My last post on Is Product Management Compatible with Passion? kicked up some great comments from the PM blog community. Bob Corrigan at ack/nak and I had a google chat about the topic the other day that he posted on his site, it contains some of his insightful thoughts on the topic.
As a follow up, I’d like to post another question: Does Passion Matter? Passion may be the vehicle that turns customers into evangelists, but in order for a product to be successful, it is not required – and in some markets might even be viewed as a negative.
Our external goal as a PM is to solve customer needs. Internally, we drive to maximize the profit from our products, and we’re ultimately judged by the board or shareholders on that metric. If you manage a product that the market is passionate about and has tons of evangelists (hello Mac Cube), but you can’t sell it, either your company will fail or you will be fired.
Some of the most profitable products and services are those that don’t inspire at all – like cable television, life insurance, and payroll processing. No one is starting blogs about these products evangelizing for them, and they don’t have to. They’ve risen (or fallen) to the level of “utility” in the consumer’s mind that doesn’t set off mental arithmetic to pay for.
The downside is that if you are utility, you are also probably a commodity and have a lower barrier to entry than in a dynamic, competitive market. However, if you get get to utility status, and survive to be one of the last in your market, you can drive the cost so far out of your solution that your profit engine will crank up, and your challenge will be to scale in terms of units instead of profit. There isn’t as much product innovation at this level, but there is plenty of operational innovation (see: Dell, Amazon).
Does inspiring passion matter? If you are in a highly competitive market, and you need to charge a premium for a product that sells on non-functional aspects like GUI, you bet it does. If you are selling groceries, not so much.