Product Management— Three Costly Mistakes

Whatever it takes, try not to make these again.

“Mistakes are inevitable. The comeback is more important than the setback.”

— Unknown

Product management being a relatively new and complex discipline, mistakes are inevitable. Based on the specific situation at hand, a mistake may turn into a blunder and can steal all the thunder. So, the key is to learn from the product mistake and try not to repeat the same mistake in the future.

“When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.”

— Paul Bear Bryant

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate three mistakes that can occur in product management and can be very costly for the organization based on the overall priority of the product.

Let’s review these three mistakes now and learn how to best avoid/minimize their impact.

#1. Jumping soon into the product solution

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

— Albert Einstein

When usually this occurs — the phase?

Product Strategy (see below figure)

What are the key symptoms when this occurs — the problem?

  • Features are created in the product backlog, but product manager or product owner isn’t able to clearly explain why those features are important for the users (benefits not clearly understood).
  • Unrealistic leadership expectation of the speed to market putting extreme pressure on the team to deliver quickly.

Why it’s important — the impact?

  • Product management is 80% problem management and 20% solution management. This is not to undermine the credibility of the solution. Instead this metric is meant to emphasize the weight/power of problem management. If we don’t spend enough time researching the problem and end up choosing the wrong problem to solve, the solution is of no value even if it’s very elegant. Garbage in, garbage out.
  • Based on the findings from a recent Harvard Business School (HBR) survey of 106 C-suite executives who represented 91 private and public-sector companies in 17 countries— 85% strongly agreed or agreed that their organizations were bad at problem diagnosis; managers tend to switch quickly into solution mode without checking whether they really understand the problem (Source)
  • 42% shutdown in the start-ups are due to not solving a valid customer problem (Source)

How to avoid/minimize this — the solution?

“Our head of product asked me few days back

Why my product launch was taking so long

and if there was anything wrong

I said things were coming along

Recent research proved our initial points strong

He then asked how much more time would it take

so, he could help keep all the executives awake

I then showed him our two hundred lines detailed plan

He began to scan the plan and looked at all the time spans

Later what he said was magic to my ears —

Man, you made me your big fan. Continue to do whatever you can. I am in full support of this plan.”

Key is — plan the work and then work the plan. Plans are very important for creating a realistic upfront expectation. In the absence of a comprehensive plan, it can be difficult to justify the time it usually takes during early research phases. Below figure shows a high level sample plan that can be used as a starting point to build a more comprehensive plan. Also recommend keeping the details at a level that is relatively easier to maintain (cost vs benefit). If the plan isn’t kept up to date, it may not work out great when you work to collaborate.

#2. Aligning little during product execution

“Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99 percent alignment.”

Jim Collins and Jerry Porra

When usually this occurs — the phase?

Product Planning (see below figure)

What are the key symptoms when this occurs — the problem?

  • Product manager/owner not making a proactive outreach to the internal stakeholders for alignment and transparency on product planning and execution activities
  • Lot of confusion/chaos during the quarterly development planning sessions (Program increment/PI, Kick-off, etc.) involving boarder stakeholders

Why it’s important — the impact?

  • Product management is a very cross-functional discipline and needs to interact and align with several departments (business, technology, design, sales, marketing, finance, legal, compliance, etc.) during the entire product life cycle.
  • A recent survey from Gartner revealed — 78% of product managers who viewed improving collaboration internally as one of their top three roles, experienced low product failure rates (Source)

How to avoid/minimize this — the solution?

As a product manager/owner, if we can’t align on our story well, our product won’t sell. Alignment is needed at every stage of the product life cycle (from concept to post-launch). Here are few tips that may help:

  • Send out a product/program status summary at regular intervals to a broader set of stakeholders — everyone directly/indirectly involved. Recommend keeping the content between 200–300 words using a good format (see below figure). Use embedded deep links for additional context if anyone interested to know more. Also be creative and change the format every few months to keep it interesting for your readers.
  • Schedule weekly 1:1 session with few stakeholders that are extremely important but not easy to manage. Talk less and listen more during those sessions. Also go well prepared and ask for their opinion and support in resolving some of the complex product issues. Keep a strong hold of them as they got the keys to your success.
  • Facilitate ‘Product Y-Session’ with few stakeholders at a time. During those sessions, discuss the reasons (Why — Y) to build the product/features. Here is a link to know more about this session and the technique in detail:

#3. Measuring much using output contribution

“What gets measured, gets managed.”

— Peter Drucker

When usually this occurs — the phase?

Product Execution (see below figure)

What are the key symptoms when this occurs — the problem?

  • Sprint burn-down (tracking the completion of different tasks during a sprint), sprint velocity (average work a team does during a sprint), cumulative flow diagram (measurement of the state of work in progress), lead time/cycle time/throughput, code coverage (percentage of code unit tests cover), and other similar output heavy metrics are promoted and displayed throughout various work areas.
  • Success is measured and rewarded using the above output heavy metrics. Example: Ship it award — team gets an award for shipping a release on the date originally planned.
  • Team members have low/no interaction with the users (current or future) of the product.

Why it’s important— the impact?

  • Around 27% shutdown in the start-ups are due to focusing heavy on the output measures and ignoring customer problems or expected outcomes (CBInsights)
  • It’s the outcomes (not outputs) that satisfy users and help accomplish the product vision.

Review tip #6 in the article below to explore more on the importance of “outcomes”.

How to avoid/minimize this — the solution?

  • If product is available for sale, build product/program status dashboards using outcomes related metrics (net promoter score, customer loyalty index, etc.) along with any output related metrics (feature completion rate, sprint velocity, etc.)
  • If product is in development and not launched yet, measure the customer satisfaction during feature test/validation and report it on the product/program dashboard along with the output related metrics.
  • Provide team members an opportunity to directly interact with the users every few sprints and account for those activities in the backlog planning process.

Wrap Up

Jumping soon into the product solution

Aligning little during product execution

Measuring much using output contribution

The three costly product management mistakes

that whatever it takes, try not to make these again

Key is to learn from the burn

and be a go-getter — plan better and forget it forever.

Writing is the way to shine | Write one article at a time | Top writer in Leadership & Innovation | Senior Product Manager @Centene

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store