For me, it has to be "The Institutional Yes", which is an interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, published by the Harvard Business Review in October 2007. I admit that much of my own thoughts on product strategy were formed by reading this interview.
It covers a lot of things, but a few in particular:
- Bezos encouraged his executives to develop a long-term strategy that was based on whatwouldn't change in the future. Almost everyone gets this wrong. Consider for yourself, what it is about your customers' needs that you can count on being the same year after year? For Amazon, it was that customers want wide selection, low prices, and fast & reliable delivery.
- Bezos made decisions that would have seemed heretical at the time, such as showing side-by-side identical yet lower-cost buying options for Amazon's own merchandise. He was willing to challenge the status quo and place big bets that external customers were more important than internal stakeholders. He couldn't have been more right - especially in a large organization. Never allow the organizational structure of your company dictate what your development focus should be.
- Bezos said "Eventually we have to choose just a couple of things...and make bets." And they made big bets at Amazon: expansion outside of books, outside or media, supporting third party sellers, taking on their fulfillment, building the Kindle, and creating a developer-facing business. What are your long-term bets and are you betting big enough to ensure that their potential will be realized?
These are lessons that every Product Manager could stand to learn from. But, the reason this interview had so much of an affect on me is because I found myself on the losing end (with close to the opposite strategy) while at eBay from 2001-2005. eBay did exceedingly well in that time, and yet was getting its ass kicked. The success fueled by new user regsitration masked the underlying reality that Amazon was stripping away eBay's higest-value buyers with a more convenient shopping experience, and this was finally exposed in later quarters when eBay's stock declined by over 50% (and that was before the stock market crash in '08). (If interested, you can read more on this in an interview with me conducted by my friend and former eBay colleague, Rob Go.)
I always wanted to know what the winning consumer product strategy looked like from the top down. If you want to know, too, you should read "The Insitutional Yes".