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What Spooked the Product Manager?

Posted by Janna Bastow
October 29, 2020

Halloween is upon us, and the eve is sure to be full of tricks. And so is our day job, apparently! We asked our community: What scares you most as a product manager?

Your fears were deep, far ranging, and not unfounded. 

We heard about fears of the insidious timeline roadmap and the deadlines it brought with it

You told us of that creepy feeling you get when you’re forced to commit to working on something that hasn’t even been validated

We heard spine-tingling stories about the shadows of stakeholders that loomed over your work. “I have a strong feeling…“, whispered one… “it may be last minute but can we also add these”, rasped the other…  “it’s just a simple feature” came the haunting echoes from the corners of the board room.

Shiver-inducing tales of customers being promised features or dates that will certainly get ghosted in the future. 

The pure horror stories of being put on the spot in a presentation, in front of the whole team. 

Product management is such an odd creature. It sits at the intersection of the user, the tech and the business, and often the product person is expected to have a handle on so much, and yet has no direct authority or expertise in any of these areas. In many companies, the product team is at the mercy of poor business decisions and leadership, and bears the brunt of the pressure; both having to magic up realistic delivery plans, while protecting the sanity of the engineering team while they try to pull it off. No wonder so many product managers end up screaming for the hills! Given that it was once listed as one of the unhappiest jobs in America, I’m surprised there aren’t more people dressing up as the tormented product manager for Halloween. 😱

In all seriousness, it’s good to talk about these fears. Shine a light on our ghosts. Get our skeletons out of the closet. Because that way, we can do something about them! 

Finding out that you share a fear with someone else, or that you’re not the only person who’s been in a tricky situation, can be cathartic! It helps to get support from like minded souls. Product people are often at the ready to share their own tales of overcoming beasts. In fact, if you join a roadmap clinic, you’ll be connected with a product expert who’s been in the field for years and is happy to shed light on any of the common product management traps. We’ve been there. We get it. ❤

Share fears to untangle the web of what’s actually happening. Stewing on things just tends to make them worse, and doesn’t help bring the underlying causes to the forefront. 

If someone’s demanding timelines and swiping the soul from your team, ask why? It’s often not that they are evil or unreasonable, but simply haven’t understood the product process and why spending time in discovery mode is more valuable than trying to plan every minute of delivery. Here’s a guide that looks at various reasons stakeholders might want to ask for dates, and how to hold your ground.

Ideas don't come to die in the product backlog
Ideas don’t come to die in the product backlog

If someone’s asking for ‘just one small thing’, or is underestimating the impact their requests are having, then help to demystify the product management process for them. ProdPad’s idea management tools excel here, by creating a transparent space for the team to see where ideas have gone, and why some ideas make it to the top of the roadmap and others don’t. Perhaps Freddy from Sales has a new idea for you, but who doesn’t? Many product management fears center around the idea that the backlog is where ideas go to die. But it doesn’t have to be that way! 

Use the power of a transparent backlog to show off how some ideas are lined up to help solve key objectives on the roadmap, and others… simply don’t!

A roadmap card in ProdPad used by a product manager
Objectives on a roadmap card are not there to spook a product manager

Some ideas might be quick wins, while others are deemed as time sinks. Rather than have Freddy from Sales breathing down your neck asking where his idea went, help him see the wider context and why product decisions are made. 

A product manager can prioritize the right ideas in ProdPad with our Ideas feature
A product manager can prioritize ideas in ProdPad

Use Radical Candor as your protective crystal. When something doesn’t feel right, chances are your gut is worth listening to, and others will benefit from hearing your concerns. Practice calling out bad practices in a way that illuminates the problem but opens the door for reflection and discussion. Push for and embrace retros in their full glory, and make space for 1:1 feedback. 

Product processes are like a product themselves. There are always going to be shortcomings, but they are something that you can measure, learn from, and iterate upon to improve. 

Product management, in the right environment, can be one of the most fulfilling roles on the go. In time, and with ongoing improvements, product management might become a little less of a trick to be feared, and more of a treat! 

Speaking of treats, take part in our Halloween competition if you fancy getting your hands on some AirPods and $1,000 credit for ProdPad.

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