This one is a old story. This happened somewhere, sometime in late 1950s.
AB Corporation is among the leading manufacturer of Umbrellas. They manufacture a range of umbrellas that protect users from rain and blazing sunlight. Competition is heating up as there are many new entrants in the industry and AB corp is facing stiff competition ahead of the monsoon season. The Product Manager of monsoon umbrella proposes new range of attractive umbrellas to increase market share and profitability. Idea is to shred away old type dull looking umbrellas and introduce colorful and stylish umbrellas that just don’t protect from rain but also becomes a style quotient in this monsoon.
So the Product Manager calls for a brainstorming session with research and development team and puts forward the proposal of launching a new range of designer umbrellas for this monsoon. He shares following specification with the team;
Key attributes of the umbrella were envisage as:
- Weight: 30% lighter than the existing umbrella series.
- Cloth color: 6 colors, blue, yellow, white, black, red and green.
- Cloth material: 40% Transparent
- Tube: silver color, non-corrosive coating
- Rib: fiber
- Top end: lesser than 2 inch with protected ferrule
- Handle: straight (not like hockey stick) with soft leather cover
….other attributes remains as they are today.
Research team found the idea worthwhile and started working on new assignment with various ideas and one fine day invited Product Manager to have look at their new offering. On the day of first demo, Product Manager took this invention in his hand for the first time, it was lighter than what he had planned for and it was looking stunning in those bright colors. A dream come true indeed. That evening Product Manager decides to take one umbrella back home, use it for few days and even show to shppowners in nearby locality to seek their opinion.
Next day morning on his way to office, Product Manager gets first opportunity to use his new umbrella. It started drizzling and our man opened his umbrella and started walking with pride. In no time rain was at its peak and he felt like hero, but only for few minutes. Soon, water started seeping, water cracked through the cloth and starting falling on product manager. No this definitely was not kool. He ran through his way all the way till office, straight into the R&D office. Wet and upset, he started talking to team in an assertive manner, sharing his morning experience. “What a crap have you developed? this could not withstand a normal rain for more than few minutes. How do I sell this?”. The team though was puzzled, they were surprise to see our man in such a mood. “Oh well, we thought you liked the Umbrella. But this one is not a waterproof umbrella. Why did you use this in rain?”. Now that took product manager by surprise, “What do you mean, an Umbrella is supposed to be used when it rains.” The argument continued till Product Manager realized what had happened.
Research team’s understanding was that the new umbrella would be used for protection / shielding against sun light. That’s how it has been traditionally. They had never designed anything other than black umbrellas for rain. To make the matter worse, product manager in his specs never mentioned that the cloth used should be waterproof, specs just mentioned about color and transparency.
Today, at fag end of 2013 we still end up meeting such “Out of Context engineers” who would go on developing anything without learning about domain and market. While a Product Manager may try and detail as much as he can but the question is more about engineers with very low level of involvement in their work. They are brilliant and once specifications are delivered they would deliver what is asked as mentioned in the document. Now why would an engineer limit his thinking or design to what is mentioned in a document? Why do they miss on something that is so obvious and expected? The out of context engineers often end-up creating such horror stories. Escape route is always very easy: it was not covered in the specifications.
While the engineers would work as they work, what best a Product Manager can do to avoid unplanned bath on road is to set the expectations clearly. Be sure of what you have communicated and be sure that you do routine checks and verification with research team as they work and not at the fag end. There is always too much detailing to do but they are necessary, do not take things for granted, mention all expectations and specifications. A little extra effort may save the day for you, and of-course a pair of clothes as well.