5 basic mistakes product managers still make

Product management is all about dealing with decisions, priorities, trade-offs, and compromises.
And yet, I’ve seen product people who focus so much on their product, that they often forget how to work with people.

Call it soft skills, intercommunication skills, it doesn’t matter. It’s the kind of things you need be aware of and work on, in order to become a good manager.

Here are 5 basic behavioral mistakes product managers still make, followed by some practical tips:

Mistake #1: Talking instead of listening 

As a product manager, a big part of your knowledge comes from listening to others, and yet - many product people feel obliged to do the talking (and miss the opportunity to shut the fu🤭ck up).

Whether you are talking to customers, partners, sales, support - let them share their knowledge, pains, challenges, goals, and use this invaluable information to shore up your market understanding and connect the dots required to build a successful product.
Talking will get you nowhere, so every time you feel like jumping-in and “sell" your thoughts (or product) - remember that silence is power.
Be the last to speak, and while doing so - gain some additional tactical advantages:
  • Show others you value their insights. 
  • Understand where the wind is going (before you speak) so you can react tactfully and tune your response accordingly. 
  • Summarize the main points and make sure to demonstrate authority while doing so. 

Mistake #2: Jumping too fast to conclusions 

In a world of agile development, frequent shipping, and MVPs - moving fast and breaking things seem almost required in order to succeed.
However, executing fast doesn’t mean you need to make hasty decisions.
There’s a long tail to every product decision: a feature released today needs to be maintained tomorrow, next week, next month and probably next year. New releases will have to take it into account, be compatible with it, or enhance it as the product evolves, and that’s an expensive price to pay for features that were not thoroughly planned.
There’s a smart quote saying:
If you want to execute fast - make sure to “measure” twice before diving into the execution phase:
  • Always doubt your own beliefs and challenge your assumptions. 
  • Always assume there’s more than meets the eyes.
  • Validate what customers are saying with quantitive data
  • Validate quantitive data with what customers are saying. 
  • Beware of your own cognitive biases and don’t fall in love with your solutions before you have a complete picture of the problems.  
  • Don’t forget the “why”, especially before jumping into conclusions or making quick decisions. 
Be humble: listen, explore, survey the battlefield before charing in. Restraint yourself from jumping to conclusions too fast.

[Read: how to maintain your product momentum when you're out of development resources]

Mistake #3: Using “me”, “my” and “I”…

I often hear product people speak as if they founded the company or own the development team:
  • “my product”
  • “my developers” (or even worse: “resources”)
That’s only a symptom, of course, caused by a mindset that sees the PM as an all-mighty center of knowledge, the only one that truly knows the customers or the business enough to make the calls, while all the others are just there to execute.
My experience taught me that successful products are the result of great teamwork, engaging environment and creative thinking done by everyone in the team and not just the product manager.
That’s why it’s so important to promote the “we” and get rid of the “I”.

Respect others, and help them feel like the product is theirs as well!
Instead of keeping all your knowledge to yourself - try sharing it with the team members:
  • Tell them what the customers said about the latest release
  • Share with them the A/B test results and your conclusions 
  • Explain the rationale behind your decision to kill a feature (or invest in it) 
  • Send them the notes from your latest business conference 
  • Show them the presentation you gave and how you promoted their work
  • Make sure to mention their achievements - it’s not only your product, it’s theirs as well

You’ll be surprised to see how fast these simple habits can change the atmosphere in the team and how fast it pays off with extra motivation, effort, and fresh ideas.
(And I know that many developers say they don’t care about the business or the users, but believe me, everyone wants to know how his hard work was received and what users had to say about it.)

Mistake #4: blaming others whenever things go wrong

  • “The development team didn’t deliver what I asked for”
  • “The marketing material is simply not good enough” 
  • “This sales deck doesn’t have the latest stuff in it” 
“They this…” and “they that…” - how about some “we” instead?

People say that a product manager is the CEO of the product. I personally think it’s a stupid analogy since CEOs deal with budgets, HR challenges, legal stuff and so many admin responsibilities while product managers don’t have any of these.
There is, however, one correlation: product people work with (and depend on) marketing, sales, customers, implementors, partners.

With so many touchpoints and dependencies, it’s crucial to see to it that the product is well represented.
And guess what? It’s your responsibility to do it:
  • Your responsibility to work closely with the marketing team and make sure the key points are well delivered.
  • Your responsibility to make sure salespeople are equipped with the latest and greatest. 
  • Your responsibility to ensure the UI looks exactly like you designed it to be. 
  • Your responsibility to help the development team overcome unexpected obstacles.
Yes, it’s a bit unfair, as those departments have their own responsibilities and should be held accountable, but if you really want things to work out to your satisfaction - get deeply involved on time and make sure it happens.

Mistake #5: Letting others lead the agenda

Being a focal point comes with an expensive cost: everyone needs something from you.
Your mailbox is always full, your slack overflows and your calendar has more conflicts than free time. You’re practically spending all of your time (and CPU) responding to others, with no plan, no process, no optimization, while neglecting the strategic part of your work.
It’s an endless loop that must be stopped:
  • Learn to say no to people (without actually saying “no”)
  • Delegate or postpone certain initiatives (without becoming a serial procrastinator) 
  • Master you calendar: reject some invites if you feel it makes sense, suggest alternative hours to better fit your schedule, limit your meetings to 30 minutes, and block enough time to complete your strategic tasks. 
Reach out to your peers proactively, before their needs turn into escalations:
  • Talk to your customers on a frequent basis
  • Work with marketing and sales on an ongoing basis so their needs never catch you off guard. 
  • Build processes that will help you approach them before they come to you
Pro-act efficiently rather than having to react uncontrollably.

So there you have it, 5 basic mistakes product managers still make that can be prevented by paying more attention to the way we talk, the words we say, and how we manage our interaction (and time) with our peers.

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