5 Things Fatherhood Has Taught Me About Product Management

As a new parent but seasoned product manager and developer, our expert explores how his toddler is teaching him to be a better professional.

Written by Eric Okunevich
Published on Jun. 05, 2024
5 Things Fatherhood Has Taught Me About Product Management
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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As a proud new parent, one of the joys in my life is watching my daughter grow and discover the world. One of the things you learn immediately is that your job is to teach them and help them discover new things. 

But if you take a step back, you’ll learn that they can teach you as much as you can teach them. Let’s look at five key lessons we can glean from the toddler playbook.

5 Lessons in Product Management From a Toddler

  1. Use the “five whys” method.
  2. Get comfortable saying no to unrealistic ideas.
  3. Be adaptable and ready to pivot.
  4. Stay curious.
  5. Accept when you fail and try again.

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Ask Why — 5 Times, Actually

When my daughter started learning to talk, she gravitated toward two words, one of which was “why.” Anyone who knows toddlers is familiar with how they incessantly ask “why?” over and over again. It’s enough to test even the most patient parent.

If we look a little closer, though, we can learn a valuable lesson in root cause analysis.  

In development, particularly when troubleshooting issues or identifying opportunities for improvement, the technique known as the “five whys” can be incredibly powerful. Basically, this method involves repeatedly asking “why” about a problem until you pinpoint the underlying reason.

For example, say a customer wants a new button on a screen. By applying the five whys, we can discover how the user interacts with the product and identify the deeper problem many more users experience. We can then fix that underlying issue — without adding a new button.

Using this method allows you to uncover deeper layers of causality and bias behind a problem. It forces you and the person with the issue to move beyond surface-level symptoms to address less obvious, systemic issues.


Learn to Say No

Besides “why,” the other word that my daughter has embraced is “no.” While a two-year-old running around the house yelling “no!” might not seem like a learning opportunity, think about it: When was the last time you said no? 

When we’re young, saying no is easy, and is in fact an important part of our development. But as we get older, it gets harder and harder to say no. We have to re-learn as adults how to set boundaries, be it with managers, coworkers or even customers.

In development and product management, the ability to say no, especially when it doesn’t match your overall company strategy, is crucial.

Whether it’s managing expectations and timelines and pushing back when they’re unrealistic, or dismissing a feature request that doesn’t bring long-term strategic gains, learning to say no can enable you and your team to focus on what truly matters in moving the business forward.

A focused “no” today can pave the way for a resounding “yes” to a needle-moving feature tomorrow. 


Change Your Mind

Children reserve the right to change their mind. One minute they might be screaming to watch Curious George, but when you put it on they walk away to play with blocks. While this is chaotic, it highlights an important lesson for product managers: iterate on ideas and adapt to change.

Agile methodology is a key pillar of a lot of software development, and one of the key tenants is an iterative, flexible approach to product development. Embracing this mindset means recognizing that initial plans may need adjustment based on user feedback, market dynamics or evolving business goals.

Just as toddlers embrace spontaneity and exploration, successful development teams should remain open to pivoting when necessary to achieve the best possible outcomes. Successful products rarely emerge from a rigid, linear development process.


Be Inquisitive

When my daughter eats, it’s a fully tactile experience, particularly if it’s a food she hasn’t eaten before. She investigates it through touch, smell, sight — and eventually taste. This innate inquisitiveness is a reminder of the importance of curiosity in driving innovation and creativity.

In business, a stagnant mind leads to stagnant products. Cultivating a curious mindset, just like a toddler’s, can fuel breakthroughs and unlock new opportunities for growth.

Whether it’s exploring new technologies like AI and machine learning, studying user behavior or seeking inspiration from unexpected sources such as a conference or a good book, maintaining child-like curiosity will keep the entire team engaged and motivated.

By fostering a culture of curiosity within your team, you can encourage exploration and help others embrace new ideas.


Accept and Learn From Failure

As a first-time parent, you hear that kids are tough, but you never realize how tough they are until you see them learn to walk. You do everything you can to protect them, but they will fail and they will fall. What’s amazing is their resilience, popping right back up after they fall.

A perfect example of this is the failed launch of Apple Maps, which was heralded as a replacement of Google Maps on iPhone/iOS devices. Users reported misplaced landmarks, incorrect city labels, missing addresses and the absence of features like public transit directions. The backlash was so intense that Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook issued a public apology, and the company suggested users try alternative mapping services until it could make improvements.

Learning from this failure, Apple took several steps to enhance Apple Maps. It invested heavily in improving the app by hiring mapping experts, acquiring mapping-related companies and integrating advanced technologies.

Apple also focused on building its own mapping infrastructure, including deploying vehicles with sensors for data collection and using satellite imagery for accuracy. These efforts transformed Apple Maps into a reliable and competitive service, demonstrating the company’s commitment to quality and user satisfaction.

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Never Stop Learning

Toddlers are bundles of boundless energy and tantrums, but they also offer valuable insights. By emulating their relentless questioning, ability to set boundaries, adaptability and curiosity, we can become better product managers, software executives and developers.

So next time you encounter a toddler’s antics, remember — they might be teaching you your next big lesson.

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