What Product Leaders Can Take Away from this Four-Year Trump Product Experiment

Disclaimer: This post is not about picking on Trump or getting political. It’s about reflecting on what we can learn as product leaders especially in the wake of the recent chaotic events that unfolded in our nation capitol.

Whether you voted for Donald Trump or not, it’s safe to say that we are all now witnesses of what happens when there is a lack of leadership, empathy for people and no strategic vision.

While at times we laughed off his inability to take criticism and not own up to his actions — not to mention his tweets or his absorbed false claims, after nearly four years, the vast majority of Americans decided it was time to move forward and sunset this so-called Trump product experiment. Much like we do in product management, we make tough decisions around shutting down or decommissioning apps or sites and we do it because of what the data (quantitative and qualitative) is telling us. In some cases, it’s because it’s not generating enough revenue, a better solution may be out there, there’s a need to cut down on cost, the user base is unhappy (in this case us Americans) …. or the product is just unsuccessful, kind of like the Trump experiment.

The bottom line is whatever the reason for sunsetting your product, it needs to be backed by evidence otherwise how in the hell will you be able to convince people that it’s the right move to make?

Now, in terms of sunsetting the Trump presidency, the numbers showed that 81,283,485 Americans did not want to move forward with this so-called product any longer and quite frankly that should be okay with everyone.

We tried it out.

There was some bad…like a lot.

There was some progress, here and there.

There was a lot of first… like the threat to our democracy or the refusal to listen to science when it came to COVID.

The list can go on and on.

Overall, there’s a lot to learn from and for those who absolutely hate the outcome of the election, they should look on the bright-side and be proud that their product lasted for four years. In other words, there’s no need to storm Capitol Hill, make up conspiracy theories or incite violence.

Look at this way, you now have four years of data, learnings, documentation you can take back to the lab and iterate on because the important thing is that our country released a product in the world and now, WE all as Americans can learn from it and try again.

So, what am I getting at:
As you look through this Trump’s product lifecycle, it started with solid energy when they first launched (again, whether you agree or not), grew popularity with the rallies, but then did such a poor job of managing the “product” the rest of the way.

One of the biggest mistakes they made was assuming their product would be a one-size fits all solution for all of Americans.

Now, we know he targeted a specific audience and the product worked perfectly for them but since the Trump leadership did not have a product vision for how they could scale into year two, three and four they ended up losing the election. And, because I’m a product person, this bothers me that they didn’t leverage the resources around them to iterate and get better. So, in the spirit of product strategy, I thought it would be nice for us to reflect on those misses and identify/remind us what steps we can take to show leadership and establish a vision for anything they set their mind to when it comes to product development.

Build a team and make sure you surround yourself with good people at all times:
Diversity
 — Find people who think differently than you and come from different groups, ethnicities, backgrounds, handicaps, languages, ages, genders, education, and beyond.

Balance — Find people who know how to move the needle and have healthy mature debates around the financials, ethics, human needs and technologies.

Experience — Find people who have been through it all but aren’t a “my way or highway” type of person. Watch out for those who always use this phrase “we’ve done it this way all the time”.

Coaches — Find people who will know how to mentor, strategize and motivate others to do good but lead by example.

Doers– Find people who will roll up their sleeves and get things done without complaining. Look for those who aren’t ego-driven and willing to take on the work regardless of title.

Invest in Listening, Listening, and More Listening:
One of the hardest things people struggle with is listening. In moments of a rebuild, restructure, reorganization, or innovation it’s important to learn as much as you can from anyone who faces the problems you are trying to solve or seeking more insight to.

Listen to your team, business stakeholders and consumers and get to know these people from a human level as this will help establish help early in the process.

Ask questions like:

What’s your story?

How did you get here?

What drives you?

What hasn’t worked for you?

What did work?

How do you think we can fix it?

What evidence do you have that supports your ideas?

Triangulate Available Data:
History tends to repeat itself and it’s important to gather as much available data as possible to avoid additional efforts but also to see how other solutions may have played out.

Examples: Collecting data from the business, architecture, competitive intelligence, market trends, past user research, to quantitative platforms, etc.

Look for Alignment and Establish A Vision… TOGETHER:
Using all of the data you collected from the above, share it with your vision core team and discuss the following:

Why are we here?

Who we want to be?

What do we stand for?

Where do we want to go?

How do we define success?

What will we consider success in X years?

Is everyone aware of all of the potential risks at stake here…if any.

How does our proposed solution affect others around us both internally and externally?

Pressure Test Your Ideas:
When you’re ready, test any ideas you may have with real people. Even if you’re just asking a group of people what they think of an idea with a simple visual artifact can go a long way. For those familiar with the 4–5 Day Design Sprint plan, following some of the methods used from getting going to ideation to a working prototype can help pressure test ideas and at least get some data on if you’re on the right track.

Embrace Failure:
One of my college baseball coaches used to tell me “If you accept losing, you are a loser” and that has always stuck with me because in product management we fail a lot and we need to learn to embrace it and not get discouraged from it. What I tell my team is “if you accept failure, you are a failure… but if you learn from it then you get so much more out of the experiment.” Unfortunately for Trump, he is taking it to the extreme with conspiracy theories that are hurting him in the long run instead of embracing the failure that occurred and learning from it. #SomePeopleJustNeverLearn

Reevaluating the product after a short period:
Let’s say you release the next product (in this case the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Experiment).

Because they have been strategically planning, establishing a vision, listening to the people, and building a diverse team they may be well-prepared to pivot or in our product management world “optimize/enhance” the product. Given they seem to have shown they believe in change and having empathy for the people, I have no doubt they will use both science, voice of the people, historic data and expert’s analysis to make product decisions. They must realize that staying stagnant will not result in success. Reevaluating our products after short periods of release should not just be about making an extra buck, it needs to be about making progress for our people, helping them get the job they need done easier, and empowering them to be better prepared for tomorrow. The moment we stop reevaluating our products like the Trump team did is the moment we might be sunsetting another product very very soon, leaving our users (us, the people) left with little to no confidence.

Please note — The postings and opinions expressed here are my own.

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