December 15

No More Camels [or Knowing When You Need a Product Person]

“A camel is a horse formed by committee.”
– unknown

The need for a product person is often an invisible one. Instead, your company is likely experiencing a range of challenges when shipping a product that are difficult to tackle at once. So let’s look at some of the big symptoms that demonstrate that your team is in dire need of a product person.

Your competition is being more disruptive than you
For some reason your company isn’t following through on the innovative ideas that are coming from ground level employees, visionary leadership or your customers. You wish you had someone who knew that execution is everything and who will work tirelessly to keep it structured. Someone who will gather every idea and fight using data to only consider those that will have the biggest impact. And as a result, will ship finely-tuned disruptive products. This is a product person.

It’s not clear who is taking real responsibility for the success or failure of your product
Every person and department in a company is playing a key role in shipping your products. Your leadership is outlining exciting visions, marketing has convincing data from your customer base and your engineering team has probably already started building the solution. This energy propels the project towards completion. However, as this period comes to a close everyone realizes that despite the stellar work they did, things don’t look right. A small amount of chaos ensues with many fingers pointing in many directions. It seems that from the start you needed someone to quarterback this whole operation and be the one ultimately responsible for its success (or at least be in a position to demonstrate the fault of someone else with data). This is a product person.

Related: Nobody really knows what success looks like
Is success bottom-line revenue, marketing gains, technology advancement? You need a person who is independent from each of the departments determining these goals to define and measure the true success metrics. This is a product person.

Your CTO/CMO/CEO is doing far less of her core job and instead agonizing over the color of a button
For whatever reason, one person in your company has been given responsibility for the shipping of a product. It seems like every decision they make is subjective or clouded by their own assumptions and perspective. For that person, the work can be very enjoyable with quite a lot of power to impose on the process. But it’s clear that much of the work is unproductive and ultimately useless. There is a person who could do this better. This person would make decisions based on sound research and testing. They would agonize over the color of a button not based on their preferences, but on how users react or designers recommend. This is a product person.

Your engineering team is deciding on what to develop based on what they think is important
Your engineering team are a powerful bunch. They are on the front line and make many decisions that will never be recognized or understood by non-technical colleagues. And believe it or not, they are also people! So it’s probable that they will have an opinion on the product that is being developed and may see ways, valid and not, of improving the feature set as they work. If there is not someone from outside the engineering team specifying very clearly and deliberately exactly what needs to be built in the next few weeks, the result will be ugly. This person is respected by the technical team for her understanding of what they are working with but is not beholden to them. Instead, they see engineering as one part of a jigsaw piece that’s assembled every day. This is a product person.

Your salespeople are the only ones speaking with your customers
You know that building a product in reaction to what your salespeople are hearing is dangerous. Although the information that they are hearing is probably the most valuable available, a product built in constant response to what a number of customers will pay for will lack focus, be convoluted and impossible to upgrade and manage. Instead there needs to be another person constantly speaking with customers, listening to their needs and weighing up the impact of serving them using data that the entire company can agree on. This is a product person.


I’d love to hear more examples that you’ve experience before below in the comments.

Paul McAvinchey

About the author

For over 20 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on in the exclusive Member Hub, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly newsletters that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.


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