The six temptations of a product manager
What are they and how to mitigate them.
Product managers are human beings and suffer from the same behavioral biases as the rest of the population. Problem is their temptations can be very damaging for the company given their role. Wanting to please everyone (thus making no hard choices), finding good excuses for product lack of impact (thus not killing it), not accepting to be embarrassed by an ugly MVP (thus delaying time to market)… This article aims at making you aware of them (both as a product manager or as product leader) which is a first step towards fighting them! You will also find some suggestions to mitigate them.
1st temptation: satisfying all stakeholders
This is the most common temptation. As a human being, we want to be appreciated by our peers and saying “I will do anything to deliver what you ask” is much easier than “Your idea is great but it is not our current priority”. At ManoMano, the tool that gave Product Managers the power to say no and not to make the “not our current priority” a personal issue was clearly the company goals. Try to limit frustration by warning business owners as soon as possible that you will have limited tech resources for the project they pitch you. In the end, focusing your efforts on key topics requires to make some people unhappy.
Solution to temptation 1: have clear company goals to say no without hurting people
2nd temptation: finding good excuses
Product Managers with their product are like parents with their kids. They are much more likely to find good excuses for the bad behaviors of their kid (product) than any other person. To be honest, set clear project breaker metrics and timeframe before launching a new feature and then face reality. Otherwise, you will always get some “I still need two weeks and this great feature to make this product work” or “Impact is not massive but we can see a small increase of the conversion rate”. We went through this at ManoMano for a new search experience that was ok but not impressive. It took time and sometimes went on a personal level to accept killing it. Your PMs can always ship new features (outputs), but what about outcomes? So focus on outcomes rather than outputs. As Marty Cagan says it, “good product team celebrates outcomes, bad product team celebrates outputs”. We also set at ManoMano “Launch challenge meeting” for medium to big features where PMs present their new feature with clear objectives that are challenged and agreed on by the assembly (Lead PM, CPO, main BOs).
Solution to temptation 2 : focus on outcomes rather than outputs to remain objective with your product performance
3rd temptation: (always) following product trends
Behind this temptation is the idea of the influence that others can have on your decision making process. In the 90’s, there was this famous sentence “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” since IBM PCs were such a best seller. As a PM, it is way easier to do something everyone agrees on in your industry than adopting an even slightly different approach. At ManoMano for instance, as an e-commerce player, fast delivery is a standard set by Amazon that could make any 2 days delivery offers looks like crap. But this delivery speed costs a lot and perhaps this is not what our “Do It Yourself customers” expect the most (never heard of “I want my garden cabin right tomorrow”). Perhaps what they would like more is the ability to schedule the delivery… And thus as a product manager, you should put all your focus on delivery scheduling rather than delivery time. Another example I can share is about a chatbot that we added to our chat. “Chatbot” was such a buzzword at that time (2017) that everyone found it natural. But the user experience it created was awful. So we removed it.
Solution to temptation 3: challenge most obvious industry solutions from your users’ perspective
4th temptation: avoiding conflicts with your feature teammates
There is a category of PMs that I call “nursery PM” who are very caring with the developers of the team. They bring in croissants at the daily, always have sweets at their demo, organize off work events… Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying you shouldn’t do that. But you shouldn’t think it is sufficient neither. This is not where the real value of team effectiveness lies in. Once it became a habit, impacts will soon decrease. What is hard for PM and requires a lot of efforts is to engage your engineers and your UX into your business issues.
- Share with them the user insights you gathered
- Convey your vision, give a clear direction of where you go as a team
- Pick up the right metric to really engage them on outcomes
- Challenge architectures choices even if you lack engineering background
Some PMs don’t do that for fear of conflicts whereas intense discussions are the sign of a healthy team (“The five dysfunctions of a team” is a must-read for every PM at ManoMano)
Solution to temptation 4 : intensely challenge your teammates to create constructive discussions and engage them
5th temptation: delaying product shipping not to be embarrassed by an ugly MVP
Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn founder) said: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”. Let’s be honest: all product persons hate shipping ugly product. Because they are the one responsible for them. You have to accept that you will (temporarily) be associated with a poor product but the value you create bringing a product live early is so important that it is a no brainer. We all know it is very hard to test your product on someone that suggests you an iteration you already have in your backlog… We experienced this dilemma at ManoMano when we released our B2B offer. It was really an MVP and B2B business owners were at first very uncomfortable with the product we would ship (it was lacking several “key” features). But we all made the effort of feeling embarrassed, shipped a relatively poor product. But traction was really huge and we can now iterate in a very efficient way!
Remedy to temptation 5: put your ego away and accept being embarrassed by poor product at the beginning!
6th temptation: being the company hero
Every product person is kind of demiurge that wants to change the life of millions of people thanks to his brilliant ideas. Even if it sometimes happens, it most frequently doesn’t. Great Product Manager will rather be the one who co-constructs his roadmap with his business stakeholders and customers understanding deeply their challenges and offering the best solutions to them, not to his own desire. He won’t be the hero that appears in the newspapers but his company will still be alive. We of course faced this issue as well, for instance trying to build a tool that automatically detected some attributes from the product description. Without sourcing and category management skills, we missed some obvious features like the prioritarian attributes to find depending on each category.
Remedy to temptation 6: consider your product roadmap as a collective asset rather than your own corner to increase buy-in
- 1st temptation: “satisfying a maximum number of users” => Making some people unhappy is sometimes necessary to keep your product strategy focused)
- 2nd temptation: “finding good excuses” => Focusing on outcomes rather than outputs is the only way to remain objective as regards to product viability
- 3rd temptation: “(always) follow product’s trends” =>Challenging common industry knowledge from your users’ perspective avoid collective bias
- 4th temptation: “Avoiding conflicts with your feature teammates” => Engaging intensely with your feature teammates allow great team dynamics and positive conflicts
- 5th temptation: “delaying product shipping not to be embarrassed by an ugly MVP” => Accepting to be embarrassed with a non-perfect product make you ship and learn faster
- 6th temptation: “being the company hero” => Considering your product roadmap as a collective asset rather than your own corner increases your product’s buy-in