February 2005

By Pragmatic Institute April 27, 2007

You can never have too many product managers

Saeed Khan writes,
There was once a skit on the television show “Saturday Night Live” where a long time nuclear power plant manager was attending his retirement party. One of his younger coworkers asked him to share his secret for having a perfect safety record during his many years as a plant manager. He replied to the group, “It’s very simple. I follow one rule. You can never have too much heavy water.” All of the coworkers nodded in agreement at these words of wisdom.

The next day, with the seasoned veteran away beginning his retirement, the new plant manager decided to put the wisdom learned the previous evening to work. He ordered an increase in the reactor’s heavy water levels. Immediately, others piped in, questioning what was going on. “No. No. No.” said someone. “You can NEVER have too much heavy water. You need to LOWER the levels, not raise them.” Others then joined the debate, each providing their own personal interpretation of what needed to be done. Some argued for increasing levels, others argued for decreasing levels. In the end, the new plant manager conceded that his interpretation had been wrong and ordered significant reductions in the reactor’s heavy water levels. Needless to say, disaster ensued.

I like this story because I’ve seen similar situations in companies many times, and, as a product manager, I’ve seen this specifically when discussing requirements during product planning. Everyone who had even the smallest amount of anecdotal customer information became the expert on customer or market needs and thus what should or shouldn’t go into the next release of the product. Personal interpretation would trump hard analysis and emotional arguments would replace logical thought.

Read You can never have too many product managers.
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