25: “Don’t let roUtINe draw U IN to danger!”

One of the easiest traps for a product manager to fall into is unquestioning routine or habit.  I learned about this most through my time at university training to fly with the Royal Air Force.  Let me explain how it applies.

I used to fly one of these cheeky chappies. Badly.

While much of flying revolves around making processes such as flight safety checks and drills second-nature, the counterpoint to this was not to let complacency from habit or routine set in, meaning you would miss the crucial details that could literally make the difference between life or death.  They had a flight safety poster that punned quite badly on this idea (but it remains memorable many years later for me).  Sadly I’ve not been able to find an image but it went as follows:

Don’t let roUtINe draw U IN to danger!

Why should you vary your routine? #

Variety is the spice of life, so they say, but here are a couple of reasons to get you started:

  1. Positive disruption and innovation by definition tends to start by challenging the assumed status quo.
  2. When everything in your job has become second-nature, you’ve stopped doing the bits that in my opinion make product management fun – learning and growing.  I need a healthy challenge to enjoy my job – don’t you also?

It can be hard to disrupt in this manner, often because change requires effort and because many people are content as they are and see change as undesirable.  However, if you’re not challenging your assumptions and asking why things need to be done in a particular way, it won’t be long before someone else does and steals your crown.  Just look at how huge and market-dominating companies such as Kodak can fall from grace.  I feel that there just wasn’t someone asking loudly enough about what would happen if digital supplanted photographic film.

What can you do to shake up the routine? #

Some suggestions:

  • Get new starters at your company to fill out an “astonishment report” a couple of months in.  An astonishment report is simply a write-up of anything that surprised them, positively and negatively.  It’s not unusual for these to include the statement, “I can’t quite believe you’re still doing X in this way”.
  • Keep talking to customers to understand how they use your products.  Every now and again they’ll surprise you by using your product in a way you’d never envisaged.
  • Swap the products you manage with someone else in your team.

If you were a new starter at your company, what would cause you to ask “why is it done that way?”  Consider the effect if you changed things around.

Agree? Disagree? Join the conversation: