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Rules and Laws Product Managers Should Understand (part 2)

Continuing from Part 1, here are more Rules and Laws to help Product Managers in their jobs.

Thackara's Laws
John Thackara can best be described as a thinker, designer and innovator. He defined 2 laws (in his 2005 book In the Bubble) that are probably more obvious to all of us today, than they were 5 years ago when he first published them.

Law #1: "If you put smart technology into a pointless product, the result will be a stupid product."

How true. A great example of this law in action is Microsoft Surface. Announced 3 years ago, in response to at about the same time as Apple's revolutionary iPhone, it's amazing to see exactly how little Microsoft has done with the technology of Surface. Meanwhile we know what Apple has done with the iPhone and iPad. BTW, the best thing that came out of Microsoft's Surface announcement, was this video. :-)

Thackara's second law came from analyzing his own lack of amazement as his friend demonstrated all the great features of a brand new top-of-the-line Mercedes Benz. Brilliant engineering? Yes. Very expensive price tag? Yes. Wow factor? Nil.

Law #2: "Our capacity to be impressed by new technology diminishes in relation to the amount of pointless functionality added to everyday products." Known as "the law of diminishing amazement (LODA)."

We've all probably experienced this in some form or another. Usually when, like Thackara, a friend is giddy with delight in explaining some new tech toy. Or, if you're a Product Manager, when listening to a CTO or other technologist describe the wonders of the next amazing product he/she has envisioned.

And for those of you more mathematically inclined, you may appreciate Classen's law which states:

Usefulness = Log (Technology)

Hanlon's Razor
There's debate as to the actual origin of this law. Some claim was a man named Robert Hanlon in 1980, others believe it was actually Robert Heinlein (the author) in 1941, and still others attribute it to Napolean Bonaparte. Regardless, the law is well worth remembering.

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Keep this rule in mind when things don't work out as planned.

For example, if you know you've done your job in researching, defining and delivering the right product to market, but your sales reps come back to you saying that the reason they can't sell your product is because it lacks needed functionality or that it's priced too high, you'll know where the real problem resides.

Hofstadter's Law
As someone who's worked in software for a long time, I appreciate recursion when it's used effectively. Hofstadter's law is one such example. It states, quite cleverly:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

Keeping this in mind, always realize that when you set a target date for your next release, it will invariably change (for the worse) and the overall scope of your release will shrink. Guaranteed. And the only people to blame will be those who actually thought those original estimate were accurate.

For more information on this, see Planning Fallacy and Optimism Bias. A quick read of Parkinson's Law wouldn't hurt either.

Hawthorne Effect
This comes to us courtesy of experiments done with factory workers in the first half of the 20th century. An experiment was conducted to see what impact high and low lighting levels had on worker productivity. The workers were fully aware that they were being observed and their productivity increased for the duration of the experiment and then dropped once the experiment ended.

Being in the field changes the haviour of those being observed

For those physicists out there, you may remember the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, or the Observer effect, both of which can be paraphrased as:

the act of observing a situation will (implicitly or explicitly) affect and change that situation.

Why is this important? When you do field studies with customers or users of your product, always keep in mind that your presence and the fact that your users know they are being observed will change their behaviour, and thus your findings. The more you can do to eliminate your impact as an observer, the more likely you are to get accurate results.

Intuit's famous Follow me home program is an example of trying to minimize the Hawthorne effect.

I'll stop here. There are many more rules and laws that can be applied to innovation, product development and product management.

Do you have any that you want to share?


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