“PM” stands for Product Manager or sometimes Program Manager; these are the people in software development who don’t write code and don’t manage coders and make all the difference. A good one is beyond price, and a bad one has a unique power to inflict bleeding neck wounds on what you’re building. Let’s illustrate this with examples from Adobe, Google, and Apple. This piece is provoked by Lightroom’s abject surrender to angry users after they tried to re-work their import dialogue.
From inside · But let’s set Lightroom aside for the nonce and start back at Google, where I saw this happen from inside. All of a sudden, word went round that a popular Google product was losing a feature, let’s call it X, that’d been in that product class for years and years.
Internal debate was vigorous with, on one side, people saying “WTF!? X is going away?!” and, on the other, product-management folk explaining that X didn’t actually mean what people thought it did, was actively misleading, and people would be better off without it.
If you listened carefully the argument sort of made sense. Still, X felt useful to me and I thought I understood what it meant. Predictably, the release was met with howls of derision and pretty soon X was back.
I assume this is the same kind of discussion that led to…
The death of “Save As…” · With OS X Lion, this venerable action (Command-Shift-S on Mac, Control-Shift-S on Windows) went away and was replaced by “Duplicate”. The explanation started with the fact that Mac apps now had auto-save, so for, uh, some reason or another, I should no longer want to save what I was working on in a new directory or under another name.
You could sort of use Duplicate to achieve the Save-As… effect, but it was easy to get wrong and I often have.
I’m sure that inside Apple it was the same story as at Google; an overempowered PM visionary in the grip of a burning narrative and, one supposes, the urge to leave fingerprints on their product.
News flash: You can bring “Save As…” back!
Back to Lightroom’s import · I want to take this opportunity to salute Adobe for doing the right thing. They tried a radical innovation, it worked out poorly, so they’re apologizing and backing it out. I would call this extremely rational behavior, classy even; it’s sad that it’s outside the repertoire of so many companies.
And by the way, I didn’t mind the new Import; The first time I used it I needed a couple of extra clicks into the UI to change defaults, but then it just got out of the way.
Good PMs · A product manager has to have good taste, understand enough technology to communicate with engineers, understand enough business to communicate with managers, like talking to people, and even more, listening to them. Steve Jobs was probably our profession’s best ever.
I think software makers too often veer into self-indulgent UX wankery more or less for its own sake, because this year’s model has to have some of the new shiny. The PM’s job is to find the narrow path between useful new features and the kind of obviously-dopey-in-the-rearview move that Adobe has just gracefully backed away from.