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Six Traps to Avoid as a New Product Manager

Read this before accepting your first product management job

Tags: #product-management, first-job, product-development, product-lifecycle

Having a product management role is a luxury that many companies cannot afford and do not invest in. Therefore, for anyone who is fortunate enough to be a product manager or wants to become one, it is important to learn their craft well, identify opportunities and pitfalls, and provide the most value to the company. In this post, I share my advice on how to navigate your way in this role, and highlight the most important traps to avoid.

First, don’t forget your position as the champion of a great product in the company. I have seen PMs take the Manager part seriously but avoid the Product! It is vital to orient your management focus to match the lifecycle of the product. Build relationships between all the team members to fully focus on development, delivery and support of the product, but avoid becoming solely a people-manager. This requires honesty and transparency right from the start. If the business case is not clear, don’t just push the product to your technical team, take the discussion (even if heated) to the budget holders on why this product should be built at all. If you are in a more senior product management position, the reason ‘why’ to build a product becomes your duty to justify, so don’t forget that your success will be judged on the success of the product, not on how many people you are managing.

Second, as a product manager don’t forget that product development is an iterative process, so don’t look for big-bang success anytime soon. You are invited among the big guys and gals to talk about the next big thing, your heart is pumping and you might find yourself in a corner nodding in agreement to whatever they ask, and you promise the world. This is when you need to remember you can’t get to checkmate in one move, you need a plan that is based on iterative growth, this way you can manage expectations better and give yourself the buffer to improve your plans along the way.

Third, you are in this luxury role, required to remember that, you sometimes need to hold your ground and say no when product aim doesn’t make sense. Once in a while people might ask you some stupid nonsense to build and attach ‘business growth’ or ‘what is hot at the moment’ to it. This is when you need to say “this does not make sense” after you did your background work, for example look at the following image, I asked the user of the system if she uses the camera on the device or even if she uses that. She said: ‘I have no idea and never used this to get the payments.

Fourth, before you jump into presentation mode, and put your wizard hat on why this product will rule the market, know the technical points before making the decision. I saw so many times PMs jump right into a presentation, spreadsheet and if I ask them: “ok who will pay to get the authorization key for the API we are going to use and how it will affect the current authentication mechanism?” they will have no idea. So they spent all this time to use an API and advance the current user experience, but have no idea how to combine it with the current flow, so know your tech Sir/Madam!.

Fifth, a product to work in many disciplines needs to work together, be a PM of such teams or demands to be in one. This is the continuous of the rule #1, if you stay in a one discipline team (e.g., back-end, DevOp, etc.) you will end up being a people manager, because people already know what to do, and you will not be able to impact the overall product, so avoid such teams.

Sixth, your roadmaps should always be one click away regardless who you talked to, this way you can always stick to the plan or discuss the plan in detail if necessary. People have many things on their minds and once in a while you need to remind them where the team is, so always be able to present your roadmap and be able to update as soon as something changes. Everything starts there and finishes there when you talk about the team that is working on your product.

To summarise, don't forget the following six points and avoid them at all costs:

  1. Don't be a people manager.
  2. Don’t look for big bangs.
  3. Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything.
  4. Don’t be a presentation wizard.
  5. Don’t be a PM on a single discipline team.
  6. Don’t avoid your roadmaps.