Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Keyser Söze Effect

Here's some information about Keyser Söze, for those who are asking to themselves,"Who or what is Keyser Söze???". From Wikipedia:'...being fooled into believing in a person who does not exist....'

As a Product Manager, I have worked very closely with cross functional teams in various organizations in my past. Everyone has an opinion about the overall direction of the product and the order in which the product features should be built. And then I start the judicious process of investigating the details of these cross-organization opinions, which to say the least is very interesting. It's truly amazing to see the extent to which people will go to make Product Managers believe the validity of the product need that they are representing. Some of the most commonly given reasons are:
  1. The CEO / VP etc. is asking for it
  2. Our competition has it
  3. Lots of customers are asking for it
  4. I know it will sell (corollary - I cannot sell without it)
  5. It has lot of revenue potential
  6. Customer wants it now!
There are many more such justifications that I see come up from time to time. And every time I find a new one, it feels like I'm dealing with Keyser Söze. Only in this case I'm being convinced into believing in a feature instead of a person that doesn't exist. Hence, as a Product Manager when I'm in product roadmap and strategy conversations  I have to understand if I'm dealing with Keyser Söze situation or not.

The good news is that it's not rocket science to get out of a Keyser Söze situation. Here are a few ways:
  1. Ask 'Why?'. Keep asking 'why?', 'what?', 'how?' until the business opportunity or product need is quantified. You have to be able to associate some numbers. It can be revenue, customers, or some other number.
  2. Get to the source. As a Product Manager the farther away you are from the source of the need the worse Keyser Söze effect gets.So cut the to chase and get to the source. This will help you understand the real business need and urgency around it along with saving you tonnes of times and resources. Armed with this information you will be able solve the problem and not just the symptoms.
  3. Then there is pattern recognition. You can leverage historic data, the blast from the past, to see if the product need is valid. This is especially helpful when you don't have direct access to the source or you want to perform high level validation. 
At the end of the day as a Product Manager, you have to reduce the Keyser Söze effect to a level where you are able to take a stand. A great Product Manager is able to do this fast and extremely effectively over a period of time by leveraging:
  1. Data repository of product usage, industry trends, etc
  2. Direct and indirect relationships built with source of the need.
  3. Processes that help others in the organization understand and deal with Keyser Söze effect.
And for those who are still mystified with Keyser Söze, I would suggest watching 'The Usual Suspects' of my all time favorite movies...

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