Product Management’s Hippocratic Oath

Summary & Rationale

  • The Hippocratic Oath is a series of ethical and moral principles that most physicians promise to uphold prior to beginning their professional career.

    • The principles generally require respect for prior knowledge, that medicine is both an art and a science, that not knowing is nothing to be ashamed of, that the privacy of patients is sacred, that doctors treat human beings and not statistics.

    • While the phrase “do no harm” is commonly associated with the Hippocratic Oath, it does not appear in the earliest versions, despite its continued popularity.

  • Technology has, and will likely continue to, advance faster than our society’s legislative or ethical capabilities. With this assumption, technologists must understand their role as vanguard in preventing technological harm and creating products that promote the common welfare.

  • The entire industry’s marketing is focused on how technology is a force for good while its actions are difficult to reconcile: dark patterns that trick users into sub-optimal choices, data mining that encourages unsustainable consumption, algorithms that create reinforcing echo chambers, and reward systems modeled after casino games.

  • Product Manager’s Oath in PDF form here.

The Rationale for a Product Management Oath

As both a enthusiastic builder and user of technology products, I have seen the below principles violated and abused on a regular basis, some of which I catalogue. I hope that the below axioms can help guide our industry towards a more responsible and sustainable future.

Many of the mainstream processes currently adopted by what are considered the best technology businesses in the world are not simply doing harm currently, but steal the trust of future users by increasing the chance of burdensome regulation or setting antagonistic precedents that become standard.

If we do not self-regulate, and build products as if our families were the ultimate users, society will rightfully constrain the operational latitude we currently enjoy.

The Product Manager’s Hippocratic Oath

  • Do No Harm - I will do no harm: to users, to the environment, to employees, to customers, to non-users, to future users, to technology, and to society as a whole.

  • Product

    • I will build, design, and construct each product as though I were the ultimate user and would endure all of its challenges as well as enjoy all of its benefits.

    • I will not design, either purposefully or inadvertently, product mechanics or gamification elements that encourage addictive or harmful degrees of product use.

    • I will ascertain whether creating a new product/feature, decommissioning a product/feature, or doing nothing at all provides users with the greatest value.

      • More on Empire Building and its consequences here.

    • I will remember that while some users choose to use my application, some have no choice or rely on it to the degree that they are unable to switch, and I will empathize with the user’s choice and/or lack of mobility, not exploit it.

    • I understand the power of defaults, both psychologically and emotionally, and I will not abuse human nature’s tendency to remain with the application’s suggestions.

  • Data Management

    • I will collect the minimum data required to maximize the value provided to users.

    • Of the data utilized, I will use it with respect and as if it were my own.

    • Of the data collected, I will properly secure it against misappropriation and malfeasance.

    • If in the course of business, data is misappropriated whether due to internal or external actors, I will do everything possible to make amends and notify users as soon as possible.

  • UI/UX

    • I will attempt to make the product as accessible to different users’ abilities, equipment, bandwidth and other circumstances as is possible.

    • I will not construct, either purposefully or inadvertently, pathways that guide the user to making choices that they would not make of their own accord or that are not for their betterment.

    • I will not create, either purposefully or inadvertently, user interfaces that guide individuals towards making individually optimal solutions at the expense of their neighbor.

    • I will endeavor to remember user preferences and incorporate them to the extent possible in the application’s design.

    • I will attempt to understand and plan for not just a product’s 1st order consequences, but any 2nd and 3rd order effects as best as I can.