Top 10 Pitfalls For Product Managers To Avoid

Recently I reflected on our journey building software products. We’ve been successful but there have been a lot of lessons learned along the way. Based on our experiences here are the top 10 pitfalls that product managers need to avoid in order to create great products.

  1. Being Passionate About Emerging Technologies – Product managers who are passionate about emerging technologies tend to under-perform particularly when it comes to the innovation stage. They can be constrained by what they want to do or pulled in a particular direction to suit a desire to use a new technology or methodology. The best product managers do not develop deep understanding of the latest technology and methodologies and are generally better when it comes to innovating new products and new features for existing ones.
  2. Being Emotional About The Product – It may sound obvious but the best products are those where the product manager focuses on the customer needs. Too often product managers can become obsessed with features of the product that satisfy personal intellectual curiosities but have little practical use or commercial value. If you find yourself unable to justify how the key personas for your product will be able to use any feature but still proceed with its development you need to take a step back and make a more clinical assessment of what you are doing.
  3. Being Constrained By Engineering Limitations – Product managers exist to define what a product should do by considering all of its personas including the team that build it (engineering). Too often product managers feel constrained as to what they can do by the limitations and inefficiencies in the engineering department. The result is a product delivery less than they feel the paying clients need. Engineering exists to create what product managers require; if there are deficiencies in this department they must be quickly identified and rectified.
  4. Becoming Over-familiar With Their Market – When a product manager has worked in a particular market for too long they tend to become desensitized to the subtle changes that occur. This can lead to a scenario where important customer needs are missed. Consider having more than one product manager per market and rotating team member to different products and markets regularly.
  5. Having More than One Agenda – Product managers need to have a clear agenda for their work. Are they about guiding the internal team to making great products the customer wants? Are they about promoting and creating awareness about products? Should their focus be on enhancing existing products or creating new ones (“make products better vs make better products”)? Often times product managers end up having more than one agenda which does not always result in a positive outcome. The agenda for the product manager needs to be clear and visible to senior management in the organisation. Its also important to be clear what is NOT being done by the product manager so that it is adequately resourced from other quarters.
  6. Being A Project Managers – Product managers should be less about the “when” and “how” and more about the “what” and “why”. This is a best practice when defining the broader aspects of responsibilities within an organization. However it should not be applied dogmatically since it can stifle innovation in the organization e.g. ideas from the marketing or customer services team to create product features. In addition to this there are cases where a strict product methodology is followed tasks and milestones are clearly defined. This significantly diminishing the need for or economic viability of both product and project manager resources. In such cases the work can be effectively completed by the product manager resource alone.
  7. Providing Informal Direction – Product managers operate ‘soft power’ role. This often means that they are not able to give formal direction and rely more on informal guidance. This can quickly lead to confusion, disorder and ultimately a deliverable that does not meet customer needs. The roles and responsibilities for the product management in an organisation must be clearly defined.
  8. Performing Trivial Tasks – Another consequence of the ‘soft power’ nature of product management is a tendency to complete non-core task such as writing meeting minutes and setting up meetings for other groups in order to get things done.  This is a waste of the product manager’s valuable time. As in the previous point strengthening the role of product management as leading rather than being lead by other functions in the business is key to ensure these trivial tasks do not rest with the product manager.
  9. Being Part Of The Product Management Team – Product managers are not part of the product team; they manage the product team. The role of the product manager is to give ensure that the product team deliver on company objectives. Product managers need to be able to “let go” of some of the work they would like to do and give it to the product team.  This approach will allow the product team to mature in terms of expertise and to be able to scale as more work is assigned.
  10. Obsessing With Stakeholder Management - Product Managers need to talk to a lot of stakeholders both internal and external to the organisation. They can often get all of their time sucked up by the various groups that must work together to deliver right product right time. Stakeholder management is one important aspect of the job but there are many others. Product Managers should ensure all stakeholders are informed in a timely manner but not get sucked into dealing with managing how different groups work with each other.




  • Robin Leonard

    Awesome blog!