A Product Manager Watches Blade Runner

Warning: This article kind of, sort of contains spoilers about Blade Runner 2049. 

I just watched Blade Runner 2049. The movie is mostly fantastic, but I can't stop thinking about the 'Replicants' - the robots created for use of slave labor of fictional space-colonies - as a product gone terribly wrong.

Look, I know it's a movie. A fictional, futuristic, not-meant-to-be-taken-literally type of movie.

And yet, watching this movie as a product manager, I couldn't help but critique the product decisions that led to how these robots were built.

Every product manager should see Blade Runner as an example of how NOT to write product requirements - for robots or any other product.

Let me explain.

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Where the Product Manager for Replicants Went Wrong

Replicants were created as a product to solution for manual labor needs. As such, one should assume that the product managers working for the Tyrell corporation, and subsequent Wallace Corporation, would have built a product to fill this purpose. 

Either scope creep went waaay out of control, or the product manager assigned to the Replicant project was just plain terrible. Terrible.

Here are a few Replicant product features, as seen in Blade Runner, that are just not necessary. 

Robot bleeding.

Guess what capability is not in my MVP for the new Replicant slave robot? Bleeding.

What product manager is telling their engineering team that Replicants should bleed? What is the product value in this? No stakeholder would have requested this feature. These things should be invincible, not laying on the ground bleeding and incapacitated.

Also, it's messy! What customer wants to clean up after their bleeding slave-robot?

The Replicants must be shot to be 'retired'.

Why is it necessary to kill a Replicant in the same way one would kill a human? This seems a little inconvenient... right?

When the product team interviewed stakeholders, I doubt any of them said "Oh yeah, and I want to have to shoot the robot with a gun in order to turn it off." No. I don't believe that.

There is no need to have to violently kill a robot that was built for slave labor; it's just unnecessary, and way more complex than an on/off switch. 

The robots eat, drink and sleep. And they look too good.

This isn't Westworld. These aren't pleasure robots that people want to party and hook up with. As such, guess what else isn't in my Replicant MVP? The necessity for the robot to eat, drink and look so hot.

I thought these things were built to perform farm labor on space-colonies? Why do they have a sleep requirement? They shouldn't even have to rest unless they need a battery charge.

The female robots can give birth, apparently.

Based on the story line of Blade Runner 2049, the female robots were built with some apparatus with which they could grow and birth a baby. Huge product fail, Replicant product manager. Huge.

If there was a product requirement for the robots to self-replicate - which would have actually been a great decision and would have added lots of value to the product - then both male and female robots should have that ability. 

This leads me to another question - why do these robots even have a gender? Urgh. I'm not going to go there today.

The product org at Wallace Corp didn't fix any of these issues in v2.

The fact that these robots rebelled and waged war in the space colonies, reproduced, and escaped repeatedly didn't tip off Wallace Corporation that product changes were needed for Replicants version 2?

Apparently not.

The Replicant product team had a chance to fix all of these problems when building the second version of the robot, but didn't. <Huge sigh.>

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What Replicant Product Requirements Should Have Looked Like

Let's say you're a product manager for the Tyrell corporation... of the subsequent Wallace Corporation. You're tasked with writing product requirements for this new robot product line. Where do you start?

What problem are you trying to solve?

  • Tyrell/ Wallace Corporations are looking to build robots for slave labor on space colonies, mainly to do strenuous manual labor like farming.
  • The problem is a labor shortage and lack of human interest in performing these less-than-attractive jobs; brute strength and an endless energy supply are needed for robot manual labor on the colonies.

Super-High-Level Replicant MVP

What would my Replicant MVP look like? I'll keep it super simple, but something like this: 

  • Brute strength and agility: Ability to lift massive amounts of weight, while at the same time have the agility to make small, accurate movements. For example, the ability to operate large machinery while also being able to pick tiny raspberries from bushes.
  • Low maintenance, minimal charging time: Ability to work with minimal downtime. Look for battery/ power solutions that minimize downtime of the robot and allow it to maximize working time. Along the same vein, requirements should minimize maintenance as well, as that adds to downtime.
  • Control and Command. Easy, user-friendly voice activated controls to give the robots detailed instructions about the tasks to be completed. Also, users should be able to turn the robots on and off with a simple on/off switch, while also able to be 'fetched' - i.e. I'm sitting in Headquarters and I want the robot to come back for maintenance. I should be able to call it back without having to go fetch it myself, unless it's broken beyond repair.
  • Decision Making Ability: Here's where AI comes in. Yes, the robot should have some intelligence. Perhaps these robots don't need quite as much intelligence as a real human -depending on all the tasks they're supposed to perform. But the robot should have the ability to make simple decisions. For example, if the robot is picking apples, it should know which applies to pick (Does this apple look rotten?).
  • Durability. Replicants should be super durable, and also weather-proof: These things are supposed to be outside, doing manual labor like farming. For the product to be viable, they need to work in any weather conditions, including extreme temperatures. Who knows what the weather is like on these imaginary space colonies!?
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Other Product and Technology Related Things in Blade Runner that Make Absolutely No Sense

  • Why is Ryan Gosling driving the flying car? Come on, man, it's 2049. We know all cars, flying or not, are going to be self-driving by 2049. It's just ridiculous that anyone is driving in any manner.
  • What skincare products is Jared Leto using? He hasn't aged since My So Called Life, and the man is 45 years old. This is the craziest piece of science fiction in the entire movie.
  • Is there a male model of the hologram spouse? Ryan Gosling's wife is some sort of android/ hologram hybrid, and I have to know if Wallace Corp makes a husband version of this product. It's only fair. Product Requirement: Firefighter outfit.
  • What's the deal with the shitty Los Angeles weather? Look, I know this movie takes place in the future, but all science points in the direction of warming, not snowing. I've been to LA many times, and it's never rained, let alone snowed. Perhaps pick a different location next time, Blade Runner.
  • Seriously, why can the robots bleed?!? I just can't get over this. Was it some engineer that thought one day, "Wouldn't it be cool if they bled!?" in which case the PM should have said "No. No, they should not bleed. It will make a mess."

That's my rant about Blade Runner. I really did love this movie, and I encourage everyone to go see it. Skip 3D though - and go straight for IMAX.