Digging into the Core of Product Management's "Why"


I must confess something – as I journey through the path of product management, I often find myself entangled in the question of “Why.” Understanding the “Why” behind a product/service is often even more challenging than the “What” and “How”.

For instance:

Why isn’t user editing allowed?
Why shift from the current fee structure to a subscription model?
Why include regional languages?

Each Why can lead to different answers and driving directions.

When working on my own small products, after all, it’s driven by interests and niche starting points. These questions can be subjectively answered. In other words, it’s what I feel is better, and I can always make changes if needed.

Why isn’t user editing allowed?

When working on Cafe and Cowork, because we aimed for the platform to have practical utility, we established our own assessment criteria for determining whether a place is suitable for work. Since we can’t control everyone’s rating criteria being the same, and the current framework doesn’t allow for a completely fair rating mechanism, we have decided to defer the option of open participation in ratings for now. We are continuing to explore potential compromises, such as providing a scroll-down menu for users to submit cafe information base on fixed items, such as Wifi speed, power outlet and any rules forbidden laptop users.

Likewise, when it comes to larger corporations, the decision making process can sometimes be simpler than imagined. In the absence of data, the easiest reference often becomes how competitors are approaching a similar situation. The scenario could be:

Why should we launch an online store?

Because it’s in the annual plan.
Because competitors have done so.
Because it yields better profit margins.
Because it provides access to customer data.
Because it aids in building brand image.

Digging deeper, these more immediate reasons can be traced to:

a. The increasing trend of online shopping suggests that establishing a direct online store could create a new revenue stream.

b. Operational costs for offline stores are rising, and a direct online store eliminates related expenses.

However, both of these reasons are founded upon certain unverified “assumptions,” such as the assumption that the online store won’t affect offline store revenue and that the costs of setting up and managing an online store are lower than the expenses related to maintaining physical stores.

Given such considerations, when making these decisions, it’s inevitable that corresponding performance indicators tied to these objectives are established. For example, the online store must achieve a minimum amount in revenue after its launch, maintain a level of shipping volume, and attain a average gross profit margin.

Often, it’s only when you start delving into the details that you realize there are numerous trade-offs. These could include increased resource and cost allocation for the online store, navigating power dynamics between existing channels, dealing with declining offline sales, and expanding the reserve of warehouse personnel, among others.

When the “Why” behind a product or service isn’t clear within the team, it becomes more difficult to avoid what Simon Sinek refers to as “manipulation” in his book “Start with Why.” In other words, resorting to tactics like price reduction and promotional activities to swiftly meet the corresponding performance indicators.

After all this discussion, so what’s the “Why” behind it all?

At this point in the story, there’s often someone who steps in to ask:

“Why did we start a direct online store if it didn’t bring in more profit? What was the reason behind it?”

If the answer back then wasn’t option a or b, but rather c:

Establishing a direct online store positively impacts the brand image. It allows us to plan according to our own schedule for new product launches and enables us to strategically arrange product promotion activities that align with our brand culture and image!

In that case, the performance indicators for this decision might be adjusted to measure the brand’s intangible assets, such as brand recognition and reputation. Tangible performance metrics like revenue, shipping volume, and profit margins could become secondary indicators.

However, these pieces of information are often the least effectively communicated. Maybe they were evaluated during the decision-making process, but due to the lack of a well-defined “Why—why are we doing this? Who are we doing it for?” kind of orientation, these aspects might not have been properly set and passed down, increasing the likelihood that the mission will start losing focus.

Cafe and Cowork

Returning to our initial small product, if we were to change our response, the trajectory of the product would also diverge significantly.

Why isn’t user editing allowed?

If the answer was:

Because it’s difficult to implement, managing data is complex, enabling editing would entail allowing modifications, which in turn would introduce database management issues.

From a product management perspective, we would then need to address resource constraints and tackle development bottlenecks. After taking this convoluted route, someone might rightfully interject:

“Hey, we’ve been saying it’s hard to do. Why even attempt it?”

However, since our original intent lies in “establishing a rating mechanism distinct from Google’s platform, making the platform genuinely useful for remote workers,” rather than delving into the complexities mentioned earlier, we aim to address “how to ensure that, with more user participation in rating, the consistency of rating standards is maintained?”

By altering the “Why,” the platform’s design embarks on an entirely different path.

Cafe and Cowork
Where we started:

However, in the end, creating this platform might have been driven by a desire to do it. Our intention remains still center around the enjoyment we find in exploring cafe and other places suitable for remote working. :)

Simon Sinek《Start with Why》

Mission Impossible 7 - Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)

I watched “Mission Impossible 7” a few days ago. In the movie, Tom Cruise has an ultimate mission to carry out, but his adversaries deliberately create complications along the way, forcing him to frequently question why he embarked on this mission in the first place.

If he were to solely focus on the original “What to do,” forgetting to ponder “Why I have to do it?” he’d lose sight of the initial purpose. This could lead him to take alternative actions, become influenced by a rogue AI, and consequently, the world might face destruction!

(Sound familiar, doesn’t it? )

I believe this might serve as an excellent analogy to reflect on the “Why” of a product or service.

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