10 common mistakes or pitfalls new product managers should avoid
A few months ago I was contacted by a product manager, Areo Wong, who works in Hong Kong. He described himself as a “newbie” with about one-year of experience. He has been struggling to learn what the role of product manager was really about. After trying a few different approaches to learning more, he took a very creative path. He decided to interview 30 expert product managers and create a virtual summit of the insights shared on the interviews. This would help him rapidly learn and provide an opportunity for other younger product managers to do the same. I thought it was a great idea since my work is all about helping product managers know what they really need to know. So, I eagerly accepted his invitation to be part of his Product Manager Summit.
More recently, I was discussing his experience as a product manager and what he had learned so far. He shared 10 pitfalls that he has encountered as a “newbie” product manager and that he has seen others struggle with as well…
- Trying to know everything about the technical side of projects
- Doing the hands-on work alone
- Not saying “no” enough
- Trying to please everyone
- Getting too emotionally attached to the product
- Just wanting to deliver something
- Not distinguishing core features from nice-to-have features
- Just following instructions from senior management
- Always wanting to change the world with little authority
- Forgetting the big picture
We had an opportunity to discuss some of the pitfalls together. I expect you’ll find the discussion helpful.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
- [3:09] What is the Product Manager Summit? I interviewed 30 product management experts, asking them to share their knowledge with junior product managers. I categorized the knowledge from the interviews into six modules: (1) Product management essentials, (2) Problem space exploration, (3) Agile product development, (4) Lean UX, (5) Product marketing skills, and (6) Product management toolbox.
- [5:45] How did the Product Manager Summit come about? I really want to learn how to become a product master from the product newbie that I am now, which is why I interviewed you for the Summit since you have the Product Mastery Roadmap. I am new to product management and the role of product manager is new in Hong Kong, my home. I hired a researcher to collect information on product management and attended a few events, but it is a challenge to know what is really important about the role of product manager. So, I decided to create the Summit to help myself and to help other product managers.
- [8:25] You’ve created a list of 10 pitfalls new product managers can easily fall into. What is the first one? Trying to know everything about the technical work for a product. My product is highly technical. I feel unconformable at times because I don’t really know what product management is about and I don’t really understand all of the technical aspects. After learning more about product management, I have become more comfortable focusing on my product manager role. I am more concerned with the product problem than with the solution.
- [10:59] What is another pitfall? I call this doing the hands-on work by yourself. I know I’m expected to produce a deliverable. To satisfy that, I might build something for my boss to see but forget to consider what the customers really want. You have to recognize you are part of a cross-functional team and not doing the work yourself.
- [11:19] Why do you say you have to know where your fear comes from? For me, in the beginning, my fear was because I didn’t understand product management and my role as product manager. When you are afraid and stressed, you will act in your default way. For example, my background is software development. When I don’t know what else to do, it is easiest for me to help with the software, but that is not my role. Understanding the product manager role helps me be proactive instead of reactive. As a product manager, you have to be the one that keeps the big picture of the product vision in focus for everyone on the team.
- [15:29] What’s another pitfall? Not saying “no” enough. It is also related to trying to please everyone, which can get you sucked into helping development, marketing, sales, etc. Your focus should be on pleasing the customer and providing them value. Stop trying to please everyone and say “no” more often so you can say “yes” to what is most important. Steve Jobs is a good example because he was focused on creating a great customer experience with his products. He knew what to say “no” to so he could focus on what was most important.
- [20:37] What about becoming too emotionally attached to your solution? It’s hard for me. I love coding, which creates an emotional attachment to the software I develop. However, you need a balance because the big picture for the product manager is developing a solution to the customers’ problem. It is easy to become more attached to the solution than the problem and lose sight of what the customer really needs.
- The Product Manager Summit
- Get the Product Mastery Roadmap.
- TEI episode with three millennial product managers sharing their experience.
“Be useful to others.” – Derek Sivers
I Wish I Had Known That Sooner[10:58] I call this short segment, I Wish I had Known that Sooner because when I train product managers, the most frequent thing I hear is “I wish I had known that sooner.” Don’t we all feel that way some of the time — we learned something that can really help our work, we just wish we would have known sooner so we would have made fewer mistakes. Well, sooner is now because there is no time better than now to learn what you need to know to be a successful product manager.
I’m using my IDEA Framework to provide context for this topic. Using IDEA as an acronym, there are four areas that contain our work as product managers:
- Ideate: where ideas are generated that create business opportunities and solve business problems.
- Develop: here ideas are transformed into tangible products or intangible services.
- Evolve: this is the product life cycle for managing the product from launch through growth and finally retirement.
- Accelerate: are practices that enhance the performance of the rest of the IDEA Framework – Ideate, Develop, and Evolve.
In Develop we make the product or service real. This is a process, specifically a business process implemented by people (the product team) containing methods and tools to develop products. So, it is a process with three elements — people, methods, and tools. Let’s talk about the “people” aspect. When you think “people,” who comes to mind? Of course, there is the cross-functional product team. This is a small team, around 6 people from different functions in the organization, such as design, development, marketing, project management, and product management.
Also, part of “people” is the executive support for the project. A senior leader is needed who can get resources for the project and defend their use when another project also wants them.
But, there is another important part of the “people” element: customers. If you thought of them first, you deserve a gold star (or maybe an extra treat next time you are at Starbucks — you earned it. I’m sucker for their sweet potato chips, but I digress). The customer continues to be part of the “people” aspect of product management even during development.
That’s because the most effective product management and innovation almost always starts with a clear focus on customers and their problems and this focus continues throughout the project. Think of product development as being “customer driven.” Beyond creating a great product, we really need to create a great customer experience. That is how product managers beat the competition and create competitive differentiation — by creating a better customer experience.
So, when it comes to the process of developing a product, while several people are involved, start with the customer and encourage the entire product team to do the same. Let your work be customer driven.
To learn more about this and other practices that equip product managers and innovators to excel in their careers using the IDEA Framework, just click here. It contains all the information product managers should know sooner, not later.
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.