Dear Budi: What is the purpose of being a product manager or product designer?
Our job as a product practitioner is...
Today, we’re going to discuss a question from one of our readers. It’s about the purpose of our job as product practitioners:
Dear Budi, I’m a Product Manager and sometimes wonder what the purpose of my job is. I keep thinking about helping the company make profit. But I feel like that’s not really meaningful. I write this to you because you work in the public sector now and recently transitioned to the Product role, I want to know your take on this one.
Thank you, your newsletter is always helpful!
Super interesting question, right? I think it’s important to check on this question ourselves from time to time. So, let’s dive in! Thank you for sending me this question, by the way.
Here’s my thinking from my younger version.
1) I used to think my job was to create a great experience. Early in my career as a designer, I was obsessed with the craft of design. I wanted to create the best and most delightful experience. But then I realized it was not enough. We can see from two examples: Google Allo was delightful but failed to penetrate the market and closed down. Then, I see Craiglist. The design is “just enough,” and many people find it useful. So, it gets me thinking: Oh, a delightful experience is important. But it’s only one thing, not the whole point.
2) I used to think my job was about giving value to the customers. I thought the point is to deliver value to the users—see Craiglist or eBay, their design is decent, but it’s valuable. But this is not right either. I realized my decision-making was too one-sided. I prioritize what’s the most useful for users but dismiss the constraint from the business aspect. If I don't help the company monetize, it can't sustain.
3) I used to think my job was to help the company sustain its business. Because I thought good design is good business. I learned a lot about business and ensure my impact was measured in the business metrics. Then I realized I was moving to the other extreme. If my Northstar is to help the company make revenue, it puts me in a place where I can cut corners. I can simply think, “As long as I make revenue, I don’t give a f*ck about the side effects of our product.” It’s not healthy, either.
My current thinking
Then, after going through this reflection over time, now I landed on this…
Our goal is to collaboratively create positive changes for the planet and society, through products that people value yet are viable for the organization to sustain its mission. Tweet this
Collaboratively create: We can’t work alone. We need a good team to build something significant. Collaboration is at the heart of our job.
Positive changes for the planet and society: People often argue this is only possible because I work in the public sector. If I go back to the private sector at one point, I want to join a company with a strong mission that creates a positive change in this world. For example, Tesla helps reduce carbon emissions through technology so we can stay on this planet. TOMS shoes still maintain profitability and give free shoes to people who need them.
A product that people love: If we create a cool product that no one cares about, no one will use it. We need to understand the problem and build a valuable solution.
Viable for the organization: The organization needs to be sustained to pursue its mission. Profit is a means to the end. The mission should be the end—it expresses the positive change they want to make.
Prompt for you
Why do you work as a product builder?
What is the impact you seek to make in this role?
With a harm handshake,
P.S. I’ll do a field study next week, it’s been a while since the last time I did it because of Covid. I’m excited, I’ll share the some of the updates later.