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7 things That Make a Product Manager Journey Hard
Q: "What are some hard parts of being a Product Manager?"
Here are 7 points from my personal journey:
1- Dealing with rapid change
Imagine someone orders a pizza at your restaurant. You put the dough in the oven & while it's cooking, the customer changes the order.
That can happen in product a lot.
When you set out on a path, you base it on some parameters in mind. Ex: The target audience, certain assumptions, the state of the market.
But these variables can change while your dev kitchen is still cooking a build.
Ex: This might be an extreme example but the COVID onset is an instance where a 12-month roadmap for, say a transport or tourism product, suddenly became irrelevant.
Building against a moving target is hard.
2- Balancing the Stakeholder Jenga
Remember: Stakeholders are "people" & each of them are unique.
To navigate stakeholders, you need to:
speak their jargon
learn which one to prioritize over another. Ex: an integration partner that is used by less than 1% accounts << top 10 enterprise customers
understand when to say "Yes" & when to amicably say "No" to their requests. Listen to everyone regardless.
let them define the problem but take control of the solution.
Couple this with the need for diplomacy and a tinge of office politics, the stakeholder matrix can become a complex beast.
3- Your plan is as good as the weakest link.
There are a LOT of moving parts on the product train.
Launch activities. Onboarding experiences. UI/UX. Integrations. Copy. Speed. Conversions. Bugs & issues. Compatibility. Compliance. The list goes on.
There's always a good chance that one of these areas delivers a negative blow significant enough to affect your product's performance.
And due to bandwidth constraints, you can't attend to all the fires at once.
4- Raining answers without respite.
Product Managers field a LOT of questions all day long. Many times, I felt I was an answer-spitting ATM making micro-decisions left, right & center.
When you don’t have an answer, people are then waiting on you. Thus, effectively, you become a common blocker for various threads.
If you issue a premature decision, it can come around to bite you later. If you delay it too much, deadlines slip.
So, it's like a game of tag where people want answers and you're "it".
5- Grass will always seem green on the other side:
Competition will "seem" to always be ahead in something.
Every time they release something, the HiPPos (highest paid person's opinion) in the organization wake up & try to put you on a wild goose chase without validation efforts.
That tension can be nerve-splitting at times.
6- Resource Crunch
As a Product Manager going from sprint to sprint, I always wished I had more of something.
More staff to boost throughput.
More expertise to pursue crazy ideas.
More data to make better decisions.
More know-how to level up the product.
More mentorship to give direction.
More feedback to guide my next steps.
More budget for tools, subscriptions & resources.
More time to design niftier experiments.
7- Data can be elusive
Despite complex analytics tools, actionable data isn't always available.
Sometimes it's not in the form that's useful. Or it's replete with bias. Or it's incomplete. Being data-driven is harder than it sounds.
And experience teaches you that data alone shouldn't govern your product decisions.
To arrive at meaningful next actions, you need to combine:
non-numerical evidence e.g. customer feedback, competition, expert opinion
usage & adoption data + business metrics AND
intuition informed by your client relationships, domain knowledge, industry trends & product history.
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Some people unduly glamorize the role making it seem all we do is build shiny products that one day turn into a unicorn. It’s far from that and much more messier.
A Product Managers life is undoubtedly challenging because they need to balance people, product and the process to deliver value to the customer that also works for the business.