The metrics will take care of themselves

As product managers, it’s our job to “move the metrics” — increase retention 20%, improve conversion rates 10%, and so on. So we do things to move those numbers.

You added detailed tracking to your apps. Added social features, notifications and rewards to hook people. Launched targeted email and ad campaigns. Fiddled with features in the hopes that one of your changes will hit the jackpot.

You did these things because you thought those would help you hit your goals. Someone higher up said that the goal was growth, so you did what you thought would work. You did what you were told to do.

This is the banality of evil products. We built products that serve metrics because someone told us to. If our goal is to move these numbers, we should do whatever it takes to achieve those goals.

The consequence is that we build boring, artificial products that solve our problems but don’t solve our users’ problems — like viral loops, endless notifications, email spam, rewards, or messages that disappear after 24 hours.

We should stop calling these things “products” and “features.” They’re gimmicks, phishing, scams. They’re not delightful or fun. They’re boring. Deceitful.

Products that solely serve metrics are the true evil products.

It’s easy to convince yourself that you did the right thing building products like these, especially if you hit your numbers. “Check out that growth we got with our new email targeting. We hit our goals!” Sure, it’s growth, but it’s artificial.

I’ve done that. I felt good about it for a bit, but in my heart I knew that it’s not real product management. The goal of product management is not to “hit the numbers.” That’s not the career I signed up for.

The goal of product management is to create amazing products that people love. Products that solve their problems in a delightful way. Products that resound emotionally with the people who use them. That’s the job I love, and that’s why I chose to be a product manager.

When you have a deep understanding of your users’ problems and create a great experience that solves it — that’s product management. If you do that, “hitting the numbers” will be your reward for being a good product manager.

If you do that and you can’t hit the numbers, then you don’t have a product. That’s ok. It’s also good product management to know when to keep trying or when to give up. Not every person and not every problem can be solved successfully with a product.

But if you can’t hit the numbers and try gimmicks like showing an alert when someone tries to close their browser tab, that’s when you’re building evil products.

Don’t give into evil product management. Know your users. Understand their problems. Build solutions they love. Do that, and the metrics will take care of themselves.

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