Wild West Product Management: Where the Rules Don’t Apply

When the rules are in constant flux, all stakeholders disagree on everything, and your customers don’t even know what they want. Roll up your sleeves and get rough, throw away the standard product management heuristics. Because It’s time for Wild West Product Management.

The Western Genre

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The Wild West Movies dominated the box office from 1950s to the 1960s. A genre marked by dangerous pistol duels and never-ending bar brawls. Rogue outlaws roam the prairie planning their next heist, dashing cowboys out in the field herding their cattle, and wild natives on the hunt to protect their homeland.

Then, there’s the sheriff. The town’s selected protector found in all this chaos and tumult. In a town simmering with uneasy peace that might erupt up any given moment. With all this outlaws, hoodwinks, and corrupt folks. The sheriff is to bring and maintain order.

Identifying the Wild West

I’m struggling to find the right words to convey the difficulties of my current project. It has been challenging, but not in the typical sense of difficult or complex. Complicated problems can be understood and solved. This on the other hand felt like something entirely different.

Then one day, it hit me: “The Wild West

Wild west product management is a style of product management that occurs in a kind of environment; When there are no rules, nobody really knows everything, everybody wants different things (Just like the wild west).

Industries that have exhibit these characteristics are old by nature. There are multiple players without a dominant player, and they have developed their processes independent from each other.

Let’s explore the characteristics

1. No Fixed Rules

In your classic westerns, there are no actual laws, just the laws you make up for yourself. There is no normative practice. Every player within the industry is doing it their own way.

Furthermore, if there are normative practices, there are more exceptions to the norm than the norm itself. Everything and anything goes, just like the wild west.

2. Nobody Knows Everything

At first, I thought that I knew something. Then I discovered that I know nothing. Then I concluded that everybody else knows nothing.

Guy on the internet

Since the possibilities are endless. Nobody is truly authoritative on the subject at hand. They might give perspective, or they describe the way they do things. But their word cannot be taken for absolute truth.

Which then leads to the third point.

3. Everybody Wants Different Things

Since everybody drastically different, everybody wants drastically different things. It becomes impossible to create a product for all parties. For every design decision made, the opportunity cost is the alternative design decisions.

These characteristics is the hell for the product manager because there is no actual objective truth, merely the subjective opinion of everybody else. This results in endless possibilities, and you – the product manager – must decide which one to follow.

Handles To Help

At first, I struggled immensely with this problem. The standard approaches to product management doesn’t work. So, these are the things I did instead.

1. Planning Possibilities

Future proof your design by ensuring that it can allow for the most possible solutions. AKA, keeping the possibility space as big as possible. Then as time progresses, the possibility space will decrease as you narrow down on the design.

2. Assume that it’s a “Yes, No, Maybe”

When a stakeholder does it one way, you can assume the reverse, that it is also done in other ways. You are not solving for one problem set, you are solving for all problem sets. The goal is then to find how big does the problem set is.

3. Sacrifices Have to be Made

It is highly unlike that the product will be perfect for all stakeholders. For every design decision that is made, you must forego the alternatives. Realize that sacrifices must be made, but it is our job to choose the lesser of two evils.

Product Management and the Wild West

Product management can be like the wild west. I’ve discovered that sometimes, there is no right or wrong in terms of the design, just the design that is merely adopted the most. Hopefully, by catering to the most possibilities, the design that you advocate can be the most adopted.

This was a tough one to write. Sometimes, the words do not come that easy. Nonetheless, once again, thanks for reading. For my colleagues, now I hope you “know”.

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