How Failure Shaped Product Management

In "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," Thomas Kuhn explains that science progresses within a prevailing paradigm until accumulating anomalies cause a crisis, leading to a scientific revolution and a new paradigm. This concept of paradigm shifts is not limited to science; it also applies to the world of product development. For years, the prevailing paradigm in product development has been Agile and user-centered design. These approaches emphasise iterative development and prioritise user needs, a big improvement on what came before. However, over time, anomalies began to surface. Misaligned business goals, ineffective products, and a focus on outputs rather than outcomes revealed their limitations. This crisis prompted a paradigm shift toward product management. Product management emphasises outcomes over outputs, success metrics, and sustainable value creation.

The role of the product manager is to define the right problems to solve and to ensure that the solutions actually meet the needs of the customers and the business. Melissa Perri · Escaping the Build Trap

This marks a significant departure from traditional Agile and user-centered design approaches. Central to this evolution is the realisation that failure is inevitable in product development.

The most important insight in Marty Cagan's Inspired echoes this sentiment. He acknowledges products and features won't meet expectations, and the ones that do require a lot of iteration to reach that point.

The Law of Market Failure: Failure is the most likely outcome. Most new products fail. Alberto Savoia · The Right It

Surviving ‘best practice’ in product development is anti-fragile. It helps us operate in a world where our ideas are likely to fail. Small batch sizes allow us to learn early and reduce waste. A/B testing helps us quickly identify if we’re achieving the outcome we expect. Opportunity solution trees broaden our perspective and help us avoid focusing on a single solution too early. Continuous discovery ensures product managers constantly understand customer needs and pain points in shifting markets. Product metrics provide data-driven insights into user behaviour, enabling informed decisions and course corrections.

This perspective helps us evaluate new processes or methodologies our colleagues propose. The key question is: does this approach survive in a world where we’re likely to fail? If not, then it’s likely a bad idea.

Given the likelihood of failure, product managers need certain traits to be successful. Resilience is crucial, as product managers must bounce back from setbacks and continue driving progress. Humility is equally important, allowing product managers to acknowledge when things aren't working and seek feedback and guidance. Humble product managers are more likely to rely on data, commission research, engage with peers, and avoid jumping to conclusions—all of which lead to better outcomes.


Product management is the new paradigm for product development. It’s predicated on the realisation that most products and features will fail to have the impact we desire. As Product Managers face such challenging odds, we must approach our work with humility and resilience.