Product managementProduct Ownership

Top Product Management Gotchas for Leaders

A good checklist to gauge the effectiveness of your product development process.

Are you a product manager, or product owner or a development manager or engineer… wanting more successful new products?

Whether you are a company leader or CEO these product management gotchas serve as a good checklist to gauge the effectiveness of your product development process.

Why create products — a reminder

All products and product lines have a lifecycle. As one of your older products gets closer to obsolescence, a new product is launched with hopes to outshine or at least replace the older products’ ever decreasing revenues. The product development process and product management is therefore critical to the overall survival of a business.

Here are some modern challenges that beset product management:

The Gotchas

Fooled by fake customer value

Are you talking frequently with your customers and getting their thoughts on the value of the solution? Does it look like a vitamin or a real pain killer? Are you not only asking all the right questions but really listening? The being quiet, keep your mouth shut kind of listening. This is your chance to be a detective. Suss out that real value and what it’s worth and you’ll be doing better than Dr Watson ever did.

Unclear product process and roles

Who makes the decisions? Who makes the recommendations? Who determines the roadmap and the strategy? Where does the budget come from? If the roles and responsibilities are unclear, the product process is set up for failure. Get some executive sponsors on board to recognize and address any lack of clarity.

Not focusing

Not making the tough decision of focusing early on. If your resources are limited, then admit that you can’t do it all. You don’t want to overstress your team and have the wheels flying off the bus later on and missing customer commitments or the milestones for a successful product launch.

“Too easy” goals

It is important to have tough, just out of reach goals. That should encourage brilliance from the team and deliver a result that leaves customers delighted not just satisfied. When Toyota first designed the Lexus LS400 they gave the engineers conflicting goals such as reduced fuel consumption, more powerful, higher performance, more insulation (quieter but adds weight). Using Obeya, they delivered a new benchmark, much to the chagrin of Detroit and Germany.

Old fashioned planning — Depending mainly on the past

Predicting based mainly on the past not on the future is not ok, especially in fast moving software and tech markets. In stable, slow moving markets it was easy to create a 5 year strategic plan based on spreadsheet modeling, taking into account past behaviors and proof points. Nowadays, markets move much faster and even a 3 year plan becomes outdated in 1 year. Things move so fast that it’s hard to predict more than a year or two out. So the solution is to develop rapidly, enter the market and test and iterate as fast as possible. Think big, start small, scale fast. The scientific method is now relatively inexpensive to exercise rapidly, especially in tech.

Not engaging sales, support and marketing early on

It is critical for any product management executive to work closely with a whole range of functions and teams. Make sure you form good relationships and allies in the sales, support and marketing teams who are close to the customer. In a larger firm you may also want to stay connected to the corporate strategy group

First mover disadvantage

Sometimes a first mover strategy may not be successful. It depends on the specific circumstances of your market or product where you may actually be rewarded by entering the market late. For example, do you remember Yahoo!, Magellan, Lycos, Infoseek, and Excite? Not many do. They came way before Google, who was late but won hands down with a better strategy and product. So don’t rule out the second mover advantage.

Misreading the market trends — not riding the wave

Recognize the wave; understand it; leverage it. The iPhone heralded the new wave of do-it-all smartphones. Nokia was on the wrong side of that wave and they lost their crown. When Microsoft saw the web coming, they rightly saw a threat emerge. Initially they countered with their Internet Explorer web browser and later with Bing, their search engine. More broadly, they recognized their old style enterprise applications like Outlook were losing market share. It took them some time but they joined the wave and gradually converted to a cloud-centric approach. Now Office 365 is the #1 cloud application and Microsoft Azure is also riding high on the wave.

Not seeing threats and ignoring the competition

The market is constantly changing. Are you watching your competition closely? Did you set up Google alerts with the right keywords? Did you alert all your friendly sales, support, marketing and partners to alert you to any changes or threats? Stay abreast of the seen and the unseen. Discussing competitive threats with a broad variety of stakeholders (maybe sales, engineering, customers and partners) and getting their inputs is critical to forming an aggregate viewpoint. You must own that viewpoint to anticipate the unseen.

The strategy story is too complex.

No one can understand the strategy, remember it or regurgitate it. Typically, this kind of complexity can mean reduced support from your stakeholders and even product champions even if they agree with the logic and the end results. That’s just to get agreement to proceed. If you do get the OK to execute the strategy and there are managers in sales, marketing or engineering, who are confused by the strategy then look out. If these implementers of the strategy are confused, it will lead to failed execution in development or launch, potentially leading to market failure.

Missing the market window — too late or too early

Delays due to product development can mean missing the market window by being too late. Planning to be late can also be an issue although some products late to market exploit a second mover advantage. But being too early can be equally problematic. Apple invested big into the Apple Newton MessagePad in 1993, but was a decade too early for the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) market.


Think of the above as a checklist when reviewing the product process, product plans and product strategies. Letting a few gotchas get past you or your team may not mean complete disaster but the better you navigate these waters, the higher your chances of business and product success.

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