The 17 Great Myths of Product Management
December 19, 2016

The 17 Great Myths of Product Management

by Brian de Haaff

We issued a warning to product managers last month — beware of bad advice. The Aha! Customer Success team (all former product managers) weighed in. And many of you added your own examples. Reading through your stories, I noticed something curious.

Some of this product management advice was not just bad — it was flat-out false.

This got me thinking about “workplace myths.” You know the ones I am talking about — the well-meaning pointers that have little basis in reality. For example, “you have to visit customers in person.” I wanted to shine some light on these myths, particularly the ones that product managers hear (and sometimes tell).

Where do these tall tales originate? Well, as a product manager you see the big picture. Your job is knowing the “why” behind the work. But not everyone has this perspective. Some of your teammates may suffer from tunnel vision — others are naive or simply misinformed.

Even if delivered with the best of intentions, workplace myths are a distraction. Your task is to separate reality from myth.

And if something feels off, it likely is. Like any good fable, you will usually find a lesson within the illusion. So I asked the Customer Success team to gather up a few of the great fabrications they have heard.

Here are the 17 myths of product management — and the reality behind them:

1. “Our technical architecture should drive our strategy.” Reality: An effective strategy is driven not just by technology, but by considering the complete customer experience.

2. “The scrum master owns the product backlog.” Reality: The product owner owns the backlog. They represent the voice of the customer and use those insights for prioritization.

3. “If the feature is cool enough you can worry about the market later.” Reality: You are wasting everyone’s time creating a feature simply because it is “cool.” If there is no need for it, implementing it will only frustrate your team and your customers.

4. “Do what you have to do (to close the sale, to keep the CEO happy, etc.).” Reality: What this person is actually saying is, “I have lost sight of our purpose.”

5. “If you do not do this, I’ll go to someone else.” Reality: If the work is not a priority, no one else will do it (and they should not). Trust your gut and have the confidence to say no.

6. “Make the date on this one without changes.” Reality: You do not need to push something out the door just for the sake of getting it done. Technology should never come before the customer experience.

7. “Make everyone feel like they are the number-one priority.” Reality: If everyone is number one, then no one is.

8. “Tell the sales team it will be ready on this date.” Reality: Dates matter — but only if they are real.

9. “You have to help me — I already promised it.” Reality: If a “promised” feature does not fulfill the larger strategy, then it should not be prioritized.

10. “You need to have all of the features that the competitors have.” Reality: You need to invest in your customers and what they need — not in what the competition has.

11. “The customer is always right.” Reality: Usually, but not always. It depends if the customer being discussed is the right customer for your strategy and business.

12. “Just discount it and get the deal done.” Reality: Delivering value to your customers is your real top priority. Discounts imply that your product is worth a lot less.

13. “Customers like to be challenged.” Reality: Customers do not want to struggle to figure out your product.

14. “It is really easy to configure that via the command-line.” Reality: Unless you are dealing with the most sophisticated of customers who have deep technical experience, your job is to make it easy for them to achieve what they are trying to do with your product.

15. “The customer will not buy unless we add this capability.” Reality: You will not understand a user’s motives until you talk to them. The best product managers are customer advocates and understand exactly what they need.

16. “We can unlock an entirely new market if we invest in adding this feature.” Reality: You cannot confirm market potential unless you speak to your users and find out what is missing from the market.

17. “We should do this integration for the press.” Reality: Sure, you might get mentioned in the press. But if the integration itself does not serve customers well, then it was not worth the ink used to print that glowing write-up.

Call them what you will — fibs, fables, or giant works of fiction — workplace myths are prevalent. And it is up to you as a product manager to recognize and filter them out.

Carefully weigh the words of others. Take your time and think about what the person really means if you want to find success. When strategy is your north star, no myth can lead you astray.

What product management myths have you heard?

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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