Help! — My Product Manager Lost His Mojo
July 14, 2013

Help! — My Product Manager Lost His Mojo

by Brian de Haaff

I am often reminded of my great-grandfather – may he rest in peace – who loudly declared at every family gathering, “Help, I have lost my appetite.” He would then turn to the nearest grandchild and pull up the tablecloth and instruct her to look underneath it for his lost appetite. Inevitably, it was retrieved and he heartily cleared a plate or two of good eats and dessert.

Sometimes it seems that product managers can lose their mojo just as quickly as my great-grandfather lost his appetite. But it usually is no joking matter and it is harder to get back. It does not take much for PMs to lose their confidence or their way and sometimes it is not easy to recover from a breakdown of courage or trust.

Brief periods of misdirection and confusion have happened to me and every PM I have managed or worked with. When it happens, it is everyone’s responsibility to intervene. Often a good product team knows a product manager better than he knows himself.

Here are 20 signs to look for to determine if your PM is amiss and aimlessly searching to get his mojo back. If your PM regularly exhibits five or more of these characteristics, an intervention might be beneficial for everyone involved.

  1. Says “yes” more than “no”

  2. Sales no longer lines up to harass him

  3. Is always “putting out fires”

  4. Spends hours in the bug system and enjoys it

  5. Is habitually late for meetings

  6. Does not write articulate features and user stories

  7. Does not speak with customers weekly

  8. Marketing can describe the product better than he can

  9. Explains how engineering should build something

  10. Is more project manager than product manager

  11. Keeps hiring consultants to help shape the roadmap

  12. Engineering keeps asking him for the ROI model

  13. Learns about competitors or market-impacting events from others

  14. Does not use the product or watch customers use the product

  15. Tries to end debates with “because management wants to”

  16. Blathers on about technical details with press and analysts

  17. Still uses a Blackberry

  18. Keeps saying “consensus”

  19. Never asks when something will be finished by

  20. Has lots of free time

Now, it is possible to intervene and help a PM get their mojo back. And with the right approach, you can help your product manager get back on track without making a scene or causing embarrassment.

Here is a 10-step program that I have found works in most cases. It takes commitment and some time, but if followed, it can help your product manager get back to leading with conviction.

  1. Admit that he has lost his mojo — and is likely miserable (or is making others miserable)

  2. Remember why he became a product manager in the first place

  3. Take an inventory of what he does well and where he needs to grow and seek greater team support

  4. Set a “goal first” mindset for the product and self

  5. Write and speak with clarity, starting with the “whys”

  6. Decide to work on behalf of customers and the organization — and realize that he will be rewarded for it as the product succeeds

  7. Use the product and regularly talk with customers who do

  8. Be fully accountable — deflect praise and absorb blame

  9. Ask others for greater support and accountability

  10. Look ahead — anticipate what’s next

Building software is invigorating and product managers should be the happiest people on earth. Please consider the 20 warning signs and the above 10 steps to help your product manager be great again.

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. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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