What Final Fantasy II Teaches Us About Product Management

Pragmatic Marketer Volume 12 Issue 1

Everything I need to know about product management I learned from playing Final Fantasy II (the SNES game).

The game has three basic acts:

Act 1: Realize You’re Evil
Act 2: Become the Good Guy
Act 3: Conquer

At the start of the game, our hero finds himself in an uneasy position: He’s a member of a group he opposes. When he voices his concerns, he’s stripped of his high-ranking position and unknowingly sent on a mission to murder an entire village. Once he discovers the mission’s true intent, he rejects his circumstances and, ultimately, chooses a more positive path.

Our potential hero faces enormous challenges. On his path to becoming a good guy, monsters try to kill him and his love interest becomes deathly ill. Throughout these adventures, he assembles a team to assist him on his journey. Ultimately, our hero earns the status of Paladin, a knight who can perform magic, and he becomes the man he aspires to be. Before becoming a Paladin, our hero was a good fighter, but his newfound status allows him to do much more. He has evolved from a one-trick pony into the game’s most valuable player, someone who can actually conquer the game.

Like the Final Fantasy II storyline, many product managers have three acts.

Act 1: Realize You’re Evil

How are product managers evil? Ok, maybe
that’s a little dramatic, but still, too many product managers:

  • expand scope
  • write lousy requirements
  • schedule too many meetings
  • just send emails all day
  • waste time
  • can’t make a decision without looping in eight bosses

No matter where we are in our careers, we need to remind ourselves daily of these potential flaws so we can diligently defend against them. Yet, we’re human and will make mistakes that can be costly. The only way to advance our careers is to prevent ourselves from allowing our weaknesses, misconceptions and pride from hurting or killing the products we work on.

Act 2: Become the Good Guy

Once we realize we’re evil, we can begin the process of becoming good. To become one of the good guys, we must exist in a state of constant learning and self-growth. We must learn to be humble in order to achieve success.

What’s all involved in becoming the good guy? I wish I knew because I’m struggling with this myself. However, I can offer the following tips:

1. Be open to criticism and to new ways to improve.

2. Learn as much as you can. How do different systems talk to each other? What are they built on? What are the database table names? What is metadata? What is json? Learn the lingo. Ask stupid questions; you’ll be stupid for a shorter period of time.

3. Find ways to feel more confident. Do something to help cope with stress and increase your passion for your role. Exercise regularly; get to know your team. This also goes hand in hand with the second point. Once you know how things work you’ll have more confidence.

4. Stay humble. Don’t let pride get in the way of what’s best for the project or team. If needed, be the scrum master or schedule meetings. Be persistent and focus on getting the project done.

5. Communicate everything. Does it look like the date will slip? Do you need a resource? Was a bug discovered? Tell stakeholders, preferably in a face-to-face conversation, and explain why. When delivering the news, don’t just say “we are missing our date” or “we found a bug.” Always present a solution or plan that still allows you to meet your goal. Your manager will change the path if he or she disagrees.

Throughout the game, our hero faces multiple distractions but also understands the ultimate goals that lie ahead. This should be true in life, too. Sometimes unavoidable tasks pop up. It’s important to take care of them without getting frustrated or losing sight of our ultimate product goals.

Act 3: Conquer

In Final Fantasy II, the main character becomes a knight who can also do magic. In real life, we are businesspeople who can work with development. Our wizards are developers and testers and perhaps others on our team.

When we fully conquer the role, we represent the business to customers throughout product development and launch. We understand the business we work for and are responsible for the backlog the development team works with. We make decisions and know who to reach out to when those decisions are above or beyond us. We are willing and able to do whatever is needed to get our product launched successfully and on time.

Eventually, we will discover that we’ve reached a certain point where we’ve mastered our craft and are ready for anything thrown our way. We’ve gained the respect of our colleagues and our team. With a little bit of magic and a lot of might, we’ll be one of the most important members on the team. Until then, we need to stay focused and keep growing.

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  • Joe Peterson is a product manager at Rakuten Marketing's Affiliate channel. He's been with Rakuten Marketing since October 2013 and has nearly 10 years product management experience. In his spare time Joe enjoys Crossfit and spending time with his family. Contact Joe by email at joseph.peterson@rakuten.com or follow him on twitter @poejeterson.

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