Tencent founder and CEO Pony Ma: 7 Flaws That A Perfect Product Manager Would Avoid (Part 3)

The most important quality of a product manager is the ability to play a fool, identify problems, and then wonder, “why so?”


Tencent founder and CEO Pony Ma: 7 Flaws That A Perfect Product Manager Would Avoid (Part 3)

Editor’s note:

This article is adapted from the WeChat public account “Catcher Journal“. Kr-ASIA has been authorized to publish this article.

Pony Ma, the founder, chairman, and CEO of internet conglomerate Tencent, is considered one of the best product managers in China. To him, a good product has a soul, which should be reflected in beautiful design, cutting-edge technology, and even dai-to-day operations.

A good product is also one that attracts users organically. To create such a product is no easy task, of course. Mostly because product managers stretched their products too far to a point beyond their own control.

In this feature, Pony Ma summarizes the seven deadly sins often committed by product managers. Taking a look at these lethal flaws and their solutions may help you avoid some common traps in making internet products.

The content of this post is based on what Ma’s shared at Tencent internally.

This is the part 3 of the total three.

Link: Part 1 | Part 2

5.Equating additions to upgrades

Design a detailed, visually simple, and refreshing user interface.

A product manager should imagine himself as a fussy user – a stupid user unable to understand complicated stuff.

Product staff have limited energy, and there are many interactive contents, so the most common ones should be prioritized.

Areas where traffic and usage are greatest must be taken into account and standardized for users’ comfort. We should perfect anything that is slightly troubling in the sense of touch and feel. This includes reducing mouse movement, making clicking faster, etc.

Take QQ mailbox as an example. Where the “back” button in the mailbox is located (on the right or the left) will be optimized through online trials. Another example is the email password error, users can type in their input easily without locating the text box.

Also, when users want to send an email to someone with multiple email addresses, the most recently used address is selected by default. These requirements are small but important. Users will know your product is good even if they cannot pinpoint what is good about it. It’s all about optimizing the user experience.

The product’s design must match users’ habits, for example, when writing e-mails users prefer to use the keyboard to copy text. Although it is technically difficult to implement, it can be solved by considering the sensitivity of the mouse to user movement.

The design should adhere to these principles:

  • Do not force users. I.e. do not harass 99% of users for the benefit of 1% of them.
  • Simplify operations. The proposed change of QQ music fast play window from a circle to a square was abandoned because it affected the performance of the player.
  • Aesthetics should be just right. Do not overly complicate the user interface.
  • The focus should be inclusive, and not deliberately cater to younger users.

6.Consider internal competitions

Photo by Austris Augusts on Unsplash.

In the product development process, I am faced with a dilemma: what should I do if my product fails? My experience is, when facing the issue of innovation, we should allow appropriate waste.

What does this mean?

That is, resources permitting, deploying two teams to develop the same product is acceptable if there is a strategic necessity in doing so.

Take WeChat for example. After the rise of Sina Weibo, it transitioned from social media to a social networking.

At that time, we heard that so and so has created a Weibo account for communication between the classes in school, which was a big threat to us. It started to spread, and our first reaction is that we have to do microblogging too.

But this is difficult: we could not beat our opponent with the same product. We had to find a completely different product in order to solve this problem.

And thus, WeChat was born. It was a purely mobile communications app. QQ had a heavy burden at that time to solve PC problems, but also the problems on mobile phones. Several teams were developing simultaneously, competing to solve the problems first.

At that time within Tencent, there were three teams developing mobile-based communications software simultaneously. Each team had a different design and implementation. Actually, there were several different groups working on mobile application products: there was QQ, our wireless division (which was separate at that time), and our QQ mailbox team.

Our early contact with mobile email was with BlackBerry. It was initially exclusive to executives. Then we thought that we can develop a QQ mailbox software that allows each employee to easily use mobile email. So there was an R&D team working on this. At last, when WeChat came out, it was the work of this team.

We first converted mobile emails from our customers to WeChat. Finally, WeChat received recognition from our users.

Why compete amongst ourselves? Because often through competing amongst ourselves, we will put in more effort, and this will allow the company capture big strategic opportunities. If you don’t do it, competitors or others in the industry will eventually do it.

Is this a waste of resources? I don’t think so.

Without competition, innovation is dead.

Even if some team lost the game in the end, but it still can stimulate a source of inspiration for success. It can be understood as “internal trial and error.” Not all system redundancy goes to waste. Without accepting some failure, there will be no success.

7.Equating product release to success

Image credit to 123rf.com.cn.

We often see this phenomenon: some people put up a very large shop stall, have a very extravagant opening.

Some people are accustomed to the pursuit of perfection, only launching their product after repeated polishing.

Some people know very well the importance of innovation, but are afraid of failure, or wasting resources.

In reality, these practices often do not yield good results, because the market has never been patient.

In the market, a good product is never perfect in the beginning. At the same time, simply being the first to enter the market should not give you peace of mind.

I believe that in the Internet era, no one is stupider than another for more than 5 seconds. Your opponents will soon wake up, and soon catch up. They may even do a better job than you; your sense of security may be invaded at any given time.

In China, there is a saying: “run in small steps, but in quick succession.” That would be my advice.

Maybe not every update of a product is perfect, but if you insist on searching every day, one or two small problems may be corrected. In less than a year the product can be perfected and you will feel it yourself.

So, at first, when aiming for a breakthrough, do not aim for perfection, but run quickly towards it afterward.

In today’s world, key products iterate quickly. In the ever-changing Internet ecosystem, having the ability to actually take the initiative to change first is more important than resiliency.

Managers and product technicians, not just marketers, should foresee problems earlier and take the initiative to change. Being passive in this market is a sure way to lose.

How can you find the problem? The answer is to keep using your product all the time. Try to find the venues of communication and the feeling of the product.

The most important quality of a product manager is the ability to play a fool, identify problems, and then wonder, “why so?” After that, they become developers. One second a fool, the next a professional.

Innovation comes from having an accurate grasp of users’ needs and continued efforts to polish the product. I’ll spend a lot of time using our products, to grasp the product’s direction and user experience from a product manager’s perspective, identify deficiencies, and iterate improvements.

This is a lonely road, but the fastest way to finish the course is often the stupidest way.

Even short steps can accumulate into a thousand miles. A product’s user experience and the users’ needs change over time, so a true product manager should strive to explore the deep-seated and changing user needs, and constantly iterate to improve a product’s user experience.

Link: Part 1 | Part 2