The Value of Product Management

As a product manager, I will be the first to admit that much of product management is rote, overrated, anyone-can-do-it, etc. The key word is "much." The perspective that I believe product managers bring to the table is that they understand how consumers think about products. Let me give an example...

I watch The Apprentice regularly, and I've found it to be an interesting measure for me to test my instincts. In the last show, the teams had to create a new dish for El Pollo Loco (fast food chain in southern California), and were measured on total sales. Based on the product alone, I predicted that the "Tortilla" team was going to beat the "Mango" team. Why? Very easy to see that the Tortilla product was not as big a stretch from El Pollo Loco's core offering; as such, it would be easier for customers to identify with and try. A fruit/chicken combo, while tasty, is just too far out there to generate significant sales. This obversation should not be a surprise, and most people understand this basic concept.

So, why wasn't this considered as part of product design? Why wasn't this part of the thought process? Instead, both teams jumped on the "sales and marketing" bandwagon, as if sales and marketing can account for all product ills.

This is the job of product managers: to understand the market, to understand consumers, and to design a product that meets the needs of the market and internal goals/strategies. Sales and marketing exists to communicate benefits of said product, not to cover up for deficiencies in the product or strategy gaps. For some reason, this basic concept, while usually briefly touched upon, is consistently overlooked on The Apprentice.

Ultimately, I am always surprised at what passes muster on Trump's show. Apparently bravado, energy, and communication skills weigh in higher than creativity, knowledge, insight, and accomplishment. A key miss on the show is the notion that the winning team "did it right" and the losing team "did it wrong." If only business were that black and white.

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