Self interest always wins out…


Deep down, every single one of us is driven by self-interest. As much as we would like to think that’s not true; that we can look beyond ourselves and do what is in the common good, the fact is, more times than not, we will do what is in our own self interest. Or at minimum, leverage the decisions we make to benefit our self interest.

When deciding what should and shouldn’t go into a release, we try to look at the market needs, at the competition, at the strategic direction of the company etc. etc. But when push comes to shove, and we have to make a hard call on including something or not, our subconscious will have a significant impact.

In a conversation about prioritizing some requirements, I had to make a hard choice between two important items of roughly equal effort. When another PM asked me why I chose one instead of the other, I said that if we implemented the one I selected, it would get a lot of people off my butt. And that I was tired of hearing people complain about the issue. The other one wasn’t causing the same stink to be raised.

As I said it, it surprised me somewhat. I told the other PM, “I’m being honest here.”

I like to think that I focus on what will help drive revenue, better position us against competitors, help strengthen relationships with key strategic partners and all that good stuff. But seriously, when a hard decision needed to be made, my reasons were none of those.

It’s not as if that functionality wasn’t needed or that it wasn’t something we should add to the product. Don’t get me wrong. People were complaining about it because it was a gap in the product and customers needed it. But, the main reason for my choice was firstly self-interest.

So let me ask you a question. Have you ever been in that situation and made a decision for similar reasons? In retrospect, any thoughts on whether that was the right decision?

Saeed

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3 responses to “Self interest always wins out…

  1. Hi, Saeed.

    Great question. I find it amusing that none of us product manager folks, who typically have plenty to say, had any comment to this posting yet. Your question gets to the core of what makes a product manager successful.

    My experience has been that every release – major or minor – has to be looked at as a portfolio, and as we know, portfolios are used to balance risk and objectives. Unless you have a monopoly or monopsony situation in which you dictate to a clearly captive market or you have one customer dictating exactly what you need to do for them, that “portfolio” needs to enable you to meet the demands of the various constituentsyou serve.

    If your business is anything like mine, you have to serve:

    1. the individual at the customer organization or the consumer who is paying the bill
    2. the actual customer user (could be the help desk agent that uses your software or the child who uses the product that her parent bought for her)
    3. your boss
    4. your boss’s boss
    5. the analysts
    6. your own marketing department
    7. your investors
    8. your development and QA teams
    9. your strategic partners (potentially), and last but not least
    10. your own need for a way to keep numbers 1-9 calm long enough so you can actually enjoy an uninterrupted weekend for a change.

    In answer to your question, “No, I have not picked one feature over another to get people off my back.” However, I have picked a feature over another out of self interest. I’ve picked a feature that will satisfy a small contingent, but in so doing, I know that the decision will pay back 10 times. I have selected what others believe to be a trivial feature, but I can guarantee you that when I did, that feature made a few “someones” very happy. If that someone is a customer, the customer became a great reference that generated more sales; if it was to accommodate something a developer really wanted to do, it kept that superstar motivated and engaged to build the next 30 features I asked him to do.

    It’s not about being transactional; it’s about making people (including yourself) feel valued, helping them to contribute to something big, and building community around your product. Even with the smallest of teams, if you can keep all 10 of the parties I mentioned above motivated and excited about your product and engaged with your sincere attention, you are highly likely to have a winning product.

    If deepening people’s commitment and attachment to your product is considered “self-interest”, well, I guess I might be guilty of making a decision out of self-interest. But, you know..it was the right decision to fill that product gap and build real credibility with the people who have to use that product feature everyday.

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  3. Mark,

    Thanks for the comment, and reassuring me that I was not completely out of touch with the rest of the PM community with my post.

    Self-interest comes in many forms. Doing our job well so we continue to get a paycheck to pay our bills and feed ourselves is self-interest. Doing what makes us look good in front of our peers is self-interest. Getting recognized by one’s boss (and bosses boss) for a job well done is self-interest.

    There are many more examples of course. In my case, while the direct self interest was getting people “off my butt”, the reality was that the people were complaining because there was a clear gap in the product that hadn’t been addressed. So closing the gap had multiple benefits.

    BTW, thanks for teaching me a new word as well: monopsony.

    Saeed