Solving the right problem — The importance of design thinking in product management.

importance of design thinking in product management

“The manager who comes up with the right solution to the wrong problem is more dangerous than the manager who comes up with the wrong solution to the right problem” – Peter Drucker

Nobody wants their product to be received as a source of frustration. Still, we see it all the time. Look around. There is almost certainly a product within arm’s reach that isn’t designed to fit your needs. In my case, it took three PCs, two monitors, a smartphone, and five messaging platforms simply to publish this post. Give me an all-in-one solution to compose and communicate, and I’ll be your first customer!

Many products simply don’t cater to their users’ needs. How can this be? Maybe the Product Manager was under budgetary or time constraints. Maybe the Product Manager is technically strong but doesn’t understand customers’ context. We often see product managers, marketers, and engineers develop complex, technical solutions to what they assume to be user pain points. Those who understand their users and are able to think like designers are well-equipped to accomplish their goals — solving the right problem.

Product teams with design thinking skills create joy and value. This was famously implemented by Steve Jobs when he observed that users really need a flexible, digital keyboard that varies depending upon the user’s momentary needs. He replaced the space otherwise occupied by physical keys so that the keyboard is present when in use, and disappears when unnecessary. The rest is history. Joy!!!

At Carnegie Mellon University, our MS in Product Management (MSPM) program addresses design thinking as a pillar of our program. Along with business, leadership, and technical coursework, MSPM students participate in courses offered by our top-ranked Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Our students and alumni frequently share that they’re applying these skills during their internships, projects, and full-time PM roles. We hear comments like:
– My Product Manager interview at Uber was a take-home version of everything taught in our HCI course
– In my Product Management role at Dick’s Sporting Goods, I’m continuing work started during our class project
– I taught and led my team in new ideation techniques as an intern
– As Product Manager, I’m designing my own product because our design team is overloaded. After all, “When the design team is busy, the PM becomes the designer.”
– I’m in the ideation stage with my team at PayPal, and my manager loves the results
The last two examples were shared by MSPM alumni in the past three days, alone. This is real-world training and application, instructed by the world-renowned faculty at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and School of Computer Science.

Learn these skills and create fervent customers. After all, as W. Edwards Deming stated, “A dissatisfied customer does not complain: he just switches.”

Carnegie Mellon is the place for product leadership. We’re now accepting applications for classes beginning in January 2022, and we’re happy to answer your questions.

Why not apply?

Brad Eiben is the Executive Director for the MS in Product Management Program at CMU. For more than 20 years, Eiben has successfully developed and directed teams across industries, engineering disciplines, and corporate cultures, including MSA and Toyota. He brings a passion for cross-functional product management, user-centered process design and development, lean thinking, and strategic resource and risk management to the MSPM program and our students.