Why Darth Vader is a Bad Product Manager

….Who Built Two Busted Death Stars.

The Empire had some bad managers, but Darth was the worst. With the new Star Wars opening this weekend, Darth is on my mind. And, as a follow-up to my last post, Darth certainly could learn from what great leaders do, if he wasn’t so hell-bent on building a Death Star.

Darth Motivates Using Fear of Failure

Darth doesn’t give a Sith about team morale. Death Stars are built on blood, sweat and fears, and that’s how Darth rolls. In the clip below, we find him “motivating” his PM with criticism and fear. All the guy can do is retort with a whiny excuse about too few resources, which Darth has little compassion. Not to mention this guy is getting ripped in front of his whole team. Not great team building, D.V.

In the end, this guy will get it done for Darth. Not because he’s passionate about launching a Death Star, but because he doesn’t want to, you know, die (or get fired), but that’s just enough incentive to do what you’re told and not innovate. No one will challenge you or ask questions. In the end, bad team morale means they’re going to end up with the same weak-sauce Death Star with all its inherent exploitable weaknesses and easy-to-destroy architecture.

Darth Doesn’t Learn From Past Mistakes

Which brings us to WHAT we’re building. A moon-sized space station? With one huge laser? Oh wait, what? We already built one before? And a kid blew it up? Right, ok,.. so why are we building another one just like it?

While some can admire Darth’s determination / obtuseness, he never learned anything from before. Where’s the MVP for this? How are we assessing risk here? A perfect product doesn’t exist. Everyone in the first Death Star learned that the hard way. If your project has a two-meter wide “thermal exhaust port,” you need to know about it. More importantly, you should do a pre-mortem to assess risk before a project begins in order to identify and size potential risks.

Darth Is In Love With His Pet Project

And certainly if you want to rule a galaxy, there are probably better ways to do it. I’m no Sith lord, but one base for the whole galaxy doesn’t seem very optimized — I don’t think that Death Star is zipping around very fast at all. Seems like we could test out more efficient ways to best allocate our mix of soldiers, ships and guns across the universe to best control the rebellion.

This is really at the heart of why Sith Lordsdon’t make good leaders. A good product manager checks their ego at the door, and never assumes there’s only one approach to solving to the problem.

And why aren’t we building this in versions or phases? Diving into a project that is so egregiously expensive without building in milestones seems foolhardy and unfocused.

This is really at the heart of why Sith Lords don’t make good leaders.

A good product manager checks their ego at the door, and never assumes there’s only one approach to solving to the problem. The Death Star isn’t about success, it’s about winning. It’s about showing off.

But any Empire (or product company) putting all their eggs in one galactic basket, is always risky, especially when launching products is about ego and not customers.

Christopher Ward
About the author: 

Christopher Grant Ward is the Vice President – Product at Shutterstock, a leading provider of digital content licensing.  Mr. Ward has also held executive-level assignments with Springbok, SUBTXT and Givegoods.  He has a Master’s Degree from Carnegie Mellon University. Follow him on Twitter.