The Bad of Product Management


Here’s part 2 of the results from my survey. Part 1 — the Good — was published last week.  Following the same format as Part 1, I’ve categorized the open ended answers into specific categories and the picked some of the most representative responses for each of those categories.

The question asked in this case was:

What are the top 3 things you *DON’T* like about your role? (The BAD)

NOTE: Please list things that you actually do in your job or are enabled to do.

NOTE: It was actually harder putting these responses into appropriate categories than it was for the Good. Sometimes responses straddled 2 or 3 categories that I had used. In the end, I did my best to be consistent about the categorizations.

And with that, here are the results:

Tactical Responsibilities

By far the most common thing disliked was having to do what can best be described as very tactical tasks. I don’t think this is unique to Product Management, but there was a really long list of these types of answers in the survey responses.

  • Writing detailed specifications
  • Bug triage
  • Product demos
  • Sales support
  • Writing collateral
  • Handling support escalations
  • Writing white papers
  • RFP responses
  • Mundane research
  • Creating data for customer demos

The general sense I had when reading these and other similar responses is that a lot of time is spent doing these things and that time could be better spent in more valuable tasks.

I’m surprised no one mentioned being responsible for the dreaded “Platform Availability Matrix”! 🙂

Lack of Authority

The next most common category was related to authority (0r more commonly the lack of it) for Product Managers. This is not news but it is not a good sign if this is still the case in many companies.

  • Little influence on R&D operationally
  • No ultimate decision making authority
  • Competing priorities when leaders/groups want to hedge their bets to avoid making final decisions
  • Realize very little of the planned funding for roadmap projects
  • Executive desire to control – effectively defeating a PMs authority/influence
  • Limited opportunity to affect business strategy
  • Micromanagement of products by upper level management
  • Too often the PM is charged with applying a thin veneer of the latest hot biz idea over current development efforts even when the idea conflicts with the product vision, core belief or functionality
  • Execs deciding strategy with no information or input

People Issues

This is a bit of a catch-all for things related to team work, interaction with other groups, organizational structure  etc.

  • Org structure that inhibits team participation by team members
  • Babysitting R&D (and/or sales)
  • Bad leadership, really bad
  • Responsiveness of the people I’m depending on
  • PM leadership directly converted from Engineering but pretend to be visionary PM
  • Having to manage under performing direct reports
  • Not having a mentor or someone to learn from
  • Mediating between conflicting departments re: product issues
  • Lack of strategic guidance from the executive team
  • Doing other people’s jobs to get the product out

The comment on mediating between conflicting departments is interesting. I don’t know how much mediating that person does or what kinds of conflicts occur, but I found that comment somewhat strange.

The fact that you’re being called to mediate shows those teams respect you enough to have you help them address these issues. At least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience. Not all PMs are called in for those situations, and if you are one, understand why.

Culture

Responses that sounded like they are part of the company culture ended up here. Culture plays a critical role in successful companies and it’s important that Sr. Management understands this and sets the right examples.

  • Ongoing dealings with unrealistic expectations internally
  • Working with teams who don’t care that much about the product
  • People more dedicated to processes and polices than actual outcomes
  • Organization tends to respect product managers who are into technical minutia, not strategic vision
  • Back and forth executive decisions
  • Working with R&D that is unable to make a design freeze
  • A slow inclination to change
  • Good ideas always take too long to reach the market
  • Everything is hurry up and wait

Politics

Where would product management be if it didn’t involve politics? Politics is not always a bad thing, but unfortunately, it’s human nature to take care of number 1 first, and then worry about what’s best for others.  Here are some of the responses:

  • Wresting with other teams to get things done
  • GMs so busy with politics and budgets that they forget about customers and users
  • Juggling the slate to accommodate politics or last minute requests
  • Politics of who owns design

Project Management

An oldie but a good. There were a number of respondents who simply wrote “Project Management” as one of their dislikes in the job.

OK everyone, repeat after me — A Project Manager is NOT a Product Manager. Again. Again. One final time. OK, problem solved?

Lack of Resources

  • Inability to allocate resources to my project
  • Not having enough resources
  • Lack of evangelism resource. To get product to market effectively, you need to help drive feature adoption

Lack of Direction/Definition

  • Lack of broader understanding of expections of Product Management
  • No being challenged enough by Management
  • Lack of definition of the role
  • I have so many different hats/roles to play

Lack of Customer Contact

This came up several times. If you are a PM and your company won’t let you talk to customers, the company doesn’t understand Product Management. You should try to help them understand, but if that fails, seriously consider changing employers. It’s not worth figuratively banging your head against a wall every day.

  • Not being able to talk to customers indirectly or directly
  • Not allowed to visit customers
  • Can only talk to customers when a sales rep is present

Other responses

There were quite a few responses that covered various themes such as workload, job pace, constraints, compensation etc.

  • Sometimes a dumping ground
  • Can be quite exhausting at times
  • A struggle to keep the respect of other departments
  • Working without enough data
  • PM is never really appreciated – [this person should read this post.]
  • All the blame, none of the glory – [and this person as well!]
  • Volume of email
  • Can’t get it all done – [prioritize! 🙂]
  • Not enough time for family and hobbies
  • Communication overload when every problem a stakeholder can’t figure out gets sent to your desk as you seem to know everyone
  • Lack of documentation for all the “gotchas” of our product. No simple way to communicate them to those who need to know
  • No documentation on the history of our products – what was added/changed in what release – [it should be in the release notes or ‘What’s new’ document 🙂 ]

The final set of results — what people want to change — will be published in the near future.

What are your thoughts on these responses? Do they mirror your environment? Any advice you want to give to the people who wrote these comments?

Saeed

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3 responses to “The Bad of Product Management

  1. Ian Rowlands

    Do these responses mirror my environment? Somewhat … Any advice I want to give? Well, let me start with a disclaimer … if I were so smart I’d be a lot more senior, and quite a bit richer 😉 That said … I know you don’t like doing some of the things you are doing (I certainly don’t) but are they what your business needs you to be doing now? If not, why not? Is it just taken for granted that this is what you do, or have you made the case for doing other things? If you have, and didn’t get the response you wanted, what’s the trade-off that stops you going elsewhere?

  2. Saeed,
    I know that product management is not project management. However, project management skills are necessary to manage a project. For example, developing a new product is a project. In my organization we do not have any project managers so I end up having to do it or else projects would just not move forward. It is not the most exciting part of my job but it is a necessary evil.

    • Ninon,

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t think that Project Management (sometimes called Program Management) is a necessary evil except in the smallest of companies.

      Depending on the definition of the “project” much of it is managed by Development or Engineering Management. Some tasks can be tracked by Product Management, but formal Project Management, if there is a need, should be handled by a skilled Project Manager.

      In companies where I’ve worked which had formal Project Management roles, the Product Management team was able to have a much greater impact on the product strategy and the business.

      Nothing comes for free.

      If companies don’t want to spent the incremental amount to get project management resources on board and want Product Managers to do that work, they lose in multiple ways.

      1. Product Managers spend time doing tactical task management etc. and not higher level planning, requirements definition, etc. that can accelerate revenue or increase market share.
      2. Good Product Managers will get frustrated and leave for other companies leaving the company with less skilled tactical PMs who will have reduced positive business impact
      3. By splitting their time, the Product Managers will not be able to manage projects as efficiently as possible. This costs the company time and money.

      Overall, I think the mantra — Product Management is NOT project management — should be driven into the subconscious of all company executives.