The Nightmare Before Christmas : A Project Manager's Version

The Nightmare Before Christmas. We’ve seen it over and over again (if you still haven’t seen it, you should probably stop reading this). By now, you know all the songs by heart and, somehow, keep laughing at all the silly little jokes. Well, here’s a version of the story you probably haven’t heard before.
Meet Jack, a product manager at Halloween Inc. Jack is a successful PM with a great reputation. Everyone at the company love Jack and look up to him for guidance and inspiration, even though he’s not the CEO [that would be the drama prone mayor].
For years, Halloween Inc. have only implemented small iterations to its existing popular B2C product. Jack acknowledges the fact that they’re the best in their field, but can’t help feeling tired of the same routine
And then it happened. By some weird chain of events, Jack gets his big idea for a whole new product line, completely different from everything Halloween Inc. ever did before. Now Jack is inspired.
He’s excited to explore this new idea and all the possibilities that come with it. There seems to be endless ways to build upon this idea. This is the moment he has been waiting for.
Still thrilled, Jack arranges a team meeting to present his new idea to his colleagues. But… they don’t seem to get it. As hard as Jack tries to communicate his idea, the team keeps pulling it in a different, more familiar, direction.
The team’s feature ideas completely miss the point, but Jack hesitates to respond with a clear “no!”, fearing they won’t buy into his idea. That fear ends up leading him to present a false image of his product vision, and the team loves it.
Having secured his team’s approval, Jack then locks himself up in his office, where he engages in endless research. He reads all the relevant publications on the subject and conducts numerous experiments but all that information is only making him more frustrated and confused. “what does it mean?! what does it mean?!”, he yells.
At last, he conveniently reaches the conclusion that it’s actually not that complicated and ,in fact, the answer is right there in front of him. Jack decides to embrace the mess that resulted from his team ideas and literally sees the data turning into his product vision in front of his eyes.
Using the classic waterfall model, Jack sets a launch date and everyone in the team starts working like crazy to get everything done in time. All of a sudden, the team is very busy.
Every team member has some task to work on. Jack — still very much delusional — supervises the team’s work in real-time. He notices that the product is no where near his vision but tries to fix things using only small insignificant changes.
Halloween Inc. ships the product, which — unsurprisingly — turns up to be a complete disaster. The users hate it. They could have told this to the team a long time ago, but nobody asked them. The team was all too busy working to ship a product nobody wants.
So there you have it. All these years you watched the Nightmare Before Christmas thinking it’s about embracing your identity, when it’s actually a cautionary tale for over-excited product managers and their teams.
Here are my takeaways from the film:
  1. Don’t fall in love with your own product ideas;
  2. Don’t compromise the product vision to keep everyone happy;
  3. Effective research can’t be done in seclusion. Go out there and talk to some users;
  4. If something isn’t working, be clear about it. Don’t be over-polite;
  5. Be agile. Shipping too much at once is a risky move;
  6. If nothing else works, call on Santa to save the day.
  7. That’s all folks. Hope you’ve enjoyed it.


More by Sefi

Topics of interest