Linda Gorchels blogs

Product Managers Need Foresight

Photo by David Cassolato from Pexels

Product managers in May 2020 live in a different world than they did a year ago. We all do. But we can still use logic in making decisions. It starts with hindsight, insight, and foresight.

Hindsight, Insight, Foresight

Hindsight, insight, and foresight are interrelated components of customer and product knowledge. Hindsight is the exploration of the past; it’s the collection of data about sales history, purchase behavior, and ecosystem changes. Hindsight answers the question, what happened?

Insight is looking for patterns that help explain what has happened (in the past) and what is currently happening (in the present). Insight answers the questions, why are things happening the way they are, and why did things happen the way they did in the past? Intuition plays a role here. Can the data be looked at in alternative ways that present new patterns?

Foresight focuses on tomorrow. It tries to answer the question, “what might happen?” Foresight does not predict the future, but it should open your eyes so you can make better decisions. That means you should emphasize perspective rather than precision. It’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. Look for things that are hidden in plain sight, things that are invisible to other people even though they are right in front of them.

Foresight is hard

The challenge with foresight is that is doesn’t exert the same pressure on decision-making as the here-and-now. I reflected on that as I read about the current shortages of medical supplies. The risk of a biomedical crisis had been discussed for years. Experts affirmed that it was a matter of when, not if, an event would occur. But day-to-day demands consumed all attention.

While most product managers don’t deal with issues this significant, they nevertheless are pulled between the certainty of the short-term and the unknowingness of the long-term. It’s an explanation. Not an excuse.

Foresight is important for several reasons. Growth rates in many mature industries have stagnated. Consequently, customer value propositions are less clear. New entrants are disrupting the status quo of incumbents. And society is questioning long-held assumptions. So, in addition to mentally exploring the future, ask yourself ‘so what?” before moving into product concepting.

This will become increasingly important as we move way from the pandemic and into a new future. Will new locations be required for manufacturing operations? Will there is a softening of the just-in-time philosophy toward a bit more acceptance of the “old-fashioned” just-in-case planning? It will vary by industry. Nevertheless, as you forecast opportunities into your product roadmaps, be sure to include more than one future to give you new perspectives. If you focus on a single direction, you might be caught precisely wrong.