Product Managers (PMs), due to their responsibilities, commonly face various challenges. Knowing how to recognize those challenges and address them will help you increase your confidence and ability to fulfill your role as a product manager. This article discusses the most common challenges in product management and possible ways to overcome them.
Challenge #1: Big responsibility, very little authority
What do you think is the most difficult thing about product management? Probably the imbalance between the responsibilities and authority associated with the role. This challenge is universal because you are likely to face it regardless of the country or industry. As a PM, you are accountable for the overall product, similarly to the management responsible for running the company. However, the big difference is that you have no authority as other managers.
Empowerment and support
There is no silver bullet to this product manager challenge. But what you can do is sharpen your interpersonal skills. They will help you influence people without having any formal authority over them. As a PM, you have to find ways to support and add value without having any team member reporting to you. After all, you are the “mini CEO”—you are responsible for the “why” and drive strategic decisions for the product. So in a sense, what you do for your product is what a CEO does for their company.
That is why the support for your role is two-fold. On the one hand, you build your authority yourself by leading with influence and setting an example. While on the other, your authority should result from the empowerment and support given by your company. To make such a support reality, the company decision-makers must be aware of your value as a PM. If you feel that is not the case, you could consider training them in Product Management.
Challenge #2: Plenty of work, not so plenty of time
Some jobs allow for a temporary hermit mode, where one shuts off with the headphones on to focus on a task at hand. But not the Product Managers. They facilitate collaboration, communicate with internal and external stakeholders, monitor the market, analyze the data, define a vision for a product, and prioritize product features. In practice, it means a lot of different tasks to handle.
Juggling the pilling up responsibilities is never easy, but hey—you are not alone in this! Countless professionals face the same issue. That is why there are so many time-management methods to pick. Perhaps you could try incorporating a few of them into your daily routine to get the feeling of better control over your tasks.
- Prepare your to-do list beforehand. Before you go to bed, consider writing down the tasks you want to work on the next day. Do this every day.
- 1-3-5 to-do list rule. The concept of the 1-3-5 rule is about splitting the tasks you need to do and reducing the amount of those tasks to nine. “1” is for one large project you can sort out in a day; “3” is for the three medium-sized tasks; “5” on your to-do list is for the five small tasks that you can easily complete. 1 + 3 + 5 = 9 tasks.
- Covey matrix. The Covey time management matrix as a whole represents the time you have. The matrix is a box divided into four areas (quadrants). Each box represents your work time and is divided according to importance and urgency. The general idea is to shift as much of your time into quadrant II (plan) and, simultaneously, reduce it in other quadrants.
- Eat the frog. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first” (Mark Twain). What this method is really about is prioritizing. Complete the most important tasks first, and afterward, move on to less pressing ones.
- Eisenhower matrix. With this method, you can prioritize your tasks by urgency and importance; when it comes to the less urgent and important tasks, you should either delegate or skip them altogether.
Challenge #3: Product roadmap prioritization
The process of building the right product requires a lot of data. But it could get tricky if all the data inputs spark many great ideas, which the Product Manager will want to add to a product roadmap. Another great difficulty with roadmapping concerns frequent changes and a low level of predictability. PMs will see their roadmaps being disrupted by unforeseen events and variables.
Gannt and prioritization tools
The first step, in prioritizing your product roadmap, is supporting your hypotheses with data gathered from customers. Next, when you make a data-backed plan, meet your stakeholders and go through all of your current and upcoming project ideas. Once they see how many projects or ideas you have, it can be easier to prioritize based on a realistic amount of time and resources.
Additionally, just like in the time management case, you have several roadmap prioritization techniques at your disposal that will help you prioritize the roadmap (More grids and quadrants!). For instance, the value-complexity matrix, value-risk matrix, weighted scoring, and opportunity scoring.
- Value-complexity matrix. This prioritization type of matrix categorizes product features by their expected business value and their implementation complexity. You plot initiatives on a quadrant and prioritize them accordingly.
- Value-risk matrix. Another way to prioritize your product roadmap is by categorizing potential new features by their expected business value and by the degree of risk associated with their implementation.
- Weighted scoring (aka. Decision matrix). This matrix uses numerical scoring to rank your initiatives against benefit and cost categories. Compile a list of features you want to consider and the criteria on which you want to score those features. Then, determine the weights of each criterion and assign the individual scores for every feature from your list.
- Opportunity scoring (aka. Gap analysis). Opportunity scoring helps you identify those features that customers consider important but underdeveloped or unsatisfactory. With this tool, Product Managers will know what features need improvement, thereby creating opportunities to make their products better.
“Now, next, later” roadmap
The “Now, Next, Later” product roadmap approach helps to illustrate how your product can be improved across three abstract timelines (now, next, later). It is a very simple high-level overview that does not go into details too deep. Plus, it is easy to understand for non-product colleagues. This type of roadmap helps you emphasize the order of things rather than their exact due dates. For that reason, it could be a great solution to Product Manager challenges concerning the changeability and unpredictability of roadmaps.
To build such a roadmap, distribute your items over three available time frames: “Now,” “Next,” and “Later.” Put your high priority items (things you currently work on) in “Now;” items that are less important (e.g., can wait till the next release) go into the “Next” slot; those items that can wait until they become priority should go in “Later.” You can move things around—The “Now” time slot is relatively rigid since it represents your current commitment. But you can freely re-arrange items in the “Next” and “Later” slots.
Challenge #4: Technical dependencies and limitations
What other challenges do Product Leaders often face? Dependencies. These dependencies include third-party products or services, hardware, or the functionality precedence (function A depends on function B, but B is not available yet). So the bottom line is that the Product Manager, due to limitations, cannot schedule a particular feature for development.
Risk assessment and management
Go through the risks assessment process of the dependencies based on your risks log. When done, add the risks to your risk management software. Then, assign an owner to those risks and decide how to manage them. Such an approach will give you a good level of transparency and a decent record of what you plan to do about the potential issues.
Challenge #5: Competitive market
Market saturation is a typical and daunting challenge leaders face these days. Product Managers need to cut through a densely-populated market of well-established brands and innovative competitors. Luckily, although challenging, standing out in a crowded market is not an impossible feat to achieve.
Match product with customer needs
This challenge boils down to knowing what customers want and having a deep understanding of their needs. These two are a must at the early decision-making stage, ultimately defining a product. They will also continue influencing how the product stands out in the sea of competitors. No matter how crowded a market you are facing, your customers will recognize the value of your product if it meets their needs.
Other factors that also tend to have a tremendous impact on a product’s success include:
- Effective pricing. It might be tempting to lower the prices initially, but it will cause the business to lose money in the long run. Instead, try to target customers who are willing to pay more for a premium product or features. Be careful about deciding the best approach, though—you should align it with the product and your company’s business model.
- Market niche. You give your product a big chance that customers will pick it over similar ones by catering to a niche. Consumers choose products that meet their needs and companies that seem different or unique.
- Marketing. As obvious as it may sound, creative marketing can make your potential customers see your brand or product more attractive than competitors. It also fosters product and brand recognition.
Challenge #6: Changes. Changes everywhere
There are over dozen physical constants in the universe. However, there is only one fundamental constant in the world of product management and it is called “change.” This constant assumes multiple dimensions so expect to see it coming from every angle. You will see it due to the ever-changing market landscape, emerging and disappearing competitors, new technological solutions, and swinging customers’ wants and needs. And of course, changes to product roadmaps we tackled previously.
Flexibility and agile mindset
You have no control over the changes. But you are in charge when it comes to adapting to them. That is why it is so important to keep an agile mindset. It will help you acknowledge and address the inevitable.
Challenge #7: Staying proactive to competitors
Competition just released a cool new feature or product line and you are thinking about adding it to your roadmap? As tempting as it may be, following other brands’ tracks is not necessarily the best approach. Especially, when you want to win customers’ hearts by providing the solution for what they exactly need.
Your product, your vision
First of all, focus on your product strategy and what your product is best at, instead of what others are trying to achieve. If you hear from an individual customer asking for functionality that another brand has, stop and think. Just because a current or potential customer thinks it would be useful does not mean it will align well with your vision. Or it will resolve issues of your target audience. And lastly, every time you are in doubt, consider whether a particular feature will be of any value to your customers and business. If not, let your competitors have it.