Economics & Product Management

October 10, 2018 • #

A continuous challenge in product development (perhaps the ultimate challenge) is the balancing of many wants and needs with an inability to have everything. You never have the resources to build everything you want into your product — be it labor, capital, or time.

All this year I’ve been studying economics, some foundational resources, different philosophies, and the history of economic theories. I think what attracts me to the subject is how its fundamentals can be applied to so many other areas. I just finished Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics” a few weeks ago, which is a great plain-English primer on many foundational principles. At the core, economics seeks to understand how value is created and exchanged — how forces within systems interplay with one another. Sowell defines economics as the “study of the use of scarce resource which have alternative uses.”

Managing resources to build something is a great example of scarcity at work. Trade-offs are a fact of life, and the entire job of product management is balancing the right trade-offs to achieve the desired goal. It may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how often people lose the plot and don’t respect the reality or limitations. The project management triangle also comes to mind here. I find frequent reminders of these constraints helpful to ground my efforts in a frame of achievable reality, while maintaining the ability to set and meet expectations.