Maximize Product Manager Performance
Five Mistakes to Avoid to Maximize Product Manager Performance and Improve Product Success
We are asked often about common mistakes that can impede product manager performance and thus the success of products in the marketplace. Experience shows there are five typical problems that product managers should avoid:
Mistake 1: Lack of Disciplined or Consistent Planning
The biggest mistake is working without a written product plan. Failure to have a plan really impacts product manager performance. The product plan provides the short and long-term outlook detailing everything from current situation and market trends to goals and strategies that drive product line decisions. The purpose of the plan is to provide focus on product line activities and direction to the organization by balancing the needs of the markets with company capabilities consistent with the corporate business objectives.
The plan should also focus on the product lifecycle. The lack of sound lifecycle management can thwart a product manager’s performance by causing product proliferation or unwanted cannibalization. Finally, the plan should include appropriate metrics to measure results.
Mistake 2: Failure to Provide Effective Leadership
As “product champion,” product managers typically have a lot of responsibility with little or no direct authority. They work in a manner that counts on other functional areas to generate success. Given this reality, product managers must be effective leaders. It does not mean waiting for decisions and direction from above or letting others dictate what should be done.
Product managers don’t typically manage the resources they require, so they must work with other functional disciplines for support and assistance. The failure in leadership occurs when product managers try to ‘manage’ the people rather than influence the outcome by using their knowledge of products and markets and their product planning and internal selling skills.
Mistake 3: Too Tactical and Internally Focused
Product managers who struggle the most are those who focus on the small stuff. We call this “majoring in minor things,” and it definitely impacts product manager performance. The preference is to work on low-level tactical activities at the expense of important strategic issues like strategic visioning, market analysis, and planning. Because many product managers come to product management from other parts of the organization, most have never had to work at a strategic level. The tendency is to migrate toward (1) doing the things they like to do at the expense of doing what’s needed; (2) spending time on things that could best be done by others in the organization; (3) failing to take advantage of expertise and help that can come from others in their organization.
Mistake 4: Lacking Emphasis on “Market Knowledge”
Product manager performance often is dictated on gut feel instead of fact. When market-oriented thinking is lacking, product decisions are limited to (1) “me too” and follow the leader products; (2) customer specific requirements that may not reflect the needs of the broader market; or (3) the “field of dreams” approach to product development that assumes, “if we build it they will come”. The true value a product manager brings to an organization is his or her ability to understand the markets and market segments and relate the needs of the markets to the product offering.
Mistake 5: Inadequate Strategies
Effective product managers know strategies must incorporate the four P’s of the marketing mix (product, price, place, and promotion) while less experienced product managers tend to focus on product strategy, what we call the single “P” trap. Product managers who escape this single “P” trap will develop more comprehensive strategies for their product lines by taking into account other aspects of the marketing mix that can in some circumstances be more important to product success than the product itself. Stepping out of the single “P” trap also focuses the product manager as a marketer with an eye toward more effectively positioning and differentiating products to take advantage of market segment opportunities. Comprehensive strategies utilizing all 4 P’s benefit everyone in the organization with better product positioning, enhanced value propositions, markets that are more effectively targeted, product pricing and discounts that are aligned with perceived customer value.
The first step to correcting a problem is to identify the GAPs that are causing the product manager performance problem. The good news is that now you know the biggest mistakes that impact product manager performance and product and market success. The better news is that you can avoid or eliminate these problems by taking a comprehensive approach to product management. The successful product manager is one who takes an entrepreneurial, visionary, strategic “business owner” approach to the job. Going forward, we’re convinced that product managers and managers that recognize the mistakes early and make the requisite changes in behavior will enhance product manager performance and improve the success of the product line.
Greg DiCillo, president of Maximal Product Management (and author of Dominate Your Space: Unleashing the Power of Your Product Managers) shares his research insights with companies that want practical steps to establish a culture of high-performance product portfolio management.