The Guide, Simplified

Benito Vergara
6 min readSep 6, 2021
Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

In an earlier piece on elements of storytelling and product management, I wrote about how we product managers can act as guides to ensure customer success. And by “guides” (or “mentors”), I had in mind a more archetypal role: a Guide with a capital G.

And who is that Guide? It’s that Wise Old Person character from folk tales, the one who gives the heroes the tools they need to succeed. The Guide is also exemplified by contemporary characters such as Dumbledore and Obi-Wan Kenobi, supporting heroes in their quests. In the spirit of making our customers the heroes, we product managers fulfill the same role. We take customers through the dark woods.

There’s nothing like drama to spice up a story, but maybe the metaphor of a perilous journey through a forbidding forest is a little overheated. So here’s a more down-to-earth and less dramatic comparison for product managers: We can think of ourselves as tour guides.

And lest you think “product manager as tour guide” is an inelegant analogy, consider some metaphors by which we routinely talk about product management and customer success. Despite the fact that many of us conduct our business through screens, we still think of these realms through the lens of travel and movement through physical space:

  • We talk of the customer journey; we study how users interact with products and services along happy (and unhappy) paths.
  • The product roadmap suggests a territory, i.e. the landscape of customer and business outcomes. Instead of place names and routes, we see instead the different product features opportunities geared towards achieving those outcomes, and the methods by which that territory is traversed. How do we get from here to there?
  • And onboarding still echoes a very physical reference to travel, i.e. being on board a ship, or a plane. (“Walkthrough,” I also discovered, is from the theater world.)

I’ll explore this comparison between product managers and tour guides below by delving into the definition of a guide, and listing some familiar elements we can incorporate into our engagements with customers.

The Guide

Let’s look at the word “guide” a little more closely. I rather like the Webster 1913 definition (the writer James Somers

Benito Vergara

Senior product manager, fiction writer, former anthropologist. I study culture, tell stories, and herd cats. More: