Like many Americans, I have been thinking a lot about you lately. I’m worried about you. Your approval ratings are low. Most of the country quit voting for you at midterms. Not even 1% of Americans even give you money. Voter turnout looks to be good this year, but most people voting belong to an exhausted majority that is tired of just voting against the other party.
People often say we should run our government more like a business. I asked myself: What if we DID run Congress more like a business? What would that look like? What if every member of congress acted more like product managers instead of politicians? After all, people in tech say that product managers have the most political job in the company.
So here is my modest proposal:
First, Figure out What your Product Is
To be a product manager, you have to know your brand architecture. For those of you who don’t live in our world, a typical brand architecture looks like this:
Make sense? So I’m thinking for you it looks like this:
Right? Well Congress, if this is your product, then your product is in TROUBLE. How, you may ask? Let’s start with your first problem:
Find Your Product Market Fit
What is product market fit you may ask? (Bear with me business peeps.)
For all of us who live in the business world, product market fit is EVERYTHING:
BAD NEWS Congress:
You don’t have Product Market Fit. Nope. Not at all. And I challenge any political consultant to make a defensible argument that you do. Consider the facts:
- Gallup says your approval is down to 17%
- Voting has been at its lowest than since the Great Depression
- 99% of Americans don’t give donate than $200 a year to their politicians
When you DO have product market fit, here is what you get:
- Must Have: Customers say they can’t live without your product
- Evangelisim and Viral Growth: Customers recommend you to each other
- Value: Customers interviewed clearly understand value from your service
- Passion: Customers love your product
This describes any number of great product companies: Apple, SalesForce, Facebook, and Google.
Instead, Congress, here’s what we see with your product:
- Must Have? Meh. Right now, two-thirds of voters don’t even vote for you in the mid-term
- Evangelism? Voters won’t even talk to each other about you because your product is so toxic
- Value? Barely .33% of voters actually donate more than $200 to political candidates. Yes, that’s 1/3 of 1%.
- Passion? Sure, you have passion with 10-20% of voters, but 80% of voters just tolerate or hate you.
Congress’s product is officially in crisis mode. Time to start thinking like a product manager instead of a politician.
Segment Your Market Better
Here’s where the problem with product market fit starts. You don’t have a product that can satisfy the largest share of the product. You may say, “But my market is AMERICA, and what greater market is there than AMERICA?”
Actually, Congress is only the 17% of America that likes you, and they probably only mean half of you. (http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/)
You see, your problem is how you get feedback to segment the market. Typically, politicians on their way to Congress segment the market like this:
In business, nobody segments a market this way. We try to satisfy the largest market segment we can.
The evidence has been obvious for years that the current voting system doesn’t make the majority of your market happy. The latest is a report called Hidden Tribes from the research group More in Common. After surveying thousands of Americans, they concluded that some 67% belong the “Exhausted Majority” that is not being served by the current voting system.
To make their customers happy, Product managers don’t just use a plurality voting system where the winner takes all even if nobody likes them. They use tools like proportional voting and rank choice voting. These kinds of voting systems help them to understand the must-have features, delighters, and acceptable tradeoffs that will make the majority of the market happy.
Research group More in Common found that some 67% of Americans belong the “Exhausted Majority” that is not being served by the current voting system. In Silicon Valley jargon, the Exhausted Majority is an underserved market waiting to be disrupted.
Sounds like crazy talk to you? Maine just started using Rank Choice Voting to select its politicians. So do 10 Major US Cities. Australia and Ireland use it. Word is, they LIKE it. 60% of voters like it as a matter of fact. Heck, ESPN.com uses it to rank NBA players and the Academy uses it to pick the Oscars. Appealing to the middle majority has its merits.
Practice Lean Development
Great product managers move fast. They identify the value their product can deliver to their market. They develop the minimum viable product to satisfy their market. Then they test, measure, and build relentlessly just the features the market wants until that product captures the market and delivers on the value proposition.
Not so in Congress. Congress spends years accumulating the political will to pass all-or-nothing bills. When they finally do pass a law, they pass a monster Frankenstein product with so many add-on features that it is unrecognizable. Most laws that are passed by congress are approved with very little market validation. Ever heard of beta testing guys?
Want healthcare reform? Instead of passing a massive law and hoisting it on the whole country, why not test a few models across multiple states?
Want tax reform? Instead of betting the countries future that low taxes will pay for themselves, let a few states volunteer to take that bet.
Focus on User Centered Design
Product Managers develop a deep understanding of who will be using their product. They use Voice of the Customer programs to collect user feedback. They conduct user interviews and review support tickets. They watch how users use their product.
I have donated and signed up for mailing lists with candidates from both parties. When I get surveys, they look like this:
PLEASE Congress. You’re not serving your market. You’re just pushing us to vote for you. Let’s start working on market PULL instead of market PUSH.
What if, instead, you got a survey like this?
Become Data Driven
Great product managers make decisions based on the data. What is my product adoption rate? What is its Net Promoter Score? Do consumers use its features? What is my retention rate?
What if, every American could go to a dashboard and see the basic metrics of success for a bill like the Affordable Care Act:
If we had a dashboard like this, maybe ordinary Americans could understand things like:
- The ACA IS acquiring and retaining happy customers
- The ACA is NOT doing such a great job controlling costs
- Rural Americans are signing up slower and churning more than urban Americans
What if every law passed had a product owner in the Congressional Budget Office? That product owner would be charged managing a product dashboard with the top metrics tracking the success of that law. I’m not talking mountains of reports, which is what we see today. I’m talking executive summaries that voters with a high school education can understand.
Use Actionable vs Vanity Metrics
And when it comes to all those metrics, let’s stop using Vanity Metrics that don’t solve the voter’s problems. Let’s use actionable metrics with measurable results:
What if, instead of waiting 20 years to get the votes to pass THE ONE AND ONLY Immigration Reform bill, we passed AN Immigration Reform Bill and tracked its success for the public?
What if the product owner was in charge of proposing updates to the law every year based on the data? Maybe we could have some real discussions about policy for a change.
Start Managing Your P&L
Great product managers manage a product’s profit and loss throughout its lifecycle. A typical product’s profit and loss looks like this:
Congress’s P&L statement looks like this:
When management asks a product team why they can’t balance the P&L for their product, they don’t answer “We were too busy arguing over it.” If they do, the board starts looking for a new team.
Build a Team Culture
Speaking of team, we’re a little worried about the team culture in Washington these days. Who is in charge of team building at Congress anyway? You guys need some serious off sites where you can figure out how to work together.
Maybe you can put the Freedom Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus together in an Escape Room and see if they can work together to find a way out.
Start a Product Turnaround
Seriously, Congress is starting to look like a company in need of a turnaround.
Consider the facts:
- 83% of the market doesn’t like you
- 64% of the market doesn’t buy your product even though it’s free
- Only .33% (1/3 of 1%) of the market donates more than $200 for your services
- You haven’t turned a profit since the year 2000
When we see figures like, and entrepreneurs see an opportunity to disrupt the market and deliver the product consumers really want. If you don’t do it, someone will.
I would love it if more of Congress started to see the opportunity of leadership the same way product managers do.
Ross Reynolds works a product manager in brand protection and media. He currently is VP of Product & Marketing for Marketly, a startup in Silicon Valley. He likes building products and helping new ventures grow.