A few weeks ago, I hit a young adult milestone. The car I’d been driving since high school effectively disintegrated, and for the first time in my life I had to purchase a new vehicle (well, a certified pre-owned vehicle).
But how would I decide what to get? I decided to approach the problem like a Product Manager and lay out my goals for the new vehicle, which would guide me toward vehicle requirements, and ultimately to the type of vehicle I would purchase.
Goal: I go camping and hiking frequently, so I’d like to be able to take the vehicle on un-paved roads.
Requirement: I decided the vehicle must have at least 6 inches of ground clearance.
Goal: I haul around camping gear, snowboards, and bikes, so I’d like the ability to transport bulky objects.
Requirement: I decided the vehicle must have at least 30 cubic feet of cargo space.
Goal: I don’t have a designated parking space, so I’d like the ability to parallel park in relatively tight spots.
Requirement: I decided the vehicle must be no longer than 182 inches, because this story is partly fictitious.
With my goals and requirements in hand, I hit the dealerships.
I decided on a Toyota Rav4 after using a measuring tape to verify that it met my requirements (also fictitious), but then the dealer threw me a curve ball.
For only 3,000 extra dollars, I could get the version with shiny rims and a sun roof.
I pondered this tradeoff for quite some time. Shiny rims and a sunroof would be so cool, but were they worth the money?
I thought back to the goals I’d written down earlier. Would the shiny rims and sunroof help me drive on dirt roads? Would they help me haul things or parallel park?
More importantly, were my requirements still satisfied without spending money on the extra features?
Product Managers often fall victim to a phenomenon known as “gold-plating,” or the addition of exciting, fancy features which don’t actually help the product serve its intended purpose.
I wanted to drive around with shiny rims on my Toyota, but I convinced myself to save some money by cutting the non-essential features.
I went home with an extra $3000 that day driving a plain, boring vehicle which – somehow – still does everything I need it to do.