Confessions of a Product Manager
As a budding Product manager, I made several mistakes in my career earlier and yet survived. That probably helped in shaping better for the present and the future. But in retrospect, I feel that could have avoided at least a few mistakes if I paid attention to them. Given the fierce competition these days, it is essential that PMs prevent any such mishaps as much as they can. Amongst several of such mistakes from my career, I chose to confess the below.
Early in the career, when one steps into a new role or a new organization, there is always a honeymoon period before one has to hit the gas. Most often, this is not utilized to the fullest. This period is one’s chance to know more about the problem, the product, the process, and the people.
Once the actual work starts, the reality sinks in.
We find ourselves in the middle of knowledgeable people who would have traveled several years with the organization and the product. The Imposter syndrome kicks in and self-doubt prevails over you in several forums and discussions.
But I made the same mistake and would while away a lot of hours without any usable outcomes. The childishness could have cost a lot, but I was lucky enough that it did not. This is not the chance one should take.
One should spend the time in a useful way, familiarizing oneself with the nuances and even the nitty-gritty as much as possible within such available time.
I took the reins from another person who left the organization after spending several years getting the product built. Now, that product got transitioned to me, and it was in the growth phase. Each of us in the PM group focused on churning out features quickly based on the existing internal knowledgebase. I have assumed that my task was to understand that knowledge and provide the necessary details to the development teams to build.
Achieving less time to market was the only concern at that time. Not just this but we had the feature factory running, producing features one after the other. We never paused to introspect and validate how we were doing from a customer’s point of view. It could have been disastrous.
Have guardrails established. Periodically, take time to reflect on what happened until then. Correct the course to sail smoothly and prevent any wasteful activity.
From the time I stepped in, the focus was always on the existing product and not the problems it was solving. I didn’t think through and took a close look at the business case or the problem space. The user and journey maps are always from a system context and not from the problem context.
Due to this, we might have missed several valuable opportunities to get closer to the customers. Their pain points could have been ignored as we are too busy focussing on our existing system.
We would always think about whether our system supported or could support a requirement. If not, the need automatically used to go to the bottom of the backlog. In a product manager’s language, it will never be done (almost always) if something is not prioritized at that time.
Focus on the problem and not what your existing system can or can’t do. If this is ignored, the product could become irrelevant in no time. The usefulness of the product could diminish.
Measure and discard
As a newbie in the organization trying to prove his worth, I resorted to creating a list of feature additions and getting the team to work on some of them. All this had no solid base and was based on my gut feel. Sometimes it worked but didn’t work a lot of times in reality.
We neither established any clear metrics nor measured religiously any of what was already there. The number of features increased, and so did the maintenance needed for them. We continued to work on more and maintain the existing without realizing that it wasn’t creating any value for our customers and our organization.
Any decision needs concrete data and the context backing it up, or you could be the magnet for trouble. Instead of a Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle, I would recommend the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act cycle for optimum results in established products.
Ego played spoilsport sometimes. When anyone said that something isn’t right or doesn’t work, the salesman in me took over and pushed any rational thoughts out the window. I would argue why my thoughts were the greatest and the brightest without an iota of objectivity. Eventually, the discussions were either dropped or blown out of proportion that nobody cared about later. As they say, humans are irrational, anyway ;)
The decisions arising out of such contexts aren’t substantial. The product could be your baby or adopted baby that you are attached to. But that shouldn’t stop one from listening with your eyes and seeing with your ears.
Feedback is an important mechanism that makes or breaks a product.
While I could be making new mistakes now, I’m trying not to make the earlier ones. Hopefully, the business and the customers are both happy :)
P.S: Now that we have come so far, I would tell you that all the above might or might not be my reality. It could be anyone’s so that being aware can help avoid such mistakes :)