9 January 2020  4 min read

Top 7 mistakes which product managers and product development managers make plus how to avoid them

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The goal of this post: In this article, I am going to explore the most serious mistakes which product managers make and how to fix them during a product launch, product development, and management. Keep this post handy, as it can hopefully work as a reminder of the perils to avoid in your product development and management efforts. 

Table of contents

  • Mistake number 1: Product managers confuse themselves with their target customers - many product managers think they are the target group.
  • Mistake number 2: Product first, and I don't know what a business model is
  • Mistake number 3: Innovation must happen - it's nice to be seen as the innovative product manager but delivering value might be considered a tedious job
  • Mistake number 4: Product managers are reluctant to killing features
  • Mistake number 5: Product management teams can't draw the line between product and customer requirements.
  • Mistake number 6: Product managers launch products onto the landscape without reconnaissance 
  • Mistake number 7: Product managers tend to hold timelines and milestones tight
  • Conclusion

Weak products are everywhere. Products that aren't useful, don't work correctly, are too difficult to learn, or that take forever to sell — these products offer a poor value proposition. There are so many elements that have to be right to create a reliable product. There are, however, some pitfalls that happen so regularly and are so damaging that I believe they are at the source of the vast majority of wrong designed, built, and developed products.

They confuse themselves with their target customers - many product managers think they are the target group.

It is prevalent to think of yourself as more like the target client than you are. The reason this is deadly dangerous is that when product managers come to think of themselves as a proxy for their target customers, a very different standard to the product is being applied. There are many negative results of this confusion, but the most common is a product that drives a weak value proposition.

For instance, you may be able to learn and use your product quickly, yet the actual target customer, who is not fluent in the world of comparable products, may find the product difficult to use, disappointing in branding, and unusable in the customer world.

Product development managers live and breathe their products for months or years as it's their job. The trap is, they may await new releases or improvements, while the target customer may not have any chance to even think about exploring the new functionality or thinking about new features (only bugs are apparent).

To do the job properly and keep the product on the right development track, product managers must always put products in front of customers and analyze their feedback carefully and permanently strive to keep target users' perspective in mind.

Another root of a weak product is a questionable product design and zero usability testing. If there is a usability testing, it is often too little, and too late in the product development cycle to matter.

If you haven't had your product examined for usability lately, go for it! The insights you will earn from testing will benefit you hugely. The goal of the testing should be to redesign your product and get to the point where you can conduct usability testing with users from your target segment and have these potential customers appear enthusiastic and eager to use the product in exchange for the currency (money, time or data).

They confuse a good product with a good business model

There have been countless appropriately crafted and managed products that couldn't provide a business (by business, I mean, get users, retention, referrals, revenue, or data). It is not enough to develop the right product. The business model drives the product. Getting the right products means getting the right business model. Most products can't scale because of poor distribution (part of the business model).

A business model is the DNA of the company's strategy, and it sets the direction for success. Many startups like Slack, Airbnb, Palantir achieved a $1 billion valuation. Product managers might assume that the reason for that is cutting-edge products, excellent design, and advanced technologies (like artificial intelligence). The most significant driving force is strong business models that have a compelling customer value proposition.

If you don't discover value proposition first and reflect its core elements in the product, you will bet on technology, not a business model. The camera on the iPhone is an excellent tool because people can understand how to use it and make stunning photos. The technology behind the "take a photo" button doesn't matter. If you find yourself talking only about technology, wireframes, and button shapes, switch to business model design.

They confuse innovation with value - it's nice to be seen as the innovative product manager but delivering value might be considered a tedious job

An innovation that doesn't remove customers' pains is usually technology looking for attention. It might bring the first newspaper pages blink or conference awards. There are countless products available today because they were technologically possible (for instance, Amazon Fire Phone or Facebook Home), not necessarily because they remove customers' pains, or solve the specific problem better than other solutions. 

Engineers care a big deal about the technical puzzles itself and the particular technologies that they get the opportunity to learn, use, and test. However, if the engineering team is guided with a clear product vision, product roadmap, and a chance to see the customer pains directly, then they can often design and build innovative solutions to real problems, and compelling value proposition can be delivered through reliable products. 

The key is that effective innovation needs to bloom in the context of a vision, strategy and long horizon. The innovation needs to be in support of providing real customer value. Product roadmaps should be in the center of product managers' attention as they unified the vision into a readable format.

Every innovative idea can't be a huge success, such as AirPods, Slack, or Tesla software update - therefore, product development managers should be careful not to reject opportunities that at first appear too small. At the same time, product managers should be aware of the fact that every innovation should deliver clear value. Several little incremental experiments and wins to a product feature set could eventually result in overall product success.

Product managers are reluctant to killing features

I recommend for product managers to be brave and humble enough to recognize when a specific product or feature isn't correctly delivering value. Your customers usually don't care that it was an incredible technical challenge your engineers solved. Users don't care if there is artificial intelligence or advanced neural network involved in delivering the recipe for your kid's birthday party. And they absolutely don't worry that you may lose some respect among your colleagues for admitting failure.

What your target customer cares about is that their experience using your product has degenerated because a feature isn't removing the pain (please remember any time you pull up mail on your smartphone, you don't have to sit down in front of your desk computer. Smartphones email app removes that pain).

Solve for your end-user. If a product isn't working and you're talking to users early and regularly, you'll know when a feature set isn't working.

When product managers are contemplating whether or not to launch a feature or kill it, a practical way to think about this dilemma is to ask yourself, "Am I sure that my hypothesis was validated positively?" If you're sure that the underlying hypothesis that motivated you to create the product was right, click the "publish" button. Otherwise, kill the product. If you want to deliver a compelling value proposition via your product, you must be brave enough to eliminate features.

Product management teams can't draw the line between product and customer requirements.

Many product managers expect sales representatives, sales and marketing managers to define the scope of the new product. One reason for that is, "you guys are at the front line, you know the customers, tell us precisely what you want."

However, if you're trying to build an innovative product that will meet the needs (meaning, remove the existing pain) of customers, then this approach will rarely deliver the product you want (your target group expects). Uber realized that people in Europe don't have a change to pay a taxi driver, so the company launched and marketed "no change required anymore" slogan. Word of mouth skyrocketed! But, to be able to come up with that approach, few elements should be taken into consideration.

First, end-users are usually not aware of what they want to be shipped. It is tough to describe a specific solution and predict its effectiveness without actually building it, or at least experimenting with the ready to run prototype.

Second, customers don't know what is possible to be built and redesigned. It takes significant time and expertise to stay knowledgeable of progress in technology that may apply to existing challenges. Nobody can expect customers to follow this.

Third, customers aren't in a position to recognize the full range of requirements and opportunities. Customers focus on their own lives. Their issue might be a long line to Starbucks Drive, but it's hardly ever an issue with new cameras or artificial intelligence issues. Customers don't have the time to study markets, possibilities, and other customers' expectations, and they don't have a chance to be fully aware.

Product managers are responsible for determining the product scope by discovering the value proposition, which changes customers' lives (deliver pain-free life). It is the job of the product director to combine what is possible with what is useful, to launch products that solve real problems (remove pains).

Product managers launch products onto the landscape without reconnaissance

The competitive analysis remains one of the useful tools to find gaps or niches which are not served yet or are served poorly. With many aspects of your position as a product manager, you'll find that developing successful products requires to discover the middle ground. The middle ground will be between building what's already scaled by your competitors and developing a new product that your competitors haven't created yet (or haven't found cost-effective ways to launch). 

First of all, product managers should be aware of the business landscape and monitor how it is change. It helps to analyze what features get early traction and how they evolve. 

Second, the landscape is not only built of competitors but also the company's vendors, academia, and R&D centers, as well as venture capitals and accelerators. All of these places should be monitored to acknowledge customers' pains and needs, which could be addressed by the new product.

It means you'll want first to understand the landscape (read this post please if you want to learn how to do it), knowing what's out there and what your competitors offer, investors invest in and then innovate to add your product's unique offerings.

Product managers tend to hold timelines and milestones tight

Product managers often think whether or not a good product development process was followed, and whether the project was delivered on time and within budget, which was selected.

Unfortunately, this doesn't explain anything about whether or not the product is driven by the strong value proposition (you might like this post about Driving product growth with business model innovation - here is the link) or whether customers are going to pay for it with time, money, or data.

The product must be implemented effectively, and the process should follow excellent product management standards, but if the product isn't useful, it doesn't matter what process the product team followed.

In general, wireframes, prototypes, frameworks daily meetings, scrum, boards, sticky notes, etc. will help you determine if you have built the product right, but talking to customers, getting out of the office, speaking to customer service, experimenting will help you determine if you have created the right product.

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Conclusion

Customers don't always know what they expect before they try it. Product managers should probably spend a lot more time outside the office, ignore the shiniest technologies, and focus on pains that their products can remove. At the same time, the art of product management is fantastic in delivering value. We need product managers who, can on one side, listen and decode customers' feedback, and on the other hand, make things happen (launch and iterate with new products at the highest possible standard).

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