How Confident Product Managers Deal With Failure
July 29, 2015

How Confident Product Managers Deal With Failure

by Brian de Haaff

You have the greatest job in the world. You are a product manager. How many people get the opportunity to truly build something and champion a product to greatness? Each new day is an adventure.

There has never been a better time to lead product — if you are up to the challenge.

Every team from engineering to marketing depends on you. They are counting on your product leadership to set the vision for the product and keep shipping features that add value. The requests never end from customers, sales, and executives in your company — and you even keep an eye on the competitive landscape too.

It is a humbling moment when you realize you have helped build a great product and a loyal customer base. You never want to screw that up.

But even the best product managers fail at some point. Maybe you were a few weeks late on a release and you lost a big customer because of it. Or perhaps you approved a new feature launch that was full of bugs and not ready for primetime.

Failure at some point in your product career is inevitable. When it happens, your first instinct may be to run and hide out rather than face your mistake. Or worse, maybe you are starting to point a finger at others. But you are better than that — and there is too much at stake.

Before I became CEO of Aha!, I spent over 15 years leading cloud-based products at multiple technology companies. I understand how difficult leading product can be. I learned this lesson the hard way. I made mistakes. And I realized that when I did make a mistake — it never helped to wallow in a puddle of regret.

Here is what I did and how I suggest you pick yourself up and make your comeback with confidence:

Set realistic goals

You have a perfectionistic streak that drives you toward excellence, but are you setting unrealistic goals for yourself and your team? The product manager must consider available resources as well as goals. Better to establish goals that your team can reasonably achieve within the release timeframe than to seriously overshoot and miss the mark. By all means, set stretch goals, but be realistic about what’s possible.

Stop overanalyzing

Self-introspection is a healthy habit for product managers, but it is easy to go overboard, especially when your teams are depending on you for strategy and vision. Quit overthinking about what happened. Get back to your plans. Let your strategy be your guide as you move forward and continue to be responsive to customers.

Accept blame

Great product managers take responsibility when things go wrong. Resist the temptation to point around the room, even if you know that someone dropped the ball. Take on the criticism for yourself. Your team will respect you and want to do a better job next time, especially if they know they played a role in the failure.

Embrace learnings

Look at the failure objectively. Where did you and the team start to go wrong? Were you trying to pack in too many features that you could not deliver? Did you underestimate how long testing would take? Did you overcomplicate what you were trying to do? When you figure out what went wrong, you can pay special attention to avoiding the same problems next time.

The product manager role is tough and often lacking in guidance. But remember — you are in this job for a good reason. It’s a privilege and you have proven that you are up for the task.

Not everyone can talk shop with engineering, help the sales team focus on selling value, and truly understand and communicate where the customer is coming from — all while being the champion of the product.

Your job requires mental toughness. That means that when failure threatens to beat you down, you must come back swinging.

How have you come back from failure?

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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