The question that Product People almost never ask.
Yesterday I was having one of those long chats with a friend. This friend has been looking to get married and actively looking for partners on Matrimonial Sites.
If you are not from India, let me provide you some context.
Arranged marriages are a common way to get married in India. At a certain age, when society starts pestering parents with too curious questions, they go and register their kids (not kids anymore) on matrimonial sites.
They manage the profiles, filter, swipe, accept, reject, till the “kid” decides its high time s/he takes over the search. And then begins another level of struggle.
The Indian Marriage market provides a wide variety of instruments to enable this search. From Matrimonial sites to marriage brokers to relative and matchmaker combined, everyone wants everyone else to get married.
If you are in need of some entertainment, and rather intrigued by the concept, I encourage you to watch the recent Netflix launched series about Indian Matchmaking.
I digressed. Let’s continue my story.
So my friend tells me that he is unable to find a “suitable bride” in “his caste”. And I knew he has been actively looking for a few years.
My first question was “Why do you even care about caste?”
Again, if you aren’t Indian, let me tell you about this evil concept of caste. The caste system in India is an imaginary concept that has been passed on from one generation to another. While I had imagined it would be extinct bu this time, I could not have been more wrong. It stands in all its glory influencing a huge portion of our society.
Initially created for purpose of comradery among people sharing occupation, it is now the tool of much discrimination, hate, and sometimes oppression.
People were in the past encouraged (if not mandated) by the fear of society to marry within the religion and caste. Unfortunately, it still exists today. Thrive would be a better-suited word.
Continuing my story further. My friend’s response was both funny and concerning.
“I do not really care about caste, although my family does. But when the matrimonial site highlights it, my attention is bound to be drawn to it.” Fair enough.
A Product was, in a way, aggravating and encouraging an existing social evil. But customers want it. There is enough, or more, people in India willing to trim the eligible candidate list with the lens of caste.
So what is a poor Product Manager to do?
Journey through the Product User Experience.
Before I go ahead, let me add more context to the Product. I will add some snapshots to demonstrate how the user experience encourages you to consider caste as a factor. To experience the UI myself, I created a profile on the matrimonial site.
As expected, I was enquired with a series of questions to understand my profile. Out of the many mandatory ones were Mother Tongue (as if Hindi was not enough, the language has been divided state-wise), Religion, and Caste.
If you are an individual who does not really care about caste, you will be forced to. If you do not know your caste, it’s mandated that you get the details from somebody who knows it.
Well, I filled in some details to complete my profile. And then I was greeted by multiple recommendations. And there it was. Right at the center of the profile, the Caste of “The Suitable Boy”
The caste system has been a very near and dear thing to our ancestors. And although people claim in the company of how they abhor the concept, you will find them gloating about their castes in the privacy of their homes.
The visionaries had expected that the development and prosperity of society would eventually fade this construct out.
But there it is, our Products, reminding people of all that, decades have just started blurring.
So I thought. What is the Product Manager of such a company do?
Is he supposed to abandon the Product and company because it does not match his/her ideas? Probably. Facebook employees did stage a virtual walkout. But, if the job is near and dear to you, where does your allegiance lie?
Apparent Allegiances of Product People The holy commandments of Product Management often dictate that Product people should work towards and aim for the happiness of customers or users. The vagueness of the above phrasing often leaves the meaning open to interpretation. The big question becomes “Make what the customer/user wants” or “Make what customer/user needs”?
In an analogous scenario we could be asking our community the questions:
Facebook users, serious or not, would like to have a dislike button. Should the Product people in the organization fulfill it?
Anonymous Camera was used during #BlacklivesMatter protests to detect and blur the images of protestors. If a few journalist users were to ask the Product to provide Selective blurring, should the Product people even register their request?
I would say we make for users’ needs, not wants.
The famous quote from Henry Ford seems to agree
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
Getting down from our high horses to the grounds of practicality, typically Product people face a state of constant tension from the vertices of our Holy Trinity.
Let’s see what this means.
A customer-centric Product Manager solves customer’s problems. An example could be the Product Manager who created Uber’s price estimate feature. An organization-centric Product Manager focuses more on the organization’s key objectives, whether it is in favor of customers or not. An example is someone who keeps on making non-value-added features in a Product. A self-centric Product Manager creates PRoduct features that add to his/her own career. Product Managers, advocating the use of AI to solve any and all random user problems could be added to this category. Nobody is perfect. We, however, try to be in the right range. There is yet another lens you could view your responsibilities with. As an individual and a part of the collective society, we owe a great deal more responsibility towards the world and society we live in. It is the duty of each individual to push towards its betterment. And if you have the power to move even the smallest stone, you should be the first tile of the domino.
There are too many Products trying to strike the right balance between society and consumers. And if you are one such person leading one such Product, you got to make the right decision.