What are the top challenges for product managers?

Hello everyone!

I stepped into this on Linkedin and wanted to share it as a starting point for a conversation around the topic of challenges in product management.

Are there existing challenges that a product manager will have to deal with no matter their experience and industry? or do product managers create the environment that will make them thrive no matter what?

I am interested to hear what the community has to share.

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Communication with teams not directly involved with product development.

My team has so many stakeholders and so many projects going on, inevitably some people in the company start being left out, and they end up feeling neglected. We just don’t have the bandwidth to inform everyone of what’s going on, ask their opinions or even involve them a bit more.

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Can we then speak about company-wide product culture or a PLG go-to strategy when stakeholders from different departments aren’t really involved in product processes?

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Yeah, I think presenting progress is one of the biggest pains, because first of all, you need a different dashboard for everyone you’re presenting to, then you need a different STORY for every stakeholder you’re presenting to. Sometimes I feel like I spend most of my time putting together presentations to justify the work that i barely have time for. It would be nice if this was somehow automated. The second issue is HOW to communicate with teams that are not involved with product development team, what is the story on the number we are presenting in the progress. The non-product teams don’t really understand the metrics, so I have to explain it to them, and it takes away time from getting the actual roadmap moving.

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So one of the ways that I align nonproduct people is by setting up dashboards for whoever has to know e.g. managing director, bd people, sales about the product progress.

Even my designers do not know how to set KPIs. It’s about 3 hours to do upfront (OR you can just copy dashboards from this article here for UX design teams and product managers).

It makes putting the story you present a lot easier. Plus they will feel “included” when they see KPIs like:

Product designer

  • Most viewed screens
  • Total gestures by screen
  • Screens with the most rage taps
  • Unique users that fail to sign up
  • Unique users who experienced a UI freeze
  • Top previous screens from Cart Activity
  • Users that added products to the cart vs users that completed the purchase
  • Products removed from the cart
  • % of sessions with login fails and successes
  • Number of crashes over time
  • OS versions with more crashes
  • Most visited screens
  • Total gestures by screen
  • Average unresponsive features
  • Screens with the most rage taps
  • Unique users that failed to sign up
  • Unique users who experience a UI freeze

TLDR, create dashboards for every team member who needs to be kept in the loop and the data is always updated for them.

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The biggest challenge I’ve run into to date has been where founders don’t value PM as a function and therefore constrain any semblance of autonomy to do our job correctly.

I work, basically, exclusively at early or growth stage startups and I think “lack of autonomy” is generally a theme of how PMs feel but it’s the absolute worst where the founders think PMs slow things down “unnecessarily” or aren’t needed because “engineers built everything before we even had PMs”.

Nothing kills PM morale faster, imo, than being told you’re useless and therefore lack the autonomy or authority to help right the ship you see is clearly off a good path.

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Do you think this is still the case? Product management is really becoming more and more established as a function and the expertise of PMs is valued.

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I’m not sure if I’d agree with that based on personal experience but I think my point above is the underlying premise of “product-led growth” companies.

It varies from org to org, but I think generally speaking (exceptions to every rule) unless the org is product-led and empowers PMs with true autonomy to work, morale will be low and tough to improve. My point above is based on a lived scenario where the founders literally blamed PMs for all of the product’s shortfalls despite explicitly telling engineers and every other team to go around us.

So, I think the orgs that value PM are generally product-led but I’m not sure it’s a widely adopted mindset just, yet which is why I think we tend to see so many complaints from PMs.

There’s also a difference between larger established orgs and startups but that’s a whole separate discussion, I think.

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Definitely PLCs are the better environment. Most people still treat Product as a substitute for Project management.

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When you interview at a company, how do you know they’ll be product led?

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I wish I had a good answer

In my latest interviews I’ll ask about explicit examples, e.g.:

  1. Walk me through the scenario where plans are final for the next release cycle and a bug is found that impacts 30% of users (I’m looking for if PM is involved in this decision or not and any signals of strong engineering-first mindsets)
  2. Who has the final decision on priority for product features? Security and bug fixes? (I’m looking for PM autonomy and empowerment)
  3. How are complex/big decisions made about product strategy? What happens if there’s disagreement between founders and PM on this point? (I’m looking for strong founder opinions)
  4. Tell me about the last major feature release and how that was planned and executed on (I’m looking for mention of PM and their role in this)
  5. A customer says “I’ll pay if you build X”, what happens from here? (I’m looking for them to question if that’s the right thing to build and a desire to validate it still)

I generally pull from my recent experiences at the not-PM-friendly orgs to try and tease out red flags. So far, I’ve been happy with the results of these questions but there’s never any real assurances, I think.

I’m sure others have better questions they’ve found to work for them.

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Product culture is so variable. Good luck trying to empower a tech team in an old-school roadmap release or compliance or sales-driven culture.

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Is product culture a formula to be applied across businesses or is it something unique to each company? How would you go with establishing one?

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Management handing down “build this” projects without letting the PMs explore solutions to problems. Basically, marketing saying “ohhhh Shiney” to a new feature while pulling all the budget from platform support or tech debt.

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Those top 3 are all part of the same. Competing objectives? Lack of clear priorities. Lack of time? Lack of clear priorities. Lack of role clarity? Still, lack of clear priorities. Companies with a lack of product culture and lack of skillset to prioritize is at the core of most of these issues.

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@KaranTrivedi, Exactly. Taking a further step, the problem is strategy. Strategy isn’t “rah rah, we’ll win because we work hard.” No, it’s explicitly stating what we are not prioritizing because there is a direct goal. Being that direct is difficult, especially as a leader. But placating every stakeholder and being safe is what leads to all these issues.

Strategy gets a bad rap because so many poor leaders do some headcount analysis or write some feel-good mission statements and call it strategy.

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Thank you! This makes so much sense.

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The topmost challenge facing any Product Manager is the Organization’s Culture. One needs to make sure that the Culture is strong enough to mutually take forward a product through its development stages the best way. Challenges such as hierarchy, silos etc. might ultimately impact open flow of communications pertaining to Product which might create bottlenecks ultimately impacting Product Quality.

The second challenge I would like to highlight is the Team preferring to stick to old customs and practices and resisting the adoption of new ones. Resistance to the status quo is quite a challenge. Hence coming up with newer and better practices might be quite challenging for a newcomer (Product Manager).

The third challenge is having the right Team in place to handle all the aspects of Product starting from its discovery to execution. Often, organizations prefer having different Team Representatives for Discovery and Effort Estimation while the Team going in for Execution might be an entirely different one. This is a sure shot recipe for Disaster!

The Team also needs to be passionate about the Product. Unfortunately, passion isn’t anything that can be made to drink!

Lastly, proper Stakeholder Identification and laying out crystal clear communication pathways are very important for a Product Manager to set the right expectations and avoid communication surprises!

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Thank you all for your inputs! It is super inspiring to hear what you all think.

By the way, what do you have to say in relation to the top three challenges mentioned?

In my case, for example, I have indeed very limited time to deal with all requests bombarding me from different stakeholders, while trying to stick to the roadmap I have initially set, and we have agreed upon together.

What often helps is data that works as proof of my concept and why I choose to make a certain product decision over another.