Principles of product management

The role of the product manager, elusive and vague as it may be in definition, is particularly versatile and challenging. It is an infusion of human psychology, leadership, mathematics, strategy, engineering, and yet more. It brings great humility in its tendency to invite failure, and it’s a role I find particularly compelling, having historically struggled in my search for the ideal blend of the same qualities mentioned.

Build products that empower people and make them feel good.

As with all things in life, there is no definitive recipe for any given outcome, whether it be in maximizing the chances of success of a new product, or anything else. My goal here is to simply express an anecdotal memoir of the principles that I have found to be useful from my own experiences, as well as in my observations of some very strong product managers. These are the principles to which I hold myself to account in practicing, simply because they are borne out of common logic, and known human psychology.


A vision is a picture of the new world; the changed world.

Humans have a uniquely remarkable capacity to imagine things that do not exist. The power of an idea, such an intangible concept, is that it is often used as the basis for mass murder, patriotic war as well as movements of co-operation. Millions of people have perished, and empires built and grazed, all for an idea (whether it be religion, an unsubstantiated belief, or other abstract concoction of the human mind); a phenomenon so intangible as to exist purely as transient electro-chemical states in the brain!

A product vision is similarly an idea that imprints in the human mind how people’s lives will be empowered and improved. It paints a vivid landscape of positive change, and it is the ultimate driver that inspires people to action. Nothing is perhaps more effective in inspiring people to action, not money nor fear, than a beautiful, visceral vision, especially one that they have partaken in cultivating.  

Having witnessed teams that fell on both sides of the spectrum, the difference between a strong and weak vision is palpable. If the vision is strong, the world and your team will stand by one’s side. If the vision is weak or nonexistent, it may be difficult to get engagement, and you will face an uphill struggle. It’s not worth toiling in the name of an illustrous vision.

Hence, a product manager’s first imperative is to paint a vision to inspire people to action.


People live to feel good.

Understanding human psychology is vital to product management. Despite human behaviour appearing seemingly unfathomable, and concealed behind a complex facade of emotional irrationality, humans are actually rather predictable. We all have similar wants, desires and psychological vulnerabilities. Ultimately, we all want to feel good, and we expend the majority of our time in pursuing good feelings (or trying to alleviate bad ones).

It follows that in order to drive people to use and share a product, a product manager needs to evoke good feelings. Furthermore, if one can evoke good feelings repeatedly and consistently, one has succeeded in building a product that will become an everyday component of people’s lives (think Facebook, Instagram, Netflix). I explore this topic deeply with examples in The product is the feeling.

The product manager’s second imperative is hence to build products and features that drive feelings; the innate currency of human energy and motivation. Examples of how feelings can drive favourable product behaviour include:


He or she who understands the customer best shall build the best product.

Any living entity (human, or otherwise) is biologically selfish, and understandably so. We do entirely what makes us feel good, and yes, even in the cases where our motives may appear altruistic. We vote for political parties that will favour us the most, we help others to give ourselves a sense of purpose in life, and we wave the flags which represent our own heritage and identity.

This inherent selfishness of the biological organism is what makes customer empathy so logical and necessary. Customers will never use your product for your benefit; only theirs. Hence, in order to understand what product to build, or how to drive favourable feelings in customers, one must dig deep into the their profile, wants, needs, lifestyle and problems. Few things are more effective in achieving this than talking to customers about their problems first hand. 

Thus, we arrive at the product manager’s third imperative; to understand the customer best, and offer the most resounding echo of  the customer’s voice in any meeting room. There are a vast array of methods to understand customers and who they are – but nothing beats just raw human conversation, where one can be receptive to their emotional expression, as well as have the freedom to ask for elaboration and dig deeper.

It is however worth noting what customers can and cannot tell you:

An excellent defining example of a customer centric product is Amazon (think competitive pricing, low cost and speedy delivery options and an excellent cancellation and return service that reduces the psychological obstacle to purchasing from a mountain to a molehill).


Opinions are like gusts of wind; they appear to come from all directions, and leave a scene of clutter in their wake.

The world and the workplace is awash with the opinionated. These opinions are a product of the machine-learning derived from people’s experiences, and, due to the infinite permutations of experiences that any given human can have, such opinions in aggregation tend to amass to directionless noise. The fourth imperative of a product manager is to practice a strong level of discernment in dealing with opinions, and where appropriate, disregard them altogether.

Nothing is more potent in shutting down unproductive discussions than being equipped with the numerical and qualitative ammunition to guide decision making. The product manager is mandated with leading the team in collecting and using this ammunition to guide product development (through activities such as customer interviews, user testing, and behavioural data). 

This includes one’s own opinions…

Ironically, a product manager’s own opinions, often manifesting through confirmation bias and egotistical attachment to a solution (rather than the problem) can be one of the most blinding sources of noise. It is something I have witnessed in myself and others on numerous occasions in the past. 

This is primarily solved by owning problems, not solutions. The psychological inevitability of owning a solution (rather than a problem) is such that it will always leave the product manager and the team biased to validate and defend that solution, rather than to solve the problem, which may have an entirely different solution.


No product is an island.

A product, where intended for humans, must provide an experience, and a product manager must guard that experience from all fronts. This means leading, challenging or taking ownership of all the underlying inconspicuous components that have the ability to influence that experience in some shape or form. This includes components that are buried deep within the turning cogs of a product or company, and those that may run across other teams.

The consequence of not taking full ownership is in building an experience that is broken, and that fails to meet the product vision or evoke the right feelings in customers. When discussing the second imperative of a product manager (to build feelings, not features), I mentioned that anger and anxiety management was crucial in preventing churn and keeping customers happy – you may find that the most inconspicuous components of a product are what influence anger management the most.

Here’s a few examples in the context of a financial technology product:

Thus, the final and fifth imperative of a product manager, is to not build an island and isolate oneself to the boundaries of one’s team. Product managers with a strong vision, and conviction in building the best possible experience for the customer, may often be obliged to challenge and influence aspects of a company of product that may not immediately be in their control.


To conclude the principles of product management:


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