Passion and Problems are Product Management

Tony Poon is the chief product officer at R-Zero. 


Maybe it’s his engineering background, maybe it’s his deep product experience, maybe it’s his lack of hobbies, but Tony Poon has a distinctive way of peeling things down to their core, then building them back up again to successfully solve real problems. The chief product officer at R-Zero, a biosafety technology company, Tony is both passionate and methodical about his approach to product development.

“Let’s be clear: Passion is actually a very strong form of initiation into a company or project or idea. You need that,” he says. “But there’s certainly a runway on which passion can only get you so far, and if you want to extend that further, then you really need to start understanding the reason why [a product] exists in the problem space.”

Likewise, when PMs start a project by asking “What are we going to build?” they have gone too far, Tony contends. “The question, I think, from a product management perspective is, ‘Who has what problems?’ And then you can start eventually getting into, ‘What are we going to build?’

“One of the things that happens, especially for earlier-stage companies where they’re trying to disrupt, where a lot of them are driven by passion that they want to change the world, is they start with what they’re going to build, but very quickly need to come back, pause, and say, ‘Well, what’s the real problem, and who has this problem, and how valuable might a solution be?’”

But the list of pitfalls is still not complete. When PMs do go back to identify and home in on the problem at hand, they often get sidetracked by symptoms. “The meta point here — rather than focusing on some of the symptoms and how you can solve some of the symptoms — is getting to a point where you believe this is where the true problem lies,” he says. “That dynamic of, ‘Is this a symptom or is it a problem? Is it a problem, and how does it associate the symptoms?’ Spending more time there before you get into solutioning, to me, has always paid a large amount of dividends.”

Hear more from Tony — including how he helps his teams navigate these pitfalls to stay on track, how he sees the customer-data collection as a “team sport,” and why he finds boats fascinating — on this episode of This Is Product Management.

Download the transcript:


Here are some highlights: 

  • Symptom vs. problem
  • Bringing in the customer’s perspective
  • Differentiating between passion and conviction
  • Transitioning from a technical role into product
  • Empowering PMs to build their careers

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