Beyond Product Management #4: Challenges of a product manager

Written by Published in Beyond Product Management, Product Management
challenges product manager

What can be challenging about being a product manager

Every job has its rewards and challenges. In an earlier post, I discussed what can make the product management role rewarding and attractive enough to keep us in it. But there are certainly days or parts of the role that can be frustrating, and I share some of those thoughts below.

Responsibility without authority

Product managers face an interesting challenge: they are given a lot of responsibility but usually with little or no authority. It is an often cited frustration, and I was fairly blindsided by it when I first started out. PMs are responsible for the overall product much like management is responsible for the company. It’s actually one of the best parts about being a product manager! But one of the big differences is whether the person has authority over the teams that they rely on for company/product success and sustainability. Therefore, as product managers, we need to find ways to influence without formal authority and hone our interpersonal skills.

Selling the vision… continually

We know what the product vision is; the challenge oftentimes lies more in the communication of it. And sometimes, a fair amount of selling needs to be included too. We know we need to train and support the marketing, implementation, and other teams to enable the product to succeed. But it can be easy to jump straight into the “what” the product does before we remember to communicate the vision and the “why” the product is needed in the market. And frankly, this includes communicating and reminding even our own team and the executives. Don’t make the assumption that they all automatically share our enthusiasm for the product vision.

Saying no to great ideas/ staying the course

This is a painful one! I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to ask the team how many customers would this feature benefit or how “expensive” that feature would be if it had to be designed in a particular manner. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t lucky enough to have unlimited resources, so someone internally or externally is going to be hearing a “no” to their request. But I think that it doesn’t always have to be that definitive. Sometimes, it’s just a “not now.” Perhaps there are regulations coming into effect in a month, and all development efforts need to be focused on pushing updates out to customers in time to meet those regulatory changes. I have found that if we can give some context to why it’s a “not now,” it can help the other party understand the reasoning and that we aren’t just dismissing their ideas or perceived needs.

I’m sure there are other areas that can be frustrating in the product management role. I think the key is to not let these areas wear us down and take away from the rewarding aspects of the job. And sometimes, discussing (or venting) with peers might help to provide an additional perspective or alternative ways to approach the issue at hand. Leave a comment about your own challenges!

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