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Rules and Laws Product Managers Should Understand (part 1)

First, let me say this post was inspired by a tweet from the CrankyPM asking the following question.

What are the key laws/regulations that software product managers should know?

(click to enlarge)

Now, I'm pretty certain she was looking for answers like Section 508, Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, Open Source licensing etc. But those are all pretty boring subject areas, quite honestly.

As long as you understand the equivalent of the first few paragraphs of the appropriate Wikipedia page for any of those topics, you've got pretty much all you need to do your job. And if you need to know more, you can go learn more or ask for an opinion from your legal team.

But there are a whole set of laws and rules that virtually all software product managers should know. These will help you in all sorts of situations and certainly are much more applicable than the legal regulations I listed above.

Product Management Axioms
I've got to start with these as they're my rules and there's nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion. :-)

  • Nail it, then Scale it
  • Change is a process, not an event
  • Every activity is part of a sale
  • Think horizontally, act vertically

I won't explain these here, but you can view this presentation, or read this article to understand these better.

Newton's First Law (of Motion)
This comes from the world of physics and can be stated as:

A body in motion will stay in motion and a body at rest will stay at rest unless/until external forces are applied to them

In short, things will remain the same until external pressures are applied to them. Can you see how this might apply to the world of Product Management? For example, any product or project will not change it's trajectory until external pressures (market, competition, customer, executive, and most importantly Product Management) are applied to it.

Apply this rule and be the external force that changes the trajectory of that product/project in a positive way!

Pareto's Principle
More commonly known as the 80/20 Rule, this principle originated in 1906, when Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto used it to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country. He observed that 80% of the wealth was owned by 20% of the people.

In business, this can be applied in a myriad of ways. Here are a few that are relevant to Product Managers:

  • For any given release, 80% of all Engineering resources will be needed to deliver 20% of your P1 requirements
  • 80% of your product revenue will be generated by 20% of the sales team
  • 80% of the time you make the right decisions, but people only remember the other 20%
  • When creating revenue forecasts, you'll be wrong 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, Sr. Management will think you are wrong and tell you to raise them

Murphys Law
This one needs little explanation. The formal statement is:

If anything can go wrong, it will.

We all know how true this is. There are many variants to this law that PMs should keep in mind. Here are a few.

  • Nothing is as easy as it looks.
  • Everything takes longer than you think.
  • Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
  • If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
  • Every solution breeds new problems.

Amara's Law
Engineer and futurist Roy Amara is credited with the following quote that bears his name:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

If I had a dollar for every time I've seen that law upheld...especially the first half. Usually it's a CTO or other similarly minded person waxing eloquently about the tremendous, dare I say "disruptive" impact of their next technological wonder.

Amara's Law is a cautionary one but with a promising outcome, if you have the patience to wait long enough.

I'll continue with more relevent rules and laws in Part 2.


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