There are SO. MANY. QUOTES. about Product Management. Just Google “Product Management Quotes” and you’ll be bombarded by pages and pages of pithy one-liners that will make you a better PM (or so you hope!).
Believe it or not, I’m actually a fan of a vast majority of these quotes.
Not because they provide some sort of mystical wisdom that is impossible to discover in any other way, but rather because they are often 100% accurate. It’s for this reason that I’ve used quotes from other Product Managers in both of my books and why I continue to use them in many of my blog posts.
But…every so often, I come across a Product Management quote that somehow became popular but is neither pithy nor accurate, neither helpful nor insightful. In fact, sometimes I see quotes about Product Management that are downright wrong and damaging.
So let’s separate the highly accurate product quotes from the BS (or just super confusing) ones.
Highly Accurate Quotes About Product
Here are a few quotes I’ve found to be highly accurate in my time in Product across four different tech companies.
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
– Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn/Greylock
Commentary from Alex: There’s a reason I put this one first. It’s pretty easy to say, but oh-so-hard to do. You’ll be getting pressure from almost everyone to wait to release (“we need to wait for x feature”) and you’ll often face some tough feedback from the market/customers on your release (“it’s missing y”), but if you’ve built a true MVP, you’ll be able to validate or invalidate your hypothesis and move onward and upward faster.
“Be stubborn on vision but flexible on details.”
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Commentary from Alex: Product Management is about having a strong vision of where you need to go, but a LOT of flexibility on how you get there. You’ll run into countless forks in the road as you design, develop, test, and release. Just make sure you stay focused on that vision.
“At the heart of every product person, there’s a desire to make someone’s life easier or simpler. If we listen to the customer and give them what they need, they’ll reciprocate with love and loyalty to your brand.”
– Francis Brown, Product Development Manager at Alaska Airlines
Commentary from Alex: LOVE this. If you aren’t thinking about the customer as you plan, build, and refine, you aren’t doing it right. They are the most important part of being a Product Manager and Francis nails it here. Well said!
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas.”
– Steve Jobs, Apple
Commentary from Alex: It’s so easy to say yes to product features and ideas. As a PM at almost any company, you’ll constantly be presented with what you can do. You’ll get these ideas from customers, from co-workers, from the market. It’s your job to say no to all the good, but not great, ideas.
“Know your value add. I’ve seen three main PM archetypes: engineer turned PM, designer turned PM, and businessperson turned PM. As a member of the latter bucket, I recognize that I could never out-engineer an engineer or out-design a designer. Instead, I leverage my knowledge of our business and customers to better prioritize what features make it onto the roadmap and help my team understand why we’re building those features.”
– Lauren Chan Lee, Director of Product Management at Care.com
Commentary from Alex: I’ve written and given talks about the different types of Product Managers I’ve seen out there in the real world. While I believe there are a couple more archetypes than Lee identifies, her point is incredibly poignant. Do what you do best and surround yourself with others, both inside and outside of your product team, who can provide complementary skills.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
– Ken Blanchard, Author and Leadership Guru
Commentary from Alex: Very simple, very accurate. Eat feedback for breakfast, it will serve you incredibly well as a PM. Just don’t eat feedback for every single meal. Remember to pay attention to the market, your intuition, and your company’s strategic goals too.
“Move away from output to outcomes”
– Lea Hickman, Silicon Valley Product Group
Commentary from Alex: I first heard this expression at my last company, Upside Travel. Product Managers are in the outcomes business, not the outputs business. Delivery itself is not success. Driving a key result (see OKRs) is your goal.
“Quite simply, it’s the product manager’s job to articulate two simple things: What game are we playing? How do we keep score?”
– Adam Nash, Dropbox/Wealthfront/LinkedIn/eBay
Commentary from Alex: I hadn’t seen this quote until I started doing research for this post, but I really like it. I tried to poke holes in it by thinking about what it didn’t include, but honestly, if you know the game you (and your company) are playing and how you (and your company) are being judged everything else is derivative.
Highly Inaccurate Quotes About Product
Here are a few quotes I’ve found on “top product quotes” lists that I’ve found to be highly inaccurate. Maybe they were accurate for these people or in certain situations, but I have not seen them work in the real world.
“Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect.”
– Jack Dorsey, Square/Twitter
Commentary from Alex: I appreciate what Dorsey is going for here with simplicity + focus, but if you’re aiming for perfect as a Product Manager, you’ll never get there. This quote is the anti-Reid Hoffman quote from the first section.
“If you continue to improve a product enough, you’ll eventually ruin it.”
– David Pogue, The New York Times
Commentary from Alex: Another way to read this quote is “you can’t continue to improve a product forever.” I dispute that notion. Everything can be improved. However, you have to be disciplined. Improving a product isn’t just about adding new features, it’s also about removing ineffective or non-adopted ones, it’s about improving existing features. Everything can get better.
“A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.”
– Deep Nishar, Vice President of Product at LinkedIn
Commentary from Alex: I think Nishar is going for the same sentiment that Lee expressed successfully in an earlier quote. However, it doesn’t land. A great Product Manager does not need to have an engineer’s brain or a designer’s heart, but they need to find those people and lean on them.
A great Product Manager doesn’t need to have the skills of a designer or an engineer but they need to be able to recognize those skills in other people and build an effective and balanced team that supports the goals of the business.
Data beats opinions.
Commentary from Alex: Data is great. I love data. But the problem with this quote is that it will make Product Managers (and aspiring PMs) think that there will always be strong data to support a decision they need to make. This very often is not the case. As a PM, you’ll quite often be operating in an environment of uncertainty and often have to make very tough decisions. The important thing is to ensure that after you make those decisions you can validate the hypotheses you were testing with data and/or feedback.
“Only move forward with creating a product that will be ‘above the bar’.”
– Brian Lawley, CEO/Founder of the 280 Group
Commentary from Alex: Come on. This is far too on the nose. Of course, we should only build products that are exceptional and are differentiated. No one would dispute that. But again, by following this credo, you risk shipping too late or building the wrong thing. Get feedback early and often. Validate or invalidate your hypotheses as fast as humanly possible.
“Features don’t disrupt industries unless they disrupt meaning”
– Roberto Verganti, Professor of Leadership and Innovation at the Stockholm School of Economics
Commentary from Alex: This is a bit too philosophical and a bit too far away from reality to be helpful to 99% of Product Managers. To be honest, it took me a few reads to comprehend what Verganti was trying to communicate and it still doesn’t land very strongly.
What Quotes Did I Miss (Or Miscategorize?)
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @amitch5903