What Disney World taught me about Product Management

We just returned from a week in Orlando where we spent three glorious days in Walt Disney World and three spectacular days at Universal Studios Orlando. It was a great vacation and one we will remember for a lifetime!Mickey-Mouse-magic-kingdom

Since I am a Product Management geek (and proud of it), I couldn’t help pondering what the Disney experience can teach us about Product Management and I came up with three key take-aways.

Wait times/Roadmaps

The Disney parks are very transparent about their wait times. They are clearly posted at the entrance to each ride and they are even available on the Apps so you can access the wait times for a particular ride when you are sitting across the park, enjoying a beverage or waiting for a different ride.  This transparency allows you to plan to make the most of your time in the park.  If there is a ride you are only mildly interested in and it has a 45 minute wait, you might decide to pass on it.  If there is a must-do ride and the wait drops to 15 minutes, you might run over there to take advantage of the lull.  I liken the posted wait times to a Product Management Roadmap.  Our customers want to know when a specific enhancement or feature will be available.  The timing doesn’t have to be extremely precise, just as the Disney wait time cannot be calculated to the exact minute, but it does need to provide an idea on when something can be expected so your customers can make informed decisions about what they are going to do.  If a critical feature for a certain customer is on the roadmap in the next quarter then they can plan how best to take advantage of that feature and perhaps even plan coding on their side if integration is required.  Being provided with time-frames helps us to organize our agendas and maximize our resources and time.

Marketing Speak

Sometimes our efforts to speak in glossy marketing terms can go to far – to the point that no one knows what you are talking about anymore.  Let me provide two examples:

  1. Mad Tea Party – spinning ’round in a cup.
  2. Storm Force Accelatron – help the X-Men’s superhero Storm in her battle against the evil Magneto.

The first example is from Disney’s Magic Kingdom – a bit light on words, but pretty descriptive.  The second comes from Universal’s Islands of Adventure.  The ride sounds wicked and I totally want to help Storm defeat evil forces, but I have no idea what the ride actually does.  Would you believe that is the same ride?!  Disney’s spinning apparatus is a tea cup, Universal’s is some sort of electron, but the essence of the ride is the exact same.

The lesson for us Product Managers – don’t get so caught up in being cool that you lose sight of the information that you need to convey.

Cost vs. Value

Perhaps the most valuable lesson that Disney has taught us is that people – millions of them, in fact – are willing to pay premium prices for a great service. The amount of money that we spent for our one week vacation is painful to think about.  But we were willing to pay it and we have no regrets because the service was differentiated, reliable and we valued it. There is no place in the world like Disney Parks with their characters and perky cast members and unbridled enthusiasm for creating a Magical Experience.  What they do is differentiated – it sets them apart from the local Six Flags. The service is also reliable. Whether you go in December or June, in rain or heat, on a Tuesday or a Saturday, the Disney crew is going to greet you with the same energy and joy. You can tell your friends and neighbors about it and feel very confident that they will have the same experience. And finally, the service is valued.  When my ten year old daughter looked up at me and said, “Mom, there is no place in the world that I would rather be,” that is valuable. And I am willing to pay for that kind of value.

As product managers, we shouldn’t shy away from premium pricing if (and it’s a big IF), we are delivering a service that is differentiated, reliable and valued. People will pay for great experiences.

In conclusion, we product managers can learn a thing or two from Disney – or perhaps just reinforce what we already know. Roadmaps with “wait times” help people plan, marketing messages that are too clever could fail to provide the necessary information and premium pricing is warranted for great service.  Thanks, Mickey, for a great week and memories that will last a lifetime.


2 Responses to What Disney World taught me about Product Management

  1. Tom Evans says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience Kristin. Disney is such a great example from so many angles. We went to Disneyland in early February and it got me thinking about how Disney creates a product that people love. Using that experience, I did a ProductCamp session around putting love (or emotion) into products and Disney was one of the examples that we used. The outcome of our discussion was around these key points: Unexpected delight, attention to detail, honesty/transparency & focus on core competencies – all of which Disney does very well at their theme parks.

    You can read more on my blog post about this session: http://compellingpm.com/put-a-little-love-in-your-product-how-great-products-evoke-emotion/.

  2. Very nice article. I definitely love this site.


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