A woman waiter serving wine at a restaurant, with the phrase "Product Management Metaphors - Bad and Good" superimposed

Product Management Metaphors – Bad and Good

In this episode, a common product management metaphor that’s actually terrible, plus two GOOD metaphors you can use to help you create better products.

We use lots of metaphors for understanding, justifying, and explaining the things we do as product managers. Whether it’s our analytics as “the cockpit of a plane,” or comparing design constraints to Mozart symphonies, or even saying the product manager is “the CEO of the product.”

Not all product management metaphors are created equal

But there are good metaphors and bad metaphors. Mostly this comes from how they are used. The “CEO of the product” metaphor, for example, is useful in some ways, but highly misleading in a very important aspect. (That is, unlike a real CEO, product managers don’t have the authority to make things happen. We operate on influence, not authority.)

One metaphor in particular, that of software development as “a factory,” has always bothered me, and I explain why. And also what is missing from our thinking about that metaphor and where there real value might lie.

And I talk about my favorite product management metaphor, courtesy of Alan Cooper in his great book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum – the polite waiter at a good restaurant. It’s very powerful, and helped me create what I think is the coolest feature I’ve ever delivered.


Here are the links I mentioned in the episode.

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