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Monday, November 14, 2016

Mortal PM Sins - Part 1

Let's face it: product managers are some of the busiest people on the planet. Perhaps more than many other disciplines, we can be lulled into a sense of false security or even apathy that subtly puts us on the road to failure. We've all heard that a relatively high percentage of products and product development efforts fail. We as a community talk far less about failing as a product manager -- I'm not convinced it's any less common. Here's a list of mistakes that will almost certainly catch up with even the most talented product managers, putting them in an unwinnable situation before they're even aware they've made them. This post isn't about other product managers. It's about you.

Not managing all your critical stakeholders
I've mentioned it multiple times on this blog, but while it's easy to become enamored of the idea of delighting customers, they are only one constituency that influences your success. Not managing critical internal stakeholders, for example, may mean you don't get the budget you need to please your end customers, a mistake that can put you in an unrecoverable position with just one release.

Ignoring disruptive change instead of embracing it
We live in times of change. If you're product is sold directly to consumers as a service, you're probably aware of the rate of change around you and, if you're successful, are continuously adapting to it. Folks working in problem domains that are less dynamic, solving complex problems for enterprises, for example, have a bit more time to contemplate change, at times deluding themselves into thinking it doesn't apply to them. Are you thinking of Blackberry? I am. Really disruptive change may mean your product becomes irrelevant. Sometimes, being one of the first to acknowledge this fact and being one of the architects of the transition to the "new order" is a much better option than digging your heals in or sticking your head in the sand. For many reasons, this can be one of the most difficult mortal sins to resist.

Not knowing when it's time to move on
No one likes to talk about it, but the best of us can find ourselves in a situation that is simply unwinnable. There are obstacles that cannot be overcome with a positive attitude or any amount of hard work. Realizing you're in such a situation and transitioning out of it on your terms has implication not just for your job, but for your career. Here are a few factors that can indicated it's time to move on:
  • You might find yourself babysitting one of the portfolio's "dogs", while other product managers are leading the strategic charge
  • Other disciplines such as engineering may have been empowered to the point that, truth be told, they are driving the vision and roadmap
  • You may have simply lost your passion for the problem space or the product itself. If you're not proud of the product you're shipping, it's time to find a more productive use of your time.
Not being a master user of your product
It seems counter-intuitive, but you can be a functioning product manager for years without really knowing how to use your product end-to-end. Sure, you can do the demos and with a combination of experience, limited knowledge and quick thinking can talk the talk, but if you really don't know all the obscure corners of your product and tend to get lost off the beaten path, there's a good chance folks like engineers and pre-sales don't respect you as much as they might and that there are functional aspects of the product you're not shaping the way you should.

I hope this give you food for thought. I have several more mortal sins I'll share in an upcoming post.

Have you made these mistakes? Are you making them now? What mortal mistakes have you or other made?

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