Product managers (PM) are stuck in the middle of a lot of activities. This makes PMs prone to making mistakes because ensuring priorities are always maintained is challenging. Great PMs are focused context switchers with strong system awareness (i.e., able to see the whole picture, even when deep in one task). There is a constant pull on time and it’s easy to get caught up in one task and ignore others. In my opinion, the top 5 mistakes most PMs (myself included occasionally) make are failing to do the following:
- 360º Communication :: PMs must act as the communication hub for the product. A clearinghouse of information and orchestration. The level of orchestration required depends on the size and process maturity of the organization. And, if you’re a one product company, you’re often the detailed communication hub for the company. This means that PMs must listen carefully as well as speak constantly to most stakeholders internally and externally. Evangelizing strategy and vision are as critical as ensuring that disparate groups (often silo’d) know what each group is doing; PMs often help facilitate conversations that help products function well. Moreover, communicating upward and outward is also important for ensuring that you’re successful as a good PM. At the end of the day, you may be sick of the story, but you have to keep telling it – consistently! And, remember, know you audience and craft your message carefully. It matters.
- Identifying Market Changes :: PMs can often get bogged down in the day-to-day tactics and lose visibility of market dynamics and strategy. Coming up for air and doing a quarterly or bi-yearly market analysis is not good. PMs must spend time daily consuming competitor and markets news and information. Setting up Google Alerts (and actually reading them) is important to consuming this information. Constantly consuming this information as well as following a “One Customer A Day” policy allows you as a PM to stay in touch with the market’s changing needs. This helps drive strategy. And, it’ll make writing MRD’s a lot easier down the road.
- Managing Expectations :: Managing expectations is one of the most challenging aspects of product management. Many PMs fail to do this because it’s difficult and takes time to figure out how your organization works. In developing new products, there are a lot of unknown variables, e.g.: research & development time, testing time, feature changes, market shifts. As a result, properly estimating many of these is difficult as there are a lot of moving and dependent parts as well as stakeholders required to innovate. Not to mention, inherent in experimentation is the risk of the unknown. The more experimental the product, the more likely it will slip. So, good PMs are able to set expectations low and realign expectations periodically. But, great PMs can put pressure in the right places within the organization when required. Managing expectations with customers is likely the most critical aspect. Don’t commit to sales people or customers that a feature will be delivered in a release until it’s in Beta. And, if you have to commit, make certain that you make the feature a very high release blocker. Build trust. Finally, build levers within your launch plan that force stakeholders to come together and delivery when required.
- Tracking Development :: Certain PMs write requirements and trust they will be delivered. Well, what’s written is rarely understood exactly as intended and can be easily interpreted as being far more complex or less complex than required by the market or your customer. Sure, well written requirements mitigate this, but keeping track and setting-up tollgates within the organization to ensure words manifest into features one intended is critical. So, make sure as a PM you go as an observer to design reviews and work with QA to create — or at least certainly review — test plans that ensure requirement traceability occurs. Also, as features change or get dropped, make certain that that dependent product chucks are updated accordingly. And, of course, the more guidance and questions you answer early in the development process the more successful your product will be at meeting the market’s needs.
- Ruthless Prioritization :: Many PMs get lost in tasks. There is a lot to do. Failing to ruthlessly prioritize your workload means that things get missed and you end up working on the wrong things at the wrong time. This include product and feature prioritize as well. It’s critical to go for what’s important, not what’s nice. So, make sure you prioritize ruthlessly in order to maintain product progress and work-life balance. And, if you are changing your priorities, make certain you do the other 4 things on this list accordingly. Otherwise, you’ve just trapped yourself into one of the common mistake areas.
All of these are premised inherently on self-awareness and reflection. It’s good to take time-out while at the gym or while doing something menial to reflect on your work, stakeholder relationships and how everything is being perceived.
Updated: Added the product feature to the prioritization mistake.