Product School
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Product School

How to Learn from Mistakes by Zillow Principal Product Manager

Serving as a Product Manager is an enormous responsibility. With so many facets of the job, it is natural that some errors may happen along the way. In this session, Christian Bellofatto, the Principal Product Manager of Zillow, takes us through his book of learnings from his past mistakes. It is wonderful, how he translates every mistake into a lesson to be learned for other PMs as they perform their role.

Meet Christian Bellofatto

With extensive experience in Product Management across various firms, Christian is currently serving Zillow as a Principal Product Manager. His competency lies in driving the customer and business value with strategic product solutions.

Christian Bellofatto

How to Learn from Mistakes

Christian speaks about the mistakes he has made throughout his journey as a Product Manager. He establishes the foundation to the lecture by talking about the importance of discipline needed in the role. It is the consistency and professional discipline that put things on the right track; while it also, builds the courage to face accidental challenges faced along the way.

He puts across the following take away points, learned from the past mistakes:

1) Not focusing enough on communication

Communication is incredibly important, yet easily overlooked. Not many truly accomplish good communication, as it can be so tricky to get right.

As a Product manager, sometimes admitting to the simpler mistakes made and having an open mind to discuss them, becomes something of a stumbling block. It is important to overcome this to drive the team further.

Always find ways to communicate clearly with both Senior Managers and team members, to keep everyone on the same page, making sure that everyone is involved in the progress of the project. At the end of the day, Product Management is all about people. It is about getting the work done.

Colleagues communicating

2) Stakeholder (dis)engagement

Managing the Stakeholders, is by far one of the most challenging tasks. To begin with, you need to empathize with them. Getting into their shoes and responding to various responsibilities thrown at you, will get you in accord with them.

In some cases, it is important to submit to their opinions despite your conflict over it. Sometimes CTOs, CEOs and Stakeholders will have better product intuition than you, given their experience. It’s important to examine your conflicting ideas and see where there may be room to see things from their perspective.

Business disagreement

3) Process improvement

As a Product Manager, product quality stands as the ultimate goal. Adding to this, it is the responsibility of the PM to employ process improvement, to accommodate the required outcome. To do this, pick one thing at a time.

Christian says that it is a repeated mistake of many PMs, especially the newbies, to fill in their baskets with too many tasks. It never works! To become a prudent & sensible PM, it is required to accomplish tasks one by one.

4) Vitamins vs Painkillers

One should always introspect on the product necessity in the market. ‘Are we building the right thing?’ must be evaluated at every step of building the product. Sometimes we build products that people don’t necessarily ‘want’, thinking it as the product they ‘need’. However, the product turns out to be a failure. People always look more for ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’. It is simply like people need vitamins, but they want painkillers.


Key Takeaways

  1. Communication is stronger than depicted.
  2. Consent with Stakeholders is necessary at times.
  3. Pick one task at a time.
  4. Constantly evaluate ‘Are we building the right thing?’
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Carlos G de Villaumbrosia

Carlos G de Villaumbrosia


CEO at Product School — Global leader in product management training