Written by Cort Buchholz
The skills and knowledge required to succeed as a PM are not easily learned. Being a product manager is hard and being a great product manager is even harder. We have a deep respect for PM’s that move product teams to success.
Product managers face many challenges. How they deal with those challenges, from the day to day tasks to high level product strategy initiatives, make a profound impact on the long term success or failure of a product.
Considering the common challenges in product management, we’ve compiled a short list of “do’s and don’ts” for product management.
If the PM consistently hears the same thing from the development or tech team there is likely a very good reason why. It can be easy to simply write off the development team using archetypal excuses like “developers are never happy”, or “developers always complain” (Don’t worry devs, stereotypes are always wrong). A PM’s prioritization is always around the features they want as they build out the product roadmap. PM’s get everything scheduled, they commit dates to stakeholders. Momentum starts to take hold (i.e. we’re getting this feature in Q4 of 2021, etc). However, there is technical debt that accrues as you start to build up features and the development team is the first to spot the problem. It is manifested in their day to day lives. The issue might be an outdated library that takes a week to update. Though the update might increase security, there would be no visible feature produced at the end of a week’s work. PM’s find those tasks difficult to prioritize, and the development team ends up sounding like a broken record at every sprint review and retrospective. If pushed off for too long, real security issues could arise.
Example: With the recent uptick in video conferencing, Zoom has been experiencing several security breaches. (Scary, we know, read about it right here.) Finally, Zoom’s CEO stepped in and listened to the development team, they stopped building features and fixed backdoors in their platform. In less than a week, the majority of problems were solved.
More often than not, product management gets hooked on the drug of functionality. They lose the healthy report with the development or tech team and it creates a chasm between the teams.
A healthy product development team maintains a symbiotic relationship between functionality and stability.
Generally, product management gets caught up in the vision of the product, and they lose sight of what users want. They ask themselves; when is it right to create new functionality that the users aren’t familiar with, but you know they’ll love eventually? As a PM, if you only listen to what the loudest users in the user community say, you might never actually push the functionality of the application. Odds are, users aren’t as visionary as the product management team. However, your users are paying the bills. If they give real customer feedback about things that bother them. That stuff needs to be done.
The key is to consider your support requests and comments. What are users saying? Is there an underlying theme? Consider what is actually happening in the community and factor that into prioritization. Remember; more often than not there is some sort of blindspot.
An inexperienced PM will think about themselves in their product. They’ll think about how visionary and great they are and make decisions based off of gut feelings fueled by the ego.
Though that method can work for a while, at some point the PM will have to grow, so that the product can grow. Growth is ignited by getting out of the gut and being vulnerable. Sitting down with support staff and having real conversations about what people think of the product. PM’s have to ask the raw, tough questions, rather than exploiting feedback as a way to search for compliments.
Perhaps even more important than controlling your own ego, keeping your boss’s ego at bay is essential to the success of your product line. You could be a great PM; selfless, motivated, efficient, but if you’re new in your career and enamored by your egotistical, Steve Balmer-like boss (check out some of his craziest moments), your product could suffer. It could be incredibly easy to not even realize that you are letting your boss’s ego guide your choices and decisions as PM for your product. Acting on someone else’s behalf (especially your boss’s) is easy to do.
Remember: Acting on behalf of your boss’s ego isn’t any better than acting on your own.
Don’t just talk like you do. Act like you do. A great way to combat the issue layed out in point four, is to gather, analyze, and leverage data.
Let’s use Tesla as an example. Elon Musk himself admits that there was some “hubris in adding far too much new technology to the Model X.” He did it cause he was able to. However, upon release customer feedback included statements that call the doors “pretty dumb” and “silly”.
A great product manager assembles a multitude of data from the users to ascertain whether or not adding a new feature/functionality is the right decision for the product overall. Some features soak up hours (Elon even admitted that in the process of building the Tesla Model X falcon doors they had “Quite a few failures actually. We tried quite a few iterations on the door.”). It is the product manager’s job to know what the users will find valuable and give it to them.
Far too often a product team is myopically focused on their own vision and they don’t interact with the users. They don’t present a feature set for feedback. Analyzing data isn’t easy, it requires patience and a deep level of understanding. PM’s shouldn’t pretend that they understand a graph or spreadsheet. Sometimes on a large product, hiring data analysts trained in how to read data and formulate statistically valid samples is a great option. It allows the team to make informed decisions that the product will benefit from.
Example: Here at SingleMind, our team partnered with a client to build a unique, interactive mobile app. Together, our group had a high level of confidence that the app’s customers would never want to pay-per-use for the service. In our “gut” we assumed that the price would need to be too high and customers wouldn’t be interested in paying the associated fees for a pay-per-use option. However, because we never cut corners on user research, we included the option in our list of questions for quantitative and qualitative research. We were surprised to discover that nearly three quarters of respondents indicated that they would prefer a pay-per-use model for at least the first 3-6 months using our program.
Data is an often overlooked, yet invaluable tool to help you define and refine your product. Leveraging feedback and data from real users is integral to achieving product/market fit.
These challenges faced by product managers are not easy to keep in check. However, successfully overcoming them is the measure of a truly accomplished product manager.
Remember: The best path to reducing mistakes is building better habits.
SingleMind is an awarded software design and development agency in Portland, OR. We serve enterprises, innovative startups, and non-profit organizations around the globe. Our diverse, agile team has more than 15 years of success in designing and developing digital products (mobile apps, websites, web apps, etc). Our goal is to help businesses thrive in today’s ever-evolving, omnichannel world of technology.
Written by Cort Buchholz