This week we started construction on our new house. In just one day a handful of carpenters had most of the exterior walls erected and were ready to build the interior walls.
I got to thinking about impressive first steps misleading us about probable completion dates for engineering projects. Like my house, design work often has a flurry of activity that creates something visible fairly rapidly But, the initial “product” is missing a lot of stuff to make it real.
Naïve business managers, even in sophisticated technology companies, often get revved up over the initial product viewing and want to make premature announcements. Some want to sell the product before it’s ready. Many years ago a field applications engineer told me "yeah, if we could just hook power and ground to an overhead transparency we'd have the world by the tail."
There’s a fine line between necessary market preparation and overly optimistic product hype. Often a professional with engineering training is the product manager for the development project. Engineering is supposed to be scientific and our communication about projects should be factual. Like it or not, it’s our jobs as engineers and engineering managers to pull back on the reigns and inject reality into product planning. Doing so can make even the most highly respected professionals become a pariah.
Telling the truth about product readiness isn’t always about ugliness. Sometimes you get to be the bearer of good news - but not often enough. In the final analysis we get to tell our companies about more “bad” news than “good.” And that situation is perilous for not only our jobs, but many of our colleagues.
There are only two kinds of real product manager: the ones who have been fired and the ones who will be fired. What kind of product manager will you be?