Category: The PM Profession

Common Product Management Fuck-Ups That Strike Even the Experienced

Common Product Management Fuck-Ups That Strike Even the Experienced

  1. Acting like a Requirements Monkey.
  2. Punting on strategy.
  3. Not focusing on a particular target market.
  4. Not meeting with enough customers often enough.
  5. Not meeting with prospects and non-customers often enough.
  6. Not truly understanding the real problems faced by your target market.
  7. Hearing only what you want to hear.
  8. Being afraid to draw pictures.
  9. Writing a Magnum Opus of a requirements doc or strategy doc, primarily to cover your ass.
  10. Forgetting to incorporate features into your product that help you measure success or failure, and thereby improve over time.
  11. Going along with a development process that can't adjust when faced with negative market feedback
  12. Becoming Development's Co-Dependent, and having them come to you about the placement of every freakin' pixel.
  13. Allowing a piece of shit to ship.
  14. Making the product hard to buy or up-edition.
  15. Thinking that landing reference customers for a new product/release is someone else's job.
  16. Letting the release treadmill create a "boat anchor" editioning and pricing situation.
  17. Assuming that everyone that stands in your way is an asshole or a political player.
  18. Neglecting to spend the time building rapport and credibility with engineers.

What the Cranky Product Manager Hates About Aspiring “Product Guys”

Hey there, aspiring “product guy“!

First off, you’re a douchebag for your calling yourself a “product guy.”  

What IS a “product guy” anyway?  Do you mean “product manager” or “product marketer” or something?  Or is the GUY part the emphasis here?  What’s the equivalent female term anyway?  Product Gal?  Product Princess???

The Cranky Product Manager says *gag*.

Second off, you’re pretty frackin’ unqualified to do product work.  

After all, until last week, your only job experience was as a programmer. Or as a student. Yet you think you should be in charge of all of Product (the department).  Or at least of one product.

Sure thing. Go for it. Be the “product guy” you always wanted to be. Dictate features and future product direction from up high on your Product throne.  Wow the Silicon Valley startup scene with your spankin’ new title on mod business cards…

…Just as soon as you let the Cranky Product Manager become your Head of Engineering.  Or your Senior Technical Architect.

Oh wait. That’s probably not a good idea, is it?

Because the Cranky Product Manager is unqualified for those roles.  Even if she took a 3-day “certification course” in software development, she would not be qualified.  

In fact, the Cranky Product Manager is probably far more qualified to be your Head of Development than you are to be Head of Product.  (She at least has a degree in Computer Science, and actually worked as a programmer for a few years early in her career.)

Alas,  just WANTING to be a Product Guy/Gal/Princess/Manager/Marketer/Dweeb is not enough.  You actually need some education, skills, and above all, some EXPERIENCE. 

Professional Services Engineer or Surly Gifted-and-Talented Teenager?

Professional Services Engineers and Senior Customer Support Engineers, the Cranky Product Manager loves you.  She truly does.  

You get in there and make our products truly work– sing even! –for our most important customers, many of whom have really bizarre requests.  

You are ingenius, a MacGyver for the new century.  You can work around any product deficiency with a wad of gum, a Perl script, and a laptop stuffed with SSDs.

You keep the Cranky PM informed about what the customers are experiencing and the problems they face, and keep the Cranky Product Manager apprised of the experience of using her product day-to-day.  

You are great. And the Cranky Product Manager could not be prouder of you.  

Except for one thing:  your attitude.  You remind the Cranky Product Manager of a surly teenager.  A “gifted and talented” teen, to be sure, but an adolescent with all the part and parcel attitude problems.  

Witness the Cranky Product Manager’s awesome chart:

  Surly Gifted-and-Talented Teenager

Professional Services Engineer
/ Sr. Customer Support Engineer

General Attitude Embittered and feeling put-upon by parents’ rules. Embittered and feeling hampered by all the product’s warts and failings.
Opinion of self

Convinced she is brilliant and her parents are biggest idiots ever, and that everyone else’s parents are cooler.

Convinced that Dysfunctosoft Engineering are biggest idiots ever, because Engineering requires months to add the product feature when he hacked up an absolutely brilliant work-around within a few weeks. 

Ability to Understand Not Everyone is Like Him/Her If her best friend thinks something is cool, then she does too. Even if any reasonable person can clearly see otherwise. Believes that if his customer needs this feature, then surely everyone does.  Even if it has no alignment with future product direction, obfuscates the user interface, or would take effort away from more critical areas.
Understanding of Broader World Remarkably naive about life outside her home/school, but thinks she knows all from watching a lot of reality TV. Knows nothing about writing production-worthy code that will work for hundreds of customers, not just one: scaling, internationalization, integration, standards, platform support, testability, user experience, error handling, APIs, etc.  Thinks he already solved 90% of the problem when he really only solved 10%.
Political Savvy If Mom says no, asks Dad. If Dad says no, ask Mom.  If both say no, involves the grandparents or teachers.

If Engineering says “no” to including the hacked-up workaround in official code-base, lobbies Product Management, Sales, and the CEO/GM.


To gain a privilege, promises to do an unpleasant task like cleaning out the garage.

Then does not do it.  Parents nag her for weeks before finally giving up.

Under political pressure, Engineering caves and agrees to add the hack to the official product code base, but ONLY if the PS engineer makes the code thread-safe, uses standard libraries, etc.

Naturally, this never happens.  Count on the PS Engineer to get very busy on a customer crisis instead.

Why Sales Bitches About Product Management & What to Do About It

You’ve heard that old chestnut. You’ve seen it in a million articles. The big advice Sales Droids offer to Product Management is “Don’t just talk about features.  Tie the features to problems.”

And whenever the Cranky Product Manager sees Yet Another Article offering this advice, she thinks, “Doesn’t every product manager already know this stuff? Duh? How is the Cranky Product Manager going to create a blog post from this nugget of obvious non-wisdom?”

But then the Cranky Product Manager thought about it.  Then she had a nice glass of Chardonnay. Then more thinking. And then mentally watching the game film from all the customer presentations she’s ever given or watched another Product Manager give, and from her years of observing Sales Engineers and Sales Droids interact with the customers.

And here’s what the Cranky Product Manager came up with.

When It’s Good (with a sex analogy on the side)

There are times when the Sales Droid-Product Manager-Customer interaction is, well, orgasmic: everyone is in sync, everyone is providing what the others need at exactly the time they need it, and everyone leaves satisfied and revved up to do it again.

It does happen sometimes. About as often as the Detroit Lions winning a game, but it does happen.

When It’s Bad (with yet another sex analogy)

But more often, it is a clumsy, inept dance, with everyone thinking he’s/she’s giving what the others need but completely missing the mark. Kind of like the Cranky Product Manager’s freshman year boyfriend. (oooh! badump dum.)

In these cases, the Cranky Product Manager will bet ONE MILLION DOLLARS that the Product Manager in question truly believes she is tying each feature to customer benefits, all while the Sales Engineer/Account Rep thinks the Product Manager is just blathering on and on about features.

The Disconnect

How can this happen?  Because there are several steps between the “we added Warp Drive in release 2.0″ Product Manager-ish statement and the “Warp Drive increases your revenues AND decreases your costs” Sales-ish statement.

Using this example, the Product Manager would probably say “We added Warp Drive in release 2.0.  That makes our rocket ships now go faster than the speed of light, which means space travel will take one bajillionth of the time it currently does”. And the Product Manager often leaves it there, believing she successfully tied feature to customer benefit.

Meanwhile, the Droids think the Product Manager left out the business benefit.  After all, she did not tie the warp drive feature to either “saving money” or “making more money” (the only two customer benefits some Droids can understand).

Thus the schism.

To most Product Managers, it is OBVIOUS that faster space travel means people will spend more time working instead traveling, and will thus become more efficient, saving money.  And that with Warp Drive we’ll be able to reach more of the galaxy and thereby increase the number of customers we can reach, increasing revenue.  blah, blah, blah.

In fact, it seems SO obvious that many Product Managers worry they’ll insult the customers’ intelligence or annoy them if the Product Manager explains how each and every feature ultimately saves money or increases revenue.

Truth is, the customers probably need a bit more hand-holding.  As Product Managers we are genetically engineered for our superior feature-X-yields-benefit-Y perception. We forget that not everyone thinks like that.

But on the OTHER hand, the Sales Droid who can only talk about “saving money” or “making more money,” (aka “lower TCO” and “increased ROI”), often seems like a huge dumbass to the customer. Trust the Cranky Product Manager on this, she once was a customer.

An Obvious Tactic That Often Works

**So, for Product Managers, here’s a technique that sometimes works: **

  1. Before demo-ing or presenting the roadmap or whatever, ask the customer about his/her problems and the benefits that he/she is seeking from your software.  
  3. During your demo/presentation, tie the features back to the specific benefits the customer seeks, using EXACTLY the same wording.

Of course, this technique only works if you are able to talk to this customer one-on-one beforehand; it works less well if you are presenting to a huge crowd at a conference.  Also, this technique does not guarantee that the Sales Droid will be happy, only the customer.  After all, the Sales Droid might not understand the benefits the customer seeks – they might be too “low level” for a Droid to possibly comprehend.

This concludes the Cranky Product Manager’s “Obvious Lesson of the Day.”  

No doubt, huge swaths of Product Managers are out there saying* “Isn’t this advice obvious?  Doesn’t every product manager already know this?”*  Hopefully, most of you do.  But for those who don’t, or who occasionally forget, hopefully this advise is more specific and more actionable than that “Tie features to benefits” platitude.