Without a doubt, product managers have a lot on their plate. From analyzing the markets and watching the competition to laying out the initial product vision, and bridging the gaps between the many different teams working on a product. It can come as no surprise, therefore, that mistakes do happen.
In fact, there are few professions where mistakes are part of the process as much as they are in product development. Trial and error are a vital part of innovation and every mistake you make is an opportunity to grow. More often than not, the lessons you learn from your blunders put you one step closer to the next success. With that being said, there are specific oversights many product managers are prone to, and focusing on avoiding these commonplace mistakes can make the road to success just a little shorter.
However, bad products do happen. Just think of New Coke or Crystal Pepsi. What seems like a great idea on paper, or in a product meeting, can be terrible in reality. Some products end up not being useful, or perhaps they just don't work as they were supposed to. Maybe they were just too difficult to learn or understand, or they just didn't sell.
It happens. Product managers and owners are human, so mistakes will happen and a good team will be prepared for the possibility.
That being said, sometimes things happen frequently enough that it can be said they contribute to bad products. So, without further ado, here's a list of common pitfalls that can kill a product and a few ways they can be avoided.
Mistake #1: Not striking a balance between needs and expectations
There are many challenges product managers face in today’s marketplace, yet one of the first things many new project managers notice (almost immediately) is the multiple demands pulling on their time, which never seem to let up.
From the start, time constraints can be extremely overwhelming which is why it is so important to create a balance between needs and expectations, identify promising market opportunities and create a strong vision for your product’s future.
Although tension may often arise between your short-term and long-term objectives, to achieve top results with their products, effective product managers operate with both a forward-looking product strategy and a short-term tactical plan for dealing with more immediate concerns.
Short-term tactical projects can sometimes steal away valuable time from the important larger vision and long-term objective work, which you need to aggressively pursue as they have a stronger sense of urgency. As a fully engaged project manager, balancing your time and obligations is one of the best ways to develop and maintain strong collaborative and conflict resolution skills. These will serve you well when the pressure is high and deadlines loom.
Mistake #2: Focusing on the product instead of the user
In the hectic process of product development, it is too easy to forget that your users don’t actually care about your product. Ouch! I know, the truth hurts. But allow me to justify my point. People everywhere want solutions for their problems and will spend money on products that suit their needs. That’s why the best product strategy focuses on the problem, not the solution.
Decisions made based on an assumption without proper investigation and validation will likely point your product team in the wrong direction. Even if you are working in a niche that you have a lot of experience in, do not assume you already know everything. Seek external validation, feedback from your users to bring you closer to your product. After all, the opinions of your customers matter 100 percent of the time.
Throughout the project manager role, it is indisputable that you will encounter varying opinions about the direction to take products. After all, everyone on your team is going to have an opinion about the best way to develop your product and get it into the market.
Many employees will feel passionate about the approach and will defend it with pit bull-like ferocity. As a product manager, you need to keep the team and your decisions centred on facts. The facts being the feedback of your customers, the crucial element to every equation. Facts must always trump opinion in decision-making.
Learn to deal graciously with differing ideas and personalities, and always draw the team back to the facts (based on data collected from your customers). This will determine the next steps you take in your business strategy and, ultimately, your entire direction when building a customer-centric product.
Mistake #3: Not communicating a clear vision and strategy
The key to good management is, first and foremost, communication. I cannot stress enough the importance of product owners communicating their vision early and often with as many people as possible.
Letting everyone on the team know what you think the game plan is, not only keeps everyone on board and in the loop but shows ownership of the brand you're creating. Plus, it builds consensus and support from others within your business. Do not hesitate to share, even when you think it may change, as it surely will because planning and replanting are a big part of the job.
Mistake #4: Underestimating aspects of design
Many tech-oriented organizations forget how much the design of the visual interface and texts in the product matter for its ultimate success. For managers who are busy with making features work under tight deadlines, it’s easy to view design as superfluous, a nice-to-have aspect that is the first thing to go when budgets become strained.
However, this kind of attitude towards design simply overlooks the significance of emotions in the process of product adoption. Consumers are bombarded with new products constantly and make rapid choices based, the majority of the time, only on first impressions.
Even if your product provides them with a great solution, I can assure you that the customer will not take the time to figure that out if the design is unattractive. It makes sense, therefore, to invest in the UX of your product to make sure users have an emotional connection with it. Trust me, products that excel in creating that personal connection are the ones that stand out from the crowd.
Mistake #5: Falling in love with unnecessary features
One of the most important things a product manager can do is remember to take a step back and observe their product objectively. Although it is not always easy to be humble enough to recognize your weak points and acknowledge when a feature isn’t working, without admitting weaker aspects of the product, it will never reach its full potential.
Remember that your user doesn’t care if a particular feature took months to develop or required a great effort from your team. Don’t be afraid to edit. There is a temptation to become a reactive product manager instead of a proactive one. It is, by far, too easy to fall into a pattern of running from fire to fire, quelling emergencies as they erupt.
For you to be an effective product manager, you need to keep your eye on your overarching objectives and goals, focusing only on the essential things that are going to have a profound impact on your company and your future. A good rule of thumb is to devote 80 percent of your time to the 20 percent of activities that will materially impact your product and organization's success.
Mistake #6: Tweaking forever
This one goes out to the perfectionists out there. When you spend months, or even years, developing a product, understandably you want it to be the best anyone can imagine right from the start.
It seems unfair to yourself, the engineers, and the user to release it when it’s not quite done. I get it. Don’t worry, I’m with you. However, in these moments you must remind yourself that the so-called perfect is the enemy of the good.
The simple truth is that none of those additional improvements can ever replace the value of getting your feature or product in the hands of real users. Letting go of imperfections in favor of a quick version release is a strategy that has proven to be effective in the long run.
Mistake #7: Losing sight of the big picture
The one thing that you can count on in product management and life is change. Changing market dynamics constantly impact businesses all over the world with new competitions emerging, product advancements appearing from new sources, and your customers’ wanting change being just a few major examples.
Sadly, all these can impact the success of your product and ultimately your company but don’t worry, efforts you make to understand the market and its trends and identify potential risks and opportunities will help protect your organization.
It is important to always be alert for the unexpected so you can quickly adjust course when needed. With the pace of digital change and the intense competition between new products hitting the market, planning a strategy for a brand is not an easy task.
Many of us get sucked into working on the minor improvements rather than focusing on the overall picture. This is why, every once in a while, it's important to take a step back and observe your hard work from a customer’s viewpoint.
Overcoming the common pitfalls
Product managers must not lose sight of the fact that the customer, alongside business and technology, makes up the heart of the product management process.
Although there is no easy way to combat these pitfalls once and for all, one thing to keep in mind for sure is that product management is all about making the right product to solve the right problem, for the right person (the customer). After all, it’s a combination of all these elements that can be the perfect road map to success.