Someone approached me on my LinkedIn and asked the following question: “What do you see the main challenge as a product manager and how do you advise me to overcome it?”
I gave the person a brief answer, but later on, I figured I should probably expand it. Here it goes.
There’s more than one challenge, but since not all challenges are created equal – let’s start in some sort of priority and let’s limit this list to three man challenges.
The first challenge for a product manager is their ability to listen and comprehend what their clients are saying. I’ve seen many PMs that “know better”. While they are still experts in the domain the failure to listen had resulted in failure to launch. Not because the product itself was bad – but because it became a solution looking for a problem instead of a solution for a known problem. Yet, they insisted – even after being presented with the hard evidence – that they know better.
The second challenge is to prioritize things. In many cases instead of prioritization based on customer’s pain points or specific goals the product manager prioritizes things that are dear to her (him) for whatever reason – because she was the one who proposed those features or she’s the biggest advocate of those features. It doesn’t result in major issues for the product, but could be fatal to relationships with customers. When customers see that no matter how many times they ask – they don’t get what they want, they will leave.
The third challenge is to be able to pivot or turn on a dime. Another way to express this is to “fail fast”. This topic alone has books written on it, yet people still manage to hold on to failing ideas because they’re so dear to them that they wouldn’t let go. The ability to fail fast: that is to try the idea and if it’s not working – dropping it and moving on – is still foreign to some people. Occasionally (but only occasionally) the problem stems from people being a “one-trick pony” and their concern (often justified) that they have nothing going for them if they’ve got nothing else. It is understandable but then these people aren’t in the right role for them. Product management is, probably, one of the very few creative roles within the classic enterprise organizations.
Alternatively, some product managers don’t fail fast enough because in their eyes the benefits outweigh the increasing spend (of all resources), when in fact it does not. Usually, this understanding comes with experience, but in a lot of cases, it is not hard to spot.
Ultimately, the three challenges: listening, prioritizing and pivoting fast are not unique to product managers alone – they are common for organizations as well. There’s a notion to call a product manager “a CEO of a product”, so in this case it is actually true – and the product manager is expected to be as wise as a CEO.