5 Reasons Product Managers Are Still Building Disappointing Products
October 10, 2017

5 Reasons Product Managers Are Still Building Disappointing Products

by Brian de Haaff

Something is slowly rotting. And I may have found the stinky source. It might be your product. Are you building something that customers love using? Or are they simply holding their noses — tolerating it due to a lack of options or because it is the product they have been told to use?

Tolerating is better than flat-out disdain. But only by a bit. So why do we keep building these disappointing products?

I once wrote a blog post about rotten products. But it has been a few years. So I figured I would ask folks on LinkedIn what they think is the root cause of a disappointing product. The specifics of people’s answers varied — leadership teams not sharing goals, engineering and marketing teams not being on the same page, redirected resources.

There was one thing I found missing from most of these replies — the product manager. It is painful for me to admit, considering I was a product manager myself for a long time. But for me, this was the conclusion I came to when I wrote that blog post four years ago. And the answer is as true today as it was then.

Sometimes it is our own behavior as product managers that hurts the product we care so deeply about.

Now, l have to acknowledge that there are many great products out there. And most product managers I know work incredibly hard and make sacrifices to build those great products. They are heroes in their companies.

But even heroes can fall into bad habits — whether they realize it or not. Once these behaviors start, they can be difficult to correct. And I believe this is how disappointing products get built.

Here are the bad behaviors that product managers (still) need to avoid:

Tunnel vision Sometimes you can get so focused on what is new or what is next that you forget to ask the important questions. Why are we building this? What problem will it solve? You are zeroed-in on moving forward quickly, but you are not thinking about the long-term direction for your product.

Unclear goals Your team likely has different opinions. But when you get taken over by these varying views, you trap yourself on an uncertain path. Avoid this by setting a clear vision — with objective and measurable goals — to make sure the team is aligned. You will not get to where you want to go unless the entire team sees the same future.

Product neglect You are not actually using your product. So you do not fully understand how your customers are experiencing it. Or even how to talk about it with development. You should aim to use your product for at least a few hours every week. Depending on your exact product, this may require some effort. But there is no better practice for a product manager than to just use the product.

Customer avoidance You are focused, working hard — too busy to listen to any feedback or complaints. Maybe you are afraid of what you might hear. You should be spending at least three hours a week speaking with customers about their experiences with your product. This is especially important if you are unable to use your product every day (like I recommend above). And if that is the case, spend closer to five hours each week in these conversations.

Inability to say “no” Conversations go a lot easier when you tell people “yes.” But that is obviously not always the right answer — especially if you are agreeing to an unnecessary feature or update. Your goals will help you stay disciplined. When questions or requests come in, revisit your strategy to stay on track and avoid distractions.

Disappointing products happen. And when they do, we need to ask ourselves: Is it me? 

So, what should you do? Even if your current product needs work and your pending release is not a winner, it is possible to change. Use the next planning cycle to avoid the behaviors above and build the discipline that will move you and your product forward.

Which bad product manager behaviors would you add to the list?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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