Why domain expertise is dangerous in a product manager
Recently I was talking with a worried head of product management whose team is afraid to ask customers how they used the product because they didn’t want to be seen as not knowing the answers.
Product people need to seek answers in data, conversations, feedback and testing. We need to make decisions based on the best information we have at the time knowing we’re going to get some of it wrong and we’ll need to adjust. This seeking and learning can never stop if we want to be successful. We need to ask questions that customers think we should know so we can get to the real answers.
When a product manager has 1, 5 or 10 years experience in a domain before becoming a product manager it’s more dangerous than helpful. It’s dangerous because they might think they are the target audience and propose solutions for their former selves. They have to overcome their own biases and assumptions.
The expertise a PM might have acquired will expire quickly. Almost every industry is changing rapidly and we can’t have PMs stuck in the past.
One of the best product managers I know had a long career in higher education before doing product. What makes him so good is knowing the process and the constraints and balancing that with the humility and desire to listen and learn from the people in higher ed today.
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