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Top 5 Product Management Common Mistakes

Observations from 5 years as a Product Management Consultant

Over the past five years, Product Insight has been blessed to work with over forty different software companies. Obviously, each of those software companies is unique, but there are some product management common mistakes that most seem to share at various levels of impact. As such, we have put together our top five observations. If any of these seem familiar to your current scenario, please contact us at … we can help.

Product Management Common Mistake #5: The Order Taker Trap - Prioritizing Customer Feedback/Requests
PM Order Taker
I'll have that right out for you

One of the most common comments we hear from CEOs is that their Product Managers are just ‘Order Takers’. And since PMs are constantly being told they must listen to what customers want, we walk right into the ‘Order Taker’ trap.  As PM consultants we constantly beat the drum that you should hear what your customers are telling you, but that should not dictate what you build.  Remember, you already have them as a customer. You can learn what is important to them and address what is critical for renewals, but there are other inputs you must consider in order to think strategically and make your product great. For example:

  • Remember your prospective buyers and decision-makers. Listen to them to understand what is needed in the market to win (not just retain). NOTE: This requires market research and not just ‘taking orders’ from sales.

  • Customers typically come to you with solutions instead of problems, and those solutions can be unique to them. You are not making bespoke software - you need to think about how your solution can reach broad appeal across your target market and scale to solve the problem beyond how one customer defines it.

  • Also, prioritize functionality that moves you towards your 3-year product vision. If you don’t, you will never get there. Customers may not understand the value of that functionality before they experience it, but if you believe in your vision, then you must build toward it.

Product Management Common Mistake #4: The Inward Facing vs Market Facing Mistake
PMs that only face inward have a false sense of what is real

If your Product Managers are only interacting with Engineering/QA/Support then you don't have a grip on reality and once again walking into just being Order Takers. Further, you are hampering Engineering from taking ownership of solving hard problems by relying on their PM to handhold them through ‘solutioning’, thus making Engineering order takers themselves. Instead, Product Managers must be in tune with Sales, Marketing, Finance, and Operations to be able to think strategically. PMs need to know:

  • What are the key deals and what are their needs?

  • Is Marketing positioning your strengths and value to prospects?

  • Is the product on track to meet your revenue targets and cost goals from Finance? 

  • Does your product support the internal operations necessary to be successful?

If these aren’t daily/weekly concerns of your product managers, then they aren’t lifting their heads. As a start, PMs should be on sales pipeline calls, part of marketing positioning calls, sitting in Ops reviews, and monthly or quarterly meetings with finance.

Product Management Common Mistake #3: Over-indexing on User-centric Design
Over indexing on user-centric design is a mistake
Buyer and Decision Maker's Needs Can't Be Ignored

We see this problem everywhere. Product Managers and Designers are conditioned to focus on user-centric design with optimized user journey mapping and user testing. Make no mistake, we LOVE user-centric design. But it isn’t the full story of where Product Managers and Designers need to focus.  Focusing on the user’s needs is valuable for user adoption rates, customer satisfaction, and renewals.  But we see Product Managers and Designers not applying focus to the Buyers'/Decision-makers’ needs. Ultimately, they are the ones with the checkbook.  Understanding their interest, desires, and challenges and then building a solution and positioning that addresses their interests is how your product will facilitate new sales in the market.

Example: The LinkedIn Post above (without our X through it) suggests that Product Management teams should take a customer-centric (user-centric) approach.

However, this post completely neglects who is the Buyer/Decision Maker.  If Product Management teams only focused on the User (the cat), then they have failed. The Cat doesn’t have any money and isn’t going to purchase either the cat condo or the box.  Product Management has to understand the persona of the Buyer. In this case, the Buyer is a cat lover and wants only the best for their cat and is willing to pay $75 - $100 for a cat condo and would never go to the store and buy a $1.50 box.  The Product Team that designed the cat condo got it right, plus they likely also shipped the cat condo in a box that can be used by the cat as well. 

Product Management Common Mistake #2: Turning a Blind Eye to Tech Debt/Tech Roadmap
Don't turn a blind-eye to tech debt or your tech roadmap
What Tech Debt?

More often than not, we see Product Management lacking the discipline to set aside time to address Tech Debt that is slowing down development velocity or the Tech Roadmap that will enable your product to scale. If you swing the pendulum too far toward being a feature factory, you will ultimately fail your customers.  We like to implement what we call the CapStack (Capacity Stack) Model that lets you establish hard rules upfront for how much of your development team’s capacity is allocated to the Product Roadmap (value-stream features) vs the Tech Roadmap/Tech Debt. The key is to set the right allocations up front and stick to them.

Product Management Common Mistake #1: Squeaky Wheel Prioritization
Prioritization That Matters
Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease

We have all seen it. The person with the loudest voice gets their idea prioritized. Ultimately, the root cause is a lack of established, consistent criteria for making prioritization decisions. Without defined and published prioritization criteria, things get prioritized irrationally. In addition, the lack of prioritization criteria leads to cross-functional teams questioning the decisions being made by Product Management and being unhappy with what is being delivered by Engineering.

For clarity, there are numerous prioritization frameworks (e.g., RICE, MoSCow, Cost of Delay), and all of those are fine, especially at the ticket backlog level, but we are talking about the initiative level... we are talking about the bigger picture. What are your company's most important business objectives for the next 6 – 12 months?  We typically want our clients to identify 3 to 5 big-picture areas of importance, communicate them cross-functionally as the decision criteria, and then use them consistently when deciding how to prioritize important initiatives.

Then EVERY SINGLE BIG INITIATIVE is considered against the same 3-5 criteria. If you don’t, then you really can’t stand behind your prioritization decisions. Now, these criteria can change over time as your business changes, but they shouldn’t change too frequently, and when they do change, then you have to reconsider all future initiatives against the new criteria.


Product Insight was founded to provide technology firms with guidance on how to create and bring products to market that meet customers' needs. 


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