Product Leaders Are Necessary at Apple
I recently read an article, The Role of Product at Apple, by Marty Cagan from the Silicon Valley Project Group (SVPG). This article outlines the release of the Apple Watch as Apple’s “first major new product of the post-Jobs era” and describes the new Apple product as remarkably disappointing. As a fellow Apple fanboy, I was surprised to find myself really agreeing with what was said. As I see it –I still don’t have a Watch and I still haven’t heard any compelling reasons to buy one yet. But this goes beyond the actual product, this is about the product leaders (i.e. product evangelists).
If you’re like me, you know that Steve Jobs was a rockstar. Companies like Apple with Steve Jobs and SpaceX with Elon Musk have this completely different organizational pattern. These rockstars are the driving force that catapults the ideas into motion.
Here’s how it worked for Apple in the Steve Jobs era via Cagan:
Steve would drive the product, and the product marketing managers would help get these products to market. Critical work, but not really the product work. [The] Apple model could not scale to most companies, but in Apple’s case, where they have always focused on a small number of blockbuster products, versus a large portfolio of products, it wasn’t inconceivable that one (admittedly exceptional) person could define and ensure winning products.
And he did. We have huge wins to prove that in the iPhone, the iPad, the iPod, the iMac, etc. The focus on a few game changing products pushed by a leader who was the passionate driving force was a huge success. Unfortunately, we can’t just pluck these rockstars off the street and replace them when they’ve gone. This does not mean the end of Apple, it means they need to re-establish product competency in the post-Jobs era.
Because they can’t just find an irreplaceable leader to take over with the fire of Steve Jobs, they have limited options.
Cagan describes some of these options:
[…] Hire or promote from within a few product rock-star types, one for each of their major product lines. It’s much more viable for them to recruit these people, but I do worry about these people being accepted culturally. Steve Jobs had the moral authority of the founder (as well as the credibility that comes with so many major successes), but these people would be going up against some very strong engineering and design leaders and would probably have a tough time of it. [Another option] is to introduce the true product role. I’m talking here about ensuring that all critical products have a true product leader, and especially getting the organization to pay attention to these people.
As far as the Apple Watch goes, when we see a product like the Apple Watch that is greeted and reviewed with a less than enthusiastic response, I think it’s time to realize that something isn’t working. Apple isn’t really known for flops. As we’ve said before in articles about the Apple Watch:
[The] people that are enjoying the product are looking past any first-run-bugs because they are really just impressed with such an innovative product that otherwise offers a very smooth experience. Others are returning it mainly because they either don't see the long term need for such an expensive product or because they are not as impressed with a system that doesn't follow Apple's usual no confusion methods in the iOS system. Either way, people are talking.
The role of a product leader and product evangelist was a central one up until the passing of Steve Jobs. Now, Apple has to figure out what the new driving force of the company should be moving forward.
What do you think Apple’s next steps should be? Has the Apple Watch been a success or a fail? Comment below!
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