By now you have probably noticed that Microsoft has replaced its Calibri default font with Aptos, a new sans-serif typeface inspired by mid-20th-century Swiss typography. This random update got me thinking about Bill Hill, a digital typography pioneer and one of the inventors of Microsoft’s ClearType font display technology. Here is one of my favorite quotes from him:

“I always talk about this to folks at Microsoft, especially to developers. What’s the most important operating system you’ll write applications for? Ain’t Windows, or the Macintosh, or Linux. It’s Homo Sapiens version 1.0. It shipped about a hundred thousand years ago. There’s no upgrade in sight. But it’s the one that runs everything.” – Bill Hill

I heard this quote on Channel 9 almost 20 years ago, and it is still available in the archive, but now as a product owner rather than software developer I am finding this whole quote hits different.

As a developer I spent years nurturing what I assumed were good ideas, and further, I assumed that if the idea was not working it must be because there exists a flaw with the customer’s understanding that needs to be corrected rather than within the the idea itself. It’s dangerous circular trap, but when you spend a lot of time with an idea you can start to assume it is more important than the customer.

The Product Manager has to relentlessly and ruthlessly stress test the most important underlying hypothesis that influence the idea, feature or product. To do this successfully you must, by definition, be better at listening to your customer (in my case developers) than selling to them. You must be more devoted to your customer than your own idea, but to do that you have to understand the difference and give credence and deference to your customer first.

How to create products developers want to use is always at the heart of the work I am doing at Microsoft, and I use the following questions from Value Proposition Design to help me ensure that my ideas remain fully consistent with developer needs:

  1. Is it embedded in a great business model?
  2. Does it focus on the most important jobs, most extreme pains, and most essential gains?
  3. Does it focus on unsatisfied jobs, unresolved pains, and unrealized gains?
  4. Does it concentrate on only a few pain relievers and gain creators but does those extremely well?
  5. Does it address functional, emotional, and social jobs all together?
  6. Does it align with how customers measure success?
  7. Does it focus on jobs, pains, or gains, that a large number of customers, or which a small number of are willing to pay a lot of money?
  8. Does it differentiate from competition in a meaningful way?
  9. Does it outperform competition substantially on at least one dimension?
  10. Is it difficult to copy?

I woman with abstract blues and greens looking to the right with microchips and chemical equations swirling around her head.

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