5 Ways to Fail Fast @ Product Management

Wrecking BallProduct Management is a discipline that is gaining more traction in organisations over the last few years – more and more companies are saying that they have a product manager or at the very least are applying aspects of the discipline. In my experience there is still a huge amount of misunderstanding in the industry as to what product management actually is and its implementation in companies varies widely.

But hey, everyone says it is important to “fail fast” – to recognise when something is not working and move on – so here are some things that you may already be doing that ensure you have a better chance of failing fast at product management:

  1. You let vested interests drive product management’s agenda  – there will be many stakeholders in your organisation with an interest in “guiding” product management’s agenda. Sales might like them to attend every sales meeting or create snazzy powerpoint presentations to support their sales engagements … at the end of the day this can only help them to meet their sales targets and it will certainly keep the product manager very busy. Engineering might like them to “project manage” their activities or generally act as gofer in the product development process. After all, product management do “own” the product, so when there is someone needed to do some random task related to the product and nobody else wants to do it then who better to ask … right?! When product management become too busy delivering an agenda for one dominant stakeholder they will not be looking at the bigger picture and delivering on the organisation’s overall core objectives.
  2. You continue to use hunches or “gut feel” to guide decision making in the organisation – allowing those who “shout loudest” or who wield the most power to influence decision making and ignoring market data, ROI calculations and other business metrics presented by product management will likely mean you are simply “taking a punt” and risking your hard earned money.  Continuing to manage your organisation as a bottomless pit of resources that you can just throw ad-hoc projects into will ensure you continue to have product releases that miss deadlines, products that miss the mark with regards to customer expectations and revenues that continue to flatline.
  3. You don’t communicate business objectives to the product manager or provide any input on their role objectives – a product manager with little insight of corporate objectives will have to try and guess what it is the company is trying to achieve (this is always fun) so they will probably flip-flop between projects that delve into project management, innovation, programme management, product marketing, sales engagement, possibly a little bit of product development and really anything else that someone believes the “owner” of the product should be doing on any given day. Failing to communicate any corporate objectives to product management will often mean that the organisation as a whole will lack clarity and focus and there will be mis-alignment as to what the company is trying to achieve. If the product manager does not understand how they should apply the discipline of product management in their organisation and what the leadership team expect from the role then they are much more likely to fail to meet expectations.
  4. You allow product development teams to pay “lip service” to product management requirements – hiring a product manager and assigning them to an engineering team as a glorified “backlog manager” runs the risk that they are just responsible for moving things up and down the backlog on the direction of the engineering team. This will undermine their responsibility for the overall strategic direction of the product and you will be allowing engineering to call the shots and decide what goes into each release. Engineers rarely talk to customers and will typically not understand the needs of a broader market base. Allowing a product manager to become consumed by the engineering process (the “how”) and not enabling them to focus on the strategic (the “what” and “why”) is more likely to drive your product further and further away from what potential customers and the broader market really wants!
  5. You don’t provide mentorship or support for your new product manager – hiring a product manager and just letting them loose in the organisation, even though they have never performed the role before, is likely to set them on a path to failure. Not providing any guidance or training on managing up and across the organisation, on handling a portfolio of requirements and choosing the ones with the best ROI, on communicating with a leadership team and board members, on managing product strategic direction and on ensuring that the company remains innovative, can have serious consequences. We all know you need to get training and support for sales, engineering and leadership team members. Equally, product managers are not born knowing how to deliver product strategy, so failing to train, mentor and support them will result in a key resource who does not have the confidence to execute strategy.

I don’t think any of us want to fail at what we do but we definitely need to be able to recognise when things are not working as well as they could and do something that makes a positive difference. We just don’t have the time to sit around and hope things get better by themselves!


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