Product is the art of the possible

Otto von Bismark, Chanellor of Germany, who said: ““Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”. Image is from Wikipedia.

Sometimes you have the opportunity to give a user an insanely great product. The organizational support, project funding, and technology all line up to give exceed user expectations. These are rare opportunities — enjoy them!

Most of the time you’re missing one of the key ingredients: project funding, technology, or organizational support.

Frequently the limiting constraint is a political one. You can’t launch the new product to all users because the sales team is afraid of how enterprise partners will react. You have to launch sooner than you want because a leader has drawn a line in the sand. A partner team won’t change their roadmap to help you with a dependency.

These political constraints can be the most frustrating because they seem arbitrary. But that doesn’t make them any less real. The best product leaders I know play the long game. They make the case for the best theoretical path, but are willing to accept the best one available. Then they move on to the next iteration. After all, iconic products are built one well thought-out iteration at a time. This flexibility gives them credibility with others, which gives them more space to operate in the future.

It’s common for companies to talk about product managers as mini-CEOs, masters of their own feature set. In many situations I’ve seen, this is actively unhelpful because it doesn’t prepare the product manager or their stakeholders for the reality of what the pm is being asked to do: find the possible, the attainable, the next best.