Please take this personally

01 February 2015 Posted Under: Product Management [0] comments

A few weeks ago I got pulled into a meeting. There’s another team at Microsoft that’s using our SDK to build their UI, and they had a few questions. Their devs had a chance to get their hands on our SDK, and like most product guys, I was interested in getting some unfiltered feedback from an internal team. Before getting into details, someone dropped the phrase “Please don’t take this personally, but…“

The feedback that comes after that sentence is really important. We write it down. We share it with the team. We stack it up against other priorities, compare it with feedback from teams who have similar pain points, and use it to find a way to make our product better. Customer feedback (from an internal team or external customer) is so incredibly critical, that any product team has a similar pattern/process for dealing with it. So what’s the problem?

Any feedback that starts with “Don’t take this personally” really pisses me off. When you say this to someone, you’re making one of two judgments about this person:

  1. They are not personally invested in their work. They go to their job, they do whatever work is put in front of them, and then they go home. If what they’ve made is not good, it doesn’t bother them.

  2. They are personally invested in their work. They want to create something amazing, and will go to great lengths to do so. Whatever you’re about to say - despite your warning - They’re going to take it personally.

For me, that expression elicits a sort of Marty Mcfly “nobody calls me chicken” response.

What’s more personal to me than my product!? I work at Microsoft because I genuinely believe it’s the best place for me to build stuff that has a real tangible impact. I went through years of school so I could do *this*. I moved my family moved across the country. I work 50-60 hours a week (probably more than I should) because I wanted to build *this*. My product is in many ways a reflection of me. What could possibly be more personal?

Does this mean I don’t want criticism? Of course I do! Objective criticism from an informed customer who has used your product is the greatest gift a product manager can receive. It’s how we get better. Just expect me to take it personally.