Would You Know A Product If You Saw One?

Over the weekend, I attended the Silicon Valley Product Camp, one of the yearly un-conferences for product managers in the US, Canada, and beyond. During one of my sessions, a look into the role of product management in the innovation process, I posed some basic questions to the audience. What is innovation? As a group, we had lots of potential definitions. What is a product? This question elicited almost no answers.

That result wasn't a surprise. For years, we've been hearing about how difficult it is to define product management. Perhaps that has something to do with the difficulty of defining the thing that product managers manage. We think we know products when we see them, in much the same fashion as Justice Potter Stewart famously defined obscenity, but we're a bit challenged to put into words exactly what they are. We can easily define them in the negative, such as consulting offerings that aren't products or IT projects that aren't products. We've all heard that products have life cycles, which isn't nearly as Darwinian as one might expect. (Many ideas that don't deserve to become products, do. Many that deserve to die, don't.) But, if pressed, we're at a loss to define what products are.

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