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Product Management in Practice by Matt LeMay

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Chapter 8. “Data, Take the Wheel!”

These days, it seems like everybody wants to be—or hire—a “data-driven product manager.” And why wouldn’t they? For a product manager, “data-driven” can be a handy shorthand for “in this ambiguously defined role full of squishy human complexity, I know how to do serious data business things.” And for a hiring manager, “data-driven” can be a handy shorthand for “don’t make any mistakes, ever.” What could possibly go wrong?

In all seriousness, there is a lot to be gained from looking to user, product, and market data to help guide our decision-making, as opposed to, say, “whatever the last thing is that my boss told me.” But if the goal of a data-driven approach is to guide us toward better decisions, how much of the driving can data actually do? Even if we are using data to inform our decision-making, we still need to know what we are trying to decide, why that decision is important, and what the possible outcomes of that decision might be. Not all decisions are created equal, and not all data will lead us to the best possible decisions for our business, our product, and our users.

At its best, a data-driven approach encourages us to use the information at our disposal to better understand our product and our users. At its worst, a data-driven approach encourages endless busywork that actually makes it more difficult for us to succeed as product managers. Here, again, we are compelled to follow the guiding principle: “live in your user’s ...

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