Avoid these common product management mistakes

Product management can be a rewarding career, but it’s by no means easy. Even a seasoned industry vet like Stanford instructor Anand Subramani has experienced his share of setbacks and missteps on the job.

But his headaches can be your insights, as Subramani reviews some of the most common mistakes he’s seen during his product management career in our latest webinar. Steer clear of these problems to consistently build solutions your customers actually need.

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Following customer requests to a ‘T’

There’s a big difference between what customers want and what they need. It’s easy to sink a lot of time and money into products that appear in demand but don’t solve a particular problem or provide tangible value to end users.

While it’s always important to keep customers happy, good product managers scrutinize every request to determine if the finished result will resonate with its intended audience and be successful. 

Focusing on the solution rather than the problem

Product managers may be engineers and designers at heart, but jumping into product development too quickly is a recipe for failure. You need to step back and focus on the overarching problem you’re trying to solve before you start building wireframes or mapping out a product strategy.

Subramani recommends breaking the process up into two sections: the problem space and the solution space. During the problem space, hold back any impulse to make suggestions or pitch a particular approach or idea. Your role is to just listen and understand the customer’s core pain points, goals and needs. Always be aware of what mode you should be operating in, whether it’s the problem or solution space, so you can be as productive as possible.

Misunderstanding customer needs

Henry Ford famously once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Every aspiring innovator is probably familiar with this quote, but Subramani cautions that it’s actually often misinterpreted as meaning that you should ignore what customers want.

The real takeaway is to consider the core problem underlying a particular request. In Ford’s case, what people really wanted was a faster mode of transportation, whether that was a faster horse or an automobile. Successful product managers are adept at parsing requests to reach those greater truths. By doing so, they can address the overarching need or problem, rather than try to force a solution through that doesn’t fit the requirement.

Neglecting business opportunities

A great product that customers love can still fail. Subramani highlighted the example of MoviePass, which was widely popular but ultimately became unsustainable. Product managers need to bridge the gap between customer needs and business opportunities, determining whether a solution will be mutually beneficial to the user and the company.

In some cases, that means figuring out if a problem is even worth solving in the first place. After you’ve spent some time in the problem space, you still need to look at the economics of the situation and understand if the ideal solution will be profitable.

We highly recommend watching the full webinar to discover more insights. Subramani provides ample guidance and advice, including conducting a lengthy Q&A session with live attendees to discuss product management best practices.

Watch the Full Webinar

If you’re interested in a career in product management or want to refine your existing product management skills, check out Anand Subramani’s online, self-paced course, Product Management: Transforming Opportunities into Great Products