The Biggest Challenges Facing Product Managers

Product Managers face so many challenges on a regular basis that it would be tough to cover the breadth and depth of issues in one sitting. Product Management is a juggling act of market changes, multiple stakeholder opinions, customer demands, feature bloat, technical complications and debt, and so much more.

Here are four common challenges that are facing Product Managers today.

Becoming the Dreaded Feature Factory

No Product person wants to work in a feature factory. Unfortunately, many organisations continue to focus on continuous delivery instead of stepping back to analyze whether the feature solves a specific problem and is really worth being delivered.

Often, Product Managers feel immense pressure from stakeholders to add features in the hopes of blowing past the competition and enticing new customers. While under time and people pressure, Product Managers may bypass customer discovery, consequently never learning if the feature is actually worth the effort. This results in wasted time and money as well as customer dissatisfaction because the Product fails to adequately solve the customer problem.

How do we solve this?

  1. Empower your Product team:
    That means structuring the team with the right types of Product roles, attitudes and skills. The right mix of People with appropriate skills will enable a strong foundation for decision making, given the team the scope to decide which customer problems to solve first. Having the independence to choose and focus on the highest value customer problem offers the team latitude to also decide how to the solve problem. Empowering your skilled Product team to use data and research and to trust their instincts is the most important path to avoiding unnecessary and unused features.

  2. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate:
    When a solution has been determined, its also important to continuously test the usability of the features constantly with your customers. If customers find it difficult to use a part of the product to complete the task, use this feedback and iterate. By doing so, you avoid investing large amounts of time and money into a feature that cannot help customers to achieve their goal.

Creating a Product Roadmap Without Customer Research

Product Roadmaps are inherently contentious. Some argue for a Roadmap and some believe a Roadmap is akin to a freak circus show for Managers to parade a modicum of control to their Managers. Irrespective of what your leanings, Roadmaps are here to stay.

Given that Product Managers are often asked to produce said Roadmap, it’s important that the Roadmap communicates the why of the Product. Why are we building this feature? And, for whom are building this feature for?

Finding the answers to these questions seems obvious; we need to learn about our customers, their context and narratives. The unfortunate truth however, is that Product Roadmaps are often created with only the business goals in mind and completely disregard customer research. As a result, key features and priorities are determined by stakeholders or internal teams which yields little customer satisfaction and at times, Product failures.

How do we solve this?

Take the time to do the research!

Customer research and problem discovery is crucial when planning your Product roadmap. Speaking to your customers ensures you are solving and sequencing the right problems at the right time. As a Product Manager you need to embed yourself in customer conversations to guarantee that the key features of your product are going to create a customer benefit. This research can then be used as evidence to your stakeholders to support the decisions you have made for your roadmap and why a certain feature is a priority.

The Product Team Plays No Part in Development of the Product Strategy

A business strategy exists to describe how a company will achieve overall success. The Product strategy exists to show how a Product will achieve success. The expected division of labour would be to have your Executive Leadership team focus on the business strategy and your Product team focus on the Product strategy.

However, when an Executive Leadership team lacks trust in their Product team or has issues delegating, the Product team is excluded from strategy development and left to manage the Product backlog without the required guardrails that strategy offers. This often overloads the Leadership team while negatively impacting the Product team’s morale because they have little or no control over their Product.

How do we solve this?

Leaders need to learn to let go. A culture of empowerment is required for Product teams to own their Product from end to end. A culture of learning will arm Product teams with the right skills and knowledge to develop effective strategy. Alignment across teams is key to business and product success.

And finally, the big one…

Lack of Company-Wide Processes

Product Management works to unite engineering, design, marketing, sales and more all under one strategic goal; deliver a Product that customers love (more than their mobile phone). However, the multitude of teams and different management styles means that a company spends a significant amount of time battling one another on the best way to deliver a Product rather than actually delivering the Product.

Without a company-wide Product Management process your organization will lack efficiency and scalability. Your Product teams will spend valuable time determining the specific process of developing a Product in your company instead of developing the Product itself and relishing in a successful launch.

This does not necessarily mean that your Product Managers are incompetent. Even the best Product Managers will be negatively affected by poor Product practice.

How do we solve this?

Implement a process that is specifically designed for Product Management.

When an organization has a company-wide Product process many of the other challenges Product Managers face will be resolved. Unnecessary features will be eliminated because proper Product Management process is built upon customer research. This will also guarantee the Product roadmap is customer-centric. And, Product Managers become central to developing the Product strategy because great Product Management processes cannot exist without an empowered Product team to drive them forward.

You can get started on implementing proper Product Management practices today by giving your team the sequenced activities contained in our Essentials of Product Management. Register now to learn a tried and trusted framework for delivering successful Products.

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