5 Signs a Product Manager Is Operating in the Dark
June 4, 2018

5 Signs a Product Manager Is Operating in the Dark

by Brian de Haaff

Do you like scavenger hunts? Searching all over can be a fun game for kids. But when it comes to product management — well, hunting for clues to understand what is happening is not nearly as delightful. And unfortunately, I hear from many product builders that your teams are spending too much time tracking things down.

Many product teams are working in this kind of darkness. It is a painful truth.

It is especially painful because the market challenges that product teams face today are increasingly complex. Customer preferences and behaviors are constantly evolving. These realities make it even more important for teams to operate in the full light of a clear strategy.

Of course, this requires the organization to have a clear vision, a thorough understanding of the customer, and a plan that connects the work to the goals. This is the ideal state. But it can be hard to achieve in the noise of massive companies with large product portfolios, active M&A environments, a global workforce, and “dotted line” reporting that looks like a hairball on paper.

So, how does one product manager clear a path through the chaos and get to that illuminated place? First, you have to understand where your team is thriving and where you are fumbling to find your way in the shadows.

Ask yourself if any of the following symptoms sound familiar:

Murky strategy
Your company may have a vision for serving the customer — but is that vision articulated clearly and shared widely? Is there strategy in place? And does everybody understand how their work ultimately serves the strategy and the customer? If the answer to any one of these questions is “no,” then entire teams are working at cross-purposes.

Information hoarding
What you do not know can actually hurt you. One group is quietly holding valuable data and analysis about usage of your product. Other colleagues talk directly to customers on a regular basis but rarely share what they hear. Without access to these insights, you are operating with assumptions and guesswork.

Roadmap roulette
Your team worked hard to pull a cohesive product roadmap together. But these plans are dynamic by nature and many groups across the organization need quick and easy access to the latest version. If they cannot find it, they will resort to an old version with outdated release dates. Or they will fly blind and fill in the gaps with their own guesswork. Either way, catastrophe looms.

Dead-end tasks
Without connecting strategy to execution, you could come up with an action that makes perfect sense on its own but serves no goals. All that work could be for nothing — or even worse, at odds with the plan. Multiply that out across the entire organization and you are talking about some serious misdirected energy and depressing lack of forward momentum.

Big drama
The common source of big drama? Confusion. In other words, many people with conflicting ideas and information. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it is. And it is common in large companies. In the absence of objective goals and prioritization, people make decisions based on opinions and preferences. Not everybody can have their way, so the result is hurt feelings and the type of dysfunction that impacts everyone — including the customer.

You and your product team deserve clarity. In order to clear the way, you need to know where to focus.

Sometimes this means confronting uncomfortable behavior that has become the norm. Depending on your leverage within the organization (or lack thereof), it can feel like an insurmountable challenge.

But if you care deeply about your team, your product, and your customer, then the challenge is not just about speaking up and affecting change where you can. The challenge is what happens if you do not.

What is the biggest hurdle your product team is facing?

All lasting companies change. Start today with a free 30-day trial of Aha!

Brian de Haaff

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

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