

“Crafted with Care” is a mind-set that needs to be at the core of every company culture

“Crafted with care” is the mindset that must drive the organization—it should be one of the core focuses of the company’s culture. While product managers fundamentally do nothing, their primary focus should be to drive the “crafted with care” mentality at every step of the process, at every touch-point the user has with the company and its products. PMs need to be passionate about the solution they can help bring to the world, providing a deep attention to detail without losing focus on the big picture. Product managers must make sure that from the first Google AdWord exposure to post-sale support, every customer touch point excels in its delivery.

So what do I mean by “crafted with care”? It’s about putting passion into every step of the development and delivery and paying attention to details. It’s about wanting to go the extra mile and ship products of which the entire team can be proud.

It’s also about the marketing campaign and collateral materials, the website, the packaging (if applicable), the sales strategy and infrastructure (both in-house and through third parties), the support and every other function that’s involved. Sorry to break it to those in R&D, but the actual product is only a part of the whole user experience.

You can feel this “crafted with care” attitude in many products that have shaped the landscape of modern technology. Why else would there be the core team’s signatures on the inside of the case of the original Apple Macintosh? Nobody will ever see it as it wasn’t intended to be opened, but the pride and passion from everyone involved—driven by one of the most passionate product managers of all time—shows that attention to detail isn’t about only user interaction. It’s everywhere.

Another example, described in the book by Andrea Butter and David Pogue, Piloting Palm —OK, I am dating myself a little here—is how Jeff Hawkins, another visionary product owner, built wooden prototypes of the PalmPilot and “used” them to make sure the button layouts and screen size felt just right and that the product would result in an amazing user experience.

To be clear, I am not advocating the position that the product must be perfect before shipping. If you waited for that, you would never go live. The only way you can make sure your products resonate with the users is to get it out in the world, to get their feedback. Start-ups, as well as larger companies, understand this very well as they follow a lean methodology, working with minimum viable products (MVPs) and using agile development methodologies. But an MVP that wasn’t crafted with care will never deliver its true potential. How can you know if it’s the idea or the execution on the idea that is at fault?

Data-driven decisions are required to craft products with care

Crafted with care requires a data-driven approach, one where you collect both quantitative and qualitative information and then make decisions based on facts. This includes a deep understanding of the customers needs, aspirations, pains and gains. It’s fascinating, for example, to see how Netflix knows the point at which you will get hooked and will entice you to finish every single episode of a show.

Product managers, user experience designers and everyone else need to put themselves in the customer’s shoes so they can look at the product from the customer’s perspective.

I don’t want to use a computer. I don’t want to do word processing. I want to write a letter, or find out what the weather will be, or pay a bill, or play a game. I don’t want to use a computer, I want to accomplish something. I want to do something meaningful to me.

—Donald A. Norman in The Invisible Computer book

The real proof of having crafted a product with care is when a user wants to do something with your product and simply does what seems logical. It should just work, without requiring going through the whole documentation. It’s about the little things, about surprising the users, about getting them to think, “Wow, they thought about that.”

It’s only through deep passion, caring and a relentless attention to detail that customers will be delighted by the products you deliver.

Will people care about your product in three months (let alone  300 years!)? It’s time to get back into making products that are crafted with care.


Original picture and photographer credits available at unsplash.com.

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