Most of the great companies started with an itch that somebody couldn't scratch by him or herself and decided to find the solution. Once the solution was found, people with the same itch have come knocking and the business was born. Wozniak first built a personal computer for himself, only later for others. Richard and Maurice McDonald first grilled burgers for themselves, only later founding a fast food franchise. The first car was invented due to Karl Benz's passion for bicycles and internal combustion engines, long before Henry Ford redefined the 20th century with it. Being user yourself, makes product development fly as user testing can start right after the product is built and user's feedback is instantaneous.
Unfortunately for the product managers, it's rarely the case that the first customer is the right customer. So even if you start building the product for yourself, you might end building products for people with very different needs than yours. And then it's very easy to say "I'm not a blogger", "I don't traffic ads", "I have no use for labels", or find any other excuse for not actually using the product you're building. I consider the defining characteristic of a good product manager to be empathy for the customer. If the product manager cannot find ways how to use the product he or she's building him or herself, or at least get the product used by someone he or she deeply cares about, the product managers cannot really feel the joy, the frustrations, the possibilities, and the limitations of the product when actually used to solve real world problems. And then we end up with products that nobody loves.
This is part of series of posts on product manager's responsibilities as we see them at Zemanta.