Importance of “Why” for a Product Manager?

The more I work as a product manager, the more and more appreciation I have for the “why?” question.

Having been in the shoes of the engineer, the primary focus was on “what and how” instead of “why”. As an engineer, I was often asking the following questions to my lead or to my manager or to myself

What should I work on?

What do you want the behavior of this button to be?

How should I build it?

But in the product manager role, more than “what” and “how”, I find “why” to be the most useful.

Why should we build this feature?

Why now?

Why this approach?

Why this solution over the other?

Why this vendor over the other?

Why do this promotion?

Sometimes it is assumed that something we are doing is important either because it was asked by someone very important in the company or from some very important customer. The focus immediately shift towards “How”. Only after going through the efforts of actually building something, going live with it would you realize that there was no real need for this solution or this opportunity was not big enough for us dedicate so many resources on this task. Yet, I have myself fallen into this trap couple of times. I have felt the “why” part to be very obvious sometimes, but asking the “why” question over and over again could reveal something different and change your perspective.

Asking the why question, provides us with the justification, which I think is a mix of facts(data) + intuition(assumptions).

Facts (data) speak for themselves. If someone tells me homepage of the website loads in 10mins, then that is a clear data element for me that answers why I need to focus on homepage performance improvement feature. When we have strong data backing something, then it becomes a no-brainer.

Intuition or gut feeling are our opinions. Most innovative products are the ones which are built with more intuition then based on facts. Intuition for a product manager comes from understanding of who the end customers are, what their real problems are and how they might accept the product.

Some of the great product managers I have come across have been the ones who are focused on these aspects when making any decisions. Asking the “why” question again and again, being data driven and great intuition.

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