Fight For The User

Product Management

Every year, 30,000 new products hit the marketplace. Products that have been properly researched, documented, engineered, and marketing. Products that every CEO and product manager will swear up and down is “the big one”.

95% of those products, by statistic, are destined to fail.

It’s scary, as a product manager, to know that you are up against incredible odds in launching a successful product. I’m fortunate to have a successful product launch under my belt as a product manager, and count myself lucky to be in the minority.

What, then, separates the products that are successful from those that fail (or don’t even make it to market in the first place)? While not the only reason, there’s a resounding similarity between those unsuccessful products – they fail to actually deliver a solution to a problem.

Tron, A Synopsis

Remember Tron? And its sequel Tron Legacy (which still have one of the best soundtracks I remember in a movie)? Here’s a quick synopsis if you aren’t familiar: A hacker is zapped into the digital landscape to fight an avatar of a corrupt business executive. He is made into a freedom-fighter for oppressed programs in the system, but not before befriending Tron – a security program.

Tron’s most famous quote comes from Tron: Legacy, in which he sacrifices himself to save the protagonist during a jet-fighter battle – “I Fight for the User” – a mantra that has been taken up by usability and user-experience professionals the world over.

But What Does It Mean?

As a product manager, I’ve tried to make this mantra the core of any decision that I make – you’ll even see it posted as the ‘tagline’ of the website this post is on. But what does it mean. It’s simple: If I prioritize the user’s needs and experiences over all else, then the rest of the metrics tend to fall into place as well.

If the user is well taken care of, and has a great experience with the product, then they will use the product more. This leads to longer usage times, more interactions with the product, and (usually) translates into new/more revenue for the business.

How Can I Fight For The User?

It’s very easy to say that I can fight for the user, but in reality it’s a battle that I face every day. There are multiple people that have a stake in the product, and keeping all of the stakeholder happy is a full-time job for a product manager. That said, here are a few things I try to keep in mind as product decisions are being made:

Solve The User’s Problems

Many products launch as a vanity project to an executive or an idea by an engineer. But, well before a product is built, it must be validated. Check with your target audience to see if the problem you are trying to solve is a real problem, or an answer you are trying to marry with a non-existent problem. Too often a ‘cool idea’ or ‘next big thing’ is just that – an idea. A product that exists simply to exist will usually not exist long.


Transparency – true, gut-wrenching transparency – is rare in today’s business setting. It’s OK to admit when a misstep has been made. Most users are forgiving if a company is forthcoming – admit wrongdoing, explain how it happened, and show why you’ve learned. Doubling down on a mistake, going on the defensive, and attacking users is a quick, easy way to watch your user-base dwindle into nothingness.

Make Sure They Are The RIGHT Users

Remember the Zune? The most amazing music player to ever fail (seriously, the Zunepass was light-years ahead of its time) was launched because Microsoft was chasing Apple – and losing the race. If they’d asked people what they truly wanted in a music player, or catered to a specific niche of user (audiophiles with ultra-high fidelity audio quality, perhaps), we might be looking at a different history. Instead, we hear anecdotes about an “amazing product with a bad experience” (even though the Zune would, ultimately, save Microsoft – according to some people).

In Conclusion

Transparency, validation, and a clear sense of audience can make a product truly exceptional in a time where many products have fallen by the wayside. Listening to the user’s active requests, solving actual user problems, and focusing on providing the best user experience you can; all of these boost user activity, which will boost every other needle you are tracking.

Be like Tron. Solve the problems, listen to the stories, and Fight For The User!