A Simple Lesson in Product Management

sinkSometimes, simple lessons are the most powerful.

Many public bathrooms (including the one in my office) have gone to automatic, motion or infrared sensor faucets that dispense water at just the right temperature for washing your hands after doing your business.

Great idea, right?  Some obvious benefits:

  • The faucet is not left running by accident and water is saved
  • You can automate the mix of hot / cold water for a pleasant hand washing temperature
  • If you’ve soaped up your hands, you don’t have to touch any faucet knows to turn on the water

So someone decides that it’s now a good idea to extend this to the automatic soap dispenser as well.  Except for saving you some manual labor (really?) here is why this is a BAD idea:

  • Since you wash you hands afterwards near the soap dispenser, you can bet that it will squirt an additional 2 or 3 times unnecessarily
  • It’s actually harder with a dispenser like this to get the right amount of soap – have you tried waving your hand around to get more than one squirt of soap?
  • Having a “powered” soap dispenser is a bit over the top, don’t you think?

So how does this relate to Product Management, where and a good idea is extended and turns out to be a bad idea?

  • In the early 1990’s – clear soft drinks became popular, partly because they seemed “cleaner” and more devoid of artificial coloring.  This worked for the “UnCola” and for clear, flavored waters. Pepsi introduced “Pepsi Clear” which was marketed as being better for you…better than what?  Well the consumer would conclude better than Pepsi!  Fail.
  • The AK-47 (mad by Kalashnikov) is one of the most successful, mass produced automatic weapons in the world.  Wanted to capitalize the famous shape, Kalashnikov’s grandson introduced another famous Russian product – vodka – made in a bottle that looked like an AK-47.  Mixing automatic weapons and vodka?  Not such a good idea.
  • More recently, Microsoft created their  new “Metro” interface – which I actually liked on the Microsoft phone.  They introduced it to their new line of tablets also (makes sense).  However, if you are a traditional PC user who does programming, typing, etc. – the Metro interface sucks – and Microsoft makes it very hard to NOT use this interface.  This is further accelerating the decline of PC sales and moving people to Macs.

The lesson is simple: while imitation is the best form of flattery, if you manage products this way make sure you have a handle on the end result and whether a feature or capability is actually beneficial and wanted by the market.

So, anyone else have some examples?

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