Disruptor League

Solving Organizational Challenges with Product Management and Innovation

Challenges Product Managers EncounterAnyone influencing innovation in an organization is familiar with the challenges it brings. You feel like you are swimming against the current and even drowning at times. This is the nature of innovation in organizations because something new and unfamiliar is being tried. If resistance is not encountered, then the innovation is not… well, innovative!

The role of product manager is at the center of innovation influence in many organizations. It can quickly become overwhelming with both demands for product changes and skeptics resisting change. To discover the challenges the role involves and how they can be overcome, I spoke with legendary product manager Rich Mironov. He is the founder of Product Camp, a collaborative unconference for product managers and marketers that has spread across the world. He also authored the book, The Art of Product Management: Lessons from a Silicon Valley Innovator.

See the link below to hear the interview.

Why Do People Want to be Product Managers?

Typically two primary reasons or explanations are given:

  1. People becoming product managers want to make a difference in the products that are created. They want to be involved early in the product development process to help guide the creation of the right product – products that customers love.
  2. They also want to have influence. This influence can be from a positive or negative position. The positive position is the desire to help guide product selection and overall product strategy. A negative position is people seeking power for themselves. For people that are seeking personal power, they will likely be disappointed in their choice of product management. Further, they’re not the people others want to work with.

What are the Frustrations Product Managers Encounter?

Many of the challenges lie outside the scope of the individual product manager. One challenge is sales teams that are given free reign to close deals by committing to new features that don’t yet exist in products. Pressure can also come from the engineering/development side if a culture of “making it perfect” exists. There are no perfect products, only ones that customers love and buy. Another issue is making too much of an investment too early in architecture. For software products, the architecture needs to be sufficient for the current product, not for some future scale that may never happen.

A key challenge is not having sufficient time to talk with customers. For product managers to be effective, they need to be spending about 30% of their time externally with customers and the remaining 70% focused on internal work. Finding that 30% is a real issue for many product managers. If they’re not working closely with customers, they cannot reasonably know customers needs, emerging trends, and the direction of the market.

How Can Product Managers Overcome these Challenges?

Product managers need to learn sales skills. Great sales people are masters at understanding other people, and in this sense, product managers need to be salespeople too. A good tool product managers can use in understanding others is the Myers-Briggs temperament assessment or similar personality assessments. This will also improve how they interact with customers, helping to uncover unmet problems without making assumptions or adding bias. The most important tool product managers have to overcome challenges is providing evidence from customers and evidence can only be collected if they are spending sufficient time with customers.

Listen to the interview with Rich Mironov on The Everyday Innovator Podcast.

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Chad McAllister, PhD is a product innovation guide, innovation management educator, and recovering engineer. He leads Product Innovation Educators, which trains product managers to create products customers love. He also hosts The Everyday Innovator weekly podcast, sharing knowledge from innovation thought leaders and practitioners. Follow him on Twitter.

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