Be data-informed, not data-driven

Tim Woods
4 min readOct 20, 2022
Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

People bang-on about product managers needing to be data-driven. But like many things in building products, it’s more nuanced than that.

Being data-driven is simplistic. A machine can make decisions based on data. Algorithms can be made to choose the best path forward based on data. If it’s simple for a machine to do it, where’s your added value?

The truth is that to be a great product manager, you need to be driven by strong instincts more than anything else. The best product managers, the founders of companies, are guided by strong instincts for what customers want. Most of the time when going from 0 to 1 there is no reliable data to go on, you must rely on instincts.

Data is useful for sure, it can help lead to insights, sometimes really powerful ones. But you want to be data-informed, not data-driven. It’s a subtle but important difference.

The mental model

As a PM, you need to build a mental model of your customers, taking all kinds of inputs, from quantitative and qualitative sources. The best product managers tend to have an extraordinary level of empathy for their customers, they can see things the way the customer sees it. Data alone doesn’t allow you to empathise enough to create this kind of rich model.



Tim Woods

Building Product at TryHackMe. Previously YouCanBookMe, PatSnap, HYPE Innovation, Imaginatik, IBM. Love all things PM. South Coast, England.